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POLICY

WSDA reworks pesticide rules

Stakeholder workgroup offers advice on potential changes

February 2016
By Trista Crossley

Editor’s note: Throughout this article, we use the term “pesticide” to include herbicides.


Rules and regulations seem to be the bane of growers, so when the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) announced they were planning on consolidating and simplifying the use-restricted pesticide rules, stakeholders took notice.

Joel Kangiser, policy assistant in the WSDA’s Pesticide Management Division, said the current rules are complex, confusing and out of date. In fact, some sections are so out of date that applicators can’t follow a pesticide label and still be in compliance with the rules. So even though the department hasn’t seen an uptick in problems or incidents involving use-restricted pesticides and sensitive crops, they’ve decided the time is ripe to review current regulations.

“A few years ago the department organized a working committee to update the spray nozzle requirements, but for a number of reasons, those rules were never finalized,” Kangiser said. “When it came time to take up that project again and get those changes completed, WSDA field staff suggested that the nozzle requirements weren’t the only problem and recommended that we try to update the entire rule.”

Another reason the department has decided to take a look at the rules is because the area planted to grapes has greatly expanded in the years since the regulations were first put into place. Grapes are the crop most sensitive to pesticide drift, and many of the restrictions are designed to stop pesticides from moving off fields onto vineyards. The rules are most strict in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties, and in fact, different areas within those counties have different restrictions. The use-restricted pesticide rules only apply to Eastern Washington.

In July 2015, WSDA held two public meetings in Yakima and Pasco to explain their intent and to solicit input. Later that summer, a workgroup was formed with representation from different stakeholders, including the wheat, potato and wine and juice grape industries; pesticide dealers; and aerial applicators. The workgroup has met twice so far, with another meeting scheduled for Feb. 2, 2016.

Kangiser said while everybody in the workgroup supports the idea of consolidating and updating the rules, figuring out how far they can go with it is a big challenge.

“When we’ve had a system in place for so many years, it’s difficult to think about how the restrictions might be restructured,” he explained. “Many factors have changed over the years to where we now have an opportunity to structure the rules in a different way. Nozzle and equipment technology are much more advanced. Pesticide labels have changed, and I think there is a higher awareness and knowledge on the part of applicators. All of these factors together give us a great opportunity to consider some major changes.”

While there is no timeline on the project, Kangiser hopes to have the rules updated in the next year or so, but a lot of that depends on how well the workgroup can come to a consensus on what changes to make. If they are unable to come to an agreement, WSDA will move forward with the information they do have.

“If the workgroup can’t make headway, WSDA will have to do what we can with what we’ve got. We’ll have to come to a close,” he said. “We can make changes to nozzle requirements and eliminate a bit of redundancy. So even if we can’t make the major changes I’m hoping for, we will still accomplish something.”

More questions and answers from Kangiser:

What are some of the factors that would make regulations different across and within counties?

The primary factor is the location of grapes in proximity to cropping systems, such as grains, that rely on phenoxy herbicides. Then you have to consider local climatic conditions (how early in the year you will have warmer temperatures), when grape bud break occurs and the unique topography of the different areas (potential for inversions, etc.). Bring all of these factors together, and some areas are very prone to problems and other areas not so much.

What are some of the regulations that vary from area to area?

LV (low volatile ester) cutoff dates. Ester formulations of the phenoxy herbicides can volatilize after they’ve been applied when temperatures get into the 80s and higher. The vapor from LV applications can travel long distances and devastate grape crops along the way. Grapes are especially sensitive to phenoxy damage early in the spring during bud break, which occurs at different times in different areas of the state. Some areas of Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties have year-round prohibitions on LV applications. Temperatures start to warm up, and bud break occurs very early in those areas. Other areas in those same counties have a cutoff date starting on April 5. Counties and areas where bud break occurs a little later and temperatures are generally not up into the 80s so early in the year have later cutoff dates. The latest cutoff date is May 15. Some areas that don’t have vineyards don’t have a cutoff date at all. LVs can be used year-round in those areas since there is a lot less concern about damage to sensitive crops.

Evening cutoff. Evening cutoff rules are in place to prevent applications from occurring during temperature inversion conditions. If there’s not good vertical air mixing, smaller spray droplets will remain as a concentrated cloud of suspended droplets in the air and move off target. Applications during inversions can cause major damage to crops in the vicinity and wherever the air currents move the cloud of suspended droplets. Inversions commonly occur in the evening and remain until the morning when surface temperatures begin to warm. The statewide rules, which cover all of Eastern Washington, have an evening cutoff time starting on May 1. Applications of use-restricted herbicides are prohibited from three hours prior to sunset to sunrise. Some of the more sensitive areas have evening cutoff times that start on April 5, and the actual cutoff time is extended until two hours after sunrise.

Temperature restrictions (85-degree cutoff). There is an 85-degree cutoff in the statewide rules for all phenoxy herbicides and dicamba. Both drift and volatilization are more apt to occur when temperatures exceed 85 F. What we’ve found, though, is that the rules for temperature cutoff in individual counties are identical to the statewide rules. They are totally redundant so we can simply eliminate temperature cutoff rules in the individual counties and just go by the statewide rules.

Wind restrictions. Most of the areas have wind restrictions of 10 or 12 mph, but a few of the more sensitive areas have a maximum wind speed of 7 mph.

Buffers. The statewide rules prohibit aerial applications of use-restricted herbicides within a mile of commercial vineyards, but allow WSDA to issue a permit for applications within a half mile to a mile. Some of the areas within some of the counties have buffers for aerial applications near orchards and near population centers.

Nozzles. The nozzle requirements are badly in need of updating. The rules restrict applications according to the orifice opening size of nozzles, and that’s not even how nozzles are gauged now. Nozzle manufacturers and pesticide labels all refer to the size of the droplet that’s created by a particular nozzle, such as fine, medium, coarse and very coarse. We will be updating the nozzle rules regardless of what else we accomplish with the working group.

How will input from the workgroup factor into the changes WSDA makes to the rules?

The idea is to gain consensus from all of the different groups involved and represented. That doesn’t mean 100 percent agreement by everyone, which could never be achieved, but more like general agreement that changes will be beneficial and not cause any substantial problems. The two guiding principles for this project are (1) any changes will not increase risk to sensitive crops, and (2) we will not impose any new substantial regulatory burdens.

Stakeholder input is critical for any potential change. We had to drop some of the ideas that we threw out there early on when we found out they would cause hardship to certain growers. We found that out by stakeholder input. WSDA will depend on workgroup members to discuss potential changes with the members that they represent and provide feedback to the group. As with any rule changes, there will be public hearings where individuals can comment directly on any proposed changes.

At this point in the process, are there specific changes that everybody seems to want?

We all agree we will take what the nozzle committee accomplished and incorporate those changes into the rules. We’ve also agreed to eliminate the temperature cutoff from individual county rules, since the exact same requirements are covered in the statewide rules. We haven’t come to a specific agreement yet, but we have some ideas on how to consolidate wind restrictions. There are also some outdated requirements on storage and transportation of use-restricted herbicides that we’ve agreed to eliminate.

What about changes that nobody can seem to agree on?

We have made little or no progress figuring out how to consolidate LV cutoff dates and evening cutoff times. That’s where we’ll see how far the group wants to go with this project. We probably won’t get to the point of having a single rule that covers all areas of Eastern Washington, but we should be able cut down the number of individual areas. There are more than 40 different defined areas, each with their own restrictions. I really think we can cut those down substantially.