Throughout history the need for an abundant, reliable and affordable food supply has been at the heart of social and political stability as governments recognize food security as a national security priority. By acknowledging that many nations lack the natural resources to grow enough food for their people, U.S. agriculture has a prominent role to play in ensuring that people around the world have access to safe and affordable food.
As U.S. farmers strive to produce food for a growing populace, they must do so within the context of enhanced technology and the role it plays in food security. It is estimated that by 2050 the world population will need 100 percent more food, with 70 percent of this food coming from enhanced-efficiency technology. These practices increase crop yields, help reduce the environmental impact of agricultural practices, and can create crops that are tolerant of poor environmental conditions (e.g. drought or excessive weeds).
Clearly, the challenges of feeding a growing world population on a fixed land base, as well as increasing competition for water and other natural resources, have significant ramifications for food security both domestically and abroad.
Minnesota continues to play a prominent role in feeding a hungry world. Over the past 10 years, Minnesota’s agricultural exports have nearly doubled. This decade of bumper crops produced by the North Star State has helped America’s total exports in the sector reach a record $145 billion.
But all is not well “down on the farm”. Right now, American agriculture is under attack from rapidly advancing weeds and the current generation of weed-control systems is no longer as effective as it once was. Weeds have adapted to the class of herbicide that’s been in use for the past 13 years. Consequently, they’re reducing soybean yields by as much as 50 percent.
The world can’t afford to lose this struggle with herbicide-resistant weeds. With the globe’s population reaching record levels, we need farming breakthroughs more than ever but Federal regulators, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)have been slow to review new technologies that promise to halt the weed outbreak and further improve farming efficiency.
It is time to break that regulatory impasse — and bring to market the advancements in farming technology that can keep America’s agricultural engine humming.
One such tool — the Enlist Weed Control system — would represent one of the first new weed-control systems to hit the market in more than a decade. Enlist combines an herbicide with genetically engineered seeds that can tolerate that herbicide. The end result? The product can kill weeds without harming crops.
Yet Enlist has been bogged down in the federal regulatory process for nearly four years — even though it builds on proven approaches to weed control. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that it would conduct yet another regulatory review, thus delaying the weed-control system’s release for another year.
Meanwhile, America’s foreign competitors are bringing new weed-control systems to market. Canada has already approved Enlist for use. That puts our farmers at a significant disadvantage relative to their neighbors across the border.
The delay also has a deleterious impact on the environment. Effective weed-control systems allow farmers to cultivate crops without tilling their land. This prevents soil erosion and dramatically reduces carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, it is estimated that no-till farming enabled by effective weed control has already reduced carbon-dioxide emissions by nearly 15 million pounds.
To generate the same kind of an impact, we’d have to remove 6.5 million cars from the road. If, however, weed-control systems don’t work as intended — and farmers have to deal with weeds through more labor-intensive tilling — then those significant environmental benefits cannot be realized.
There appears to be little disagreement that environmental regulations must be protective of public health or safety. They must also be based on available scientific information that has been subject to peer review. Regulations should be cost-effective, objective, and designed to balance the economic viability of farm operations with protection of natural resources and other community interests.
The regulatory review process must be transparent and regulations must be administered in a practical manner so as to prevent undue hardship for farmers – a principle that appears to be lost on the EPA as they continue to extend the review process for technological advancements such as the Enlist Weed Control system.
Excessive regulations and bureaucratic delay are threatening to strangle the agricultural sector. Unfortunately, Federal regulators seem content to let them, by refusing to green-light the latest in farming technology. Such inaction is not in the best of interests of Minnesota’s – or the Nation’s – economy.
Dave Ladd is a frequent guest commentator regarding public policy and the political environment. His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and interaction with elected officials.