The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that New Mexico pecan growers believe their harvests are threatened by insect infestations and are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to create an “emergency exception” permitting them to use sulfoxaflor, a currently restricted pesticide. Last year a federal judge found the substance was “highly toxic to bees and said its use should be discontinued.”
Last week, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture asked the EPA Administrator to issue a specific exemption for the use of sulfoxaflor to be applied to pecan orchards to control black pecan aphid. Per the Federal Register, “The applicant proposes a use of a pesticide, sulfoxaflor, which is now considered to be unregistered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) because of the vacature of all sulfoxaflor registrations by the United States District Court for the Central District of California. In accordance with 40 CFR 166.24(a)(7), EPA is soliciting public comment before making the decision whether or not to grant the exemption.”
According to the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, “Black pecan aphid feeding causes bright yellow spots to develop on pecan leaves between the veins. The spots die and turn brown, and just a few such spots cause a leaflet to shed. Premature leaf drop results in poor nut quality and reduced bloom in subsequent seasons.”
Environmental advocates, such as Environment America, argue sulfoxaflor belongs to a class of chemicals, neonicotinoids, that are dangerous to threatened honey and native bee populations. In September 2015, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Mary Schroeder found that the EPA’s data on sulfoxaflor was flawed and ruled that the agency “had not met its research requirements under federal law and would have to conduct further studies on sulfoxaflor’s effect on bees before the chemical could be reintroduced to the market.” A copy of the court’s opinion is available here.
The Santa Fe New Mexican also notes that the EPA removed sulfoxaflor’s registration last November. New Mexico is the most recent state to petition the agency for an emergency exception to use the pesticide on crops including cotton, alfalfa and sorghum. The EPA has granted ten of those requests and also proposed re-registering the chemical in May of this year, but with increased restrictions.
According to the USDA, New Mexico’s pecan production is second only to Georgia. Last year, the state harvested over 70 million pounds of pecans across 40,000 acres.