Viewpoint: “Neonicotinoids and Other Seed Treatments Are a Precise Tool and a Critical Component of Safe, Integrated Pest Control Practices” – American Seed Association Denies “Misunderstandings”

TProcessed seeds are widely adopted by breeders for two main reasons:

1. They are a powerful tool for farmers to protect the genetics they buy.

2. They are a highly targeted, precise application approach that is an important part of a safe, integrated pest control practice.

This ultimately reduces the need for farmers to spread produce across the field – with benefits for both growers and the environment.

Seed treatments provide seeds with an important first line of defense against soil-borne pests and germs and emergence diseases. By protecting the developing seedling during its most vulnerable time, today’s innovative seed treatments enable farmers to do more with less. For the environment, this means less pollution of natural resources and non-target organisms. For farmers, this means lower production costs and higher, more consistent yields. For all of us, it means access to high quality, affordable food that we can count on for our families.

In addition to being effective, it’s important to note that treated seeds – regardless of what you might read in certain media – are in fact tightly regulated, as are pesticides applied to foliage and soil. The Federal Seed Act regulates the labeling, sale, and transportation of seeds in the United States. It is important to note that federal government approved labels must reflect the risk assessment and mitigation processes. These products must also undergo a thorough evaluation by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and appropriate state agencies prior to marketing and periodically thereafter.

Despite their proven benefits and highly regulated nature, these tools – like many other agricultural innovations today – are widely misunderstood outside the farming community. This misunderstanding has led to heightened media scrutiny and misguided political efforts, particularly at the local and state levels. Take, for example, what we are currently seeing in state legislatures.

The 2021 state legislatures were undoubtedly more active than the previous ones. If you take COVID considerations into account, the result turns out to be a very challenging session for lawmakers and public interests. These challenges for the seed industry included the numerous bills that would affect treated seeds. This year, not only were more bills tracked in the states by ASTA, but about a third of those related to treated seeds, seed treatment materials, or related activities.

Andy LaVigne is the CEO of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA).

This legislation generally aimed at further research studies, the creation of supervisory bodies, changing the regulatory status of seed treatment materials, restricting their use, banning treated seeds and / or seed treatment materials entirely, or expanding local regulations. Significant laws that were passed included banning the use of neonicotinoids outdoors (Maine) and allowing neonics only through certified applicators (Maryland). Legislation affecting treated seeds is expected to be just as forceful during state legislatures in 2022.

As an industry, we know the value of treated seeds; and we know that policies that would take these tools out of the hands of farmers would have devastating unintended consequences – for farmers’ livelihoods, food security and environmental sustainability. Without treated seeds, farmers would be forced to rely on a few, older and less precise chemical classes. According to a study by AgInfomatics, a pound of neonicotinoids would be replaced by nearly five pounds of other insecticides if seed treatment were not available to farmers, increasing the application rate per acre by 375% and adding hundreds of millions of dollars in farm costs. In addition, the land under cultivation in the US would need to be increased between 340,000 and 410,000 acres to compensate for yield and quality losses, much of which came from the Conservation Reserve Program, environmentally sensitive land created to protect water, soil and wildlife.

For this reason, ASTA continues to place great emphasis on educating political decision-makers about treated seeds – especially with regard to safety and efficacy. As we have these important discussions with policy makers, it is important that, at the same time, we continue to do our part to communicate the importance – and need – of proper governance across the seed treatment value chain. This is a continuous and long-term commitment of our industry. A few years ago, ASTA worked with industrial and cultivation partners to develop the Guide to Seed Treatment Stewardship – a comprehensive set of best practices for applicators and farmers on all aspects of handling treated seeds. A number of outreach and educational tools, including handouts, videos, and FAQs, are available for use and download along with the guide. Every spring and autumn, ASTA runs a targeted communication campaign to remind industry and growers to follow all applicable laws and regulations related to the safe sowing, harvesting and disposal of treated seeds.

Today’s farmers need access to all tools available, including the latest seed treatments, to ensure the long-term sustainability of our food, our farms and our planet. In order to ensure permanent access to these tools, we as an industry and as producers have to play a role. We all need to work together – both in terms of complying with all policies and regulations governing management from application to disposal, and in communicating about the need for and safety of these tools.

Andy LaVigne is President and CEO of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). Andy can be found on Twitter @andylASTA

A version of this article was originally published on Seed World and is being republished here with permission. You can find Seed World on Twitter @SeedWorldMag

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