In its decision to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, the folks at the Oregon Department of Agriculture appear to have forgotten someone: the farmers.
Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide that’s been around 55 years. It is used on dozens of crops in Oregon to keep insects, worms and mites at bay. It is also used on golf courses and in greenhouses, wood treatments and roach traps and to kill mosquitoes.
Chlorpyrifos is an important tool. It works well and is affordable. On farms and in commercial settings, additional training and protective equipment such as respirators, gloves and coveralls are required when the insecticide is applied, and the fields are off-limits to others until deemed safe. Household uses, where most of the concern was centered, have already been banned or phased out.
Instead of awaiting direction from legislators, whose job it is to write laws and make policy, the state agriculture department went ahead and convened a work group to come up with a plan to phase out the use of chlorpyrifos. That’s fine.
But, importantly, the ODA neglected to offer Oregon farmers adequate help in finding alternatives or replacements for chlorpyrifos. Just because an insecticide is banned doesn’t mean the insects will go away on their own.
An undocumented letter that was circulated in the legislature last year by a lobbyist for the organic industry said that dozens of alternatives for chlorpyrifos are already available to farmers.
That was apparently wrong. Either that, or someone lost the list.
Now Oregon researchers are playing catch-up to find alternatives and replacements for chlorpyrifos that are effective and affordable.
And, unfortunately, they are trying to do it without adequate funding.
Since chlorpyrifos was banned in California, the state has provided more than $5 million in grants for research into alternatives.
In Oregon, researchers have $381,107 from two USDA specialty crop grants to do the same job. That will address a handful of crops out of the more than 50 on which chlorpyrifos is used.
Depending on what the researchers find, it could be years before the alternatives and replacements are fully labeled and available for use.
Under the ODA plan, chlorpyrifos will be phased out for most uses by the end of 2023.
For the state’s farmers, the clock is running on whether adequate replacements and alternatives will be in place by that deadline.
Without adequate state funding for research, the odds of meeting that deadline are slim. We urge the ODA to work with legislators to adequately fund this research.