Farmers need options to keep crops growing

By Danielle Penney-Stroop | January 5, 2022

Across the northeast this fall, we’ve seen unprecedented weather events.  Tornadoes in November, record rain, major temperature swings. Signs of climate change are right outside our window, or for the region’s farmers, right in their fields.

Farmers and growers across the region have had to work harder, with an even greater number of creative solutions to keep up with these changes and to sustain their crops & livelihood.

With the challenges they’re already facing, it is frustrating to see lawmakers continue to create even more issues for farmers by limiting safe options to protect their crops.  With current supply chain issues and interruptions that have been exacerbated by the longevity of the pandemic, shouldn’t it be a priority to ensure that farmers maximize technologies to successfully grow our food?

The threat to how farmers and their farms can operate continues to happen each legislative session in state houses across the Northeast.  Proposed legislation to ban certain pesticides and specific agricultural practices threaten our farmers ability to remain competitive with farms from other states. Further, restrictions on biotechnology derived practices will hamper our ability to improve crop varieties, enhance nutritional quality, and reduce pesticide applications.

Well intended lawmakers, fueled by misinformation from activists, regularly work to legislate against science and innovation. In recent years, we’ve seen a myriad of bills that are looking to ban the use of pesticides and other agricultural tools that are critical to keeping crops safe from invasive species.   We support educational outreach to consumers on the benefits & risks of agricultural biotechnology, and an increased awareness campaign to dispel misinformation on such products.

Similar bans in other countries have failed.  Last fall, Sri Lanka, who had imposed a full ban on all agricultural pesticides, had to reverse the ban, citing concerns about food security and seeing the price of food double in just months.France and other EU members have also had to back peddle on neonicotinoid bans, following a drop in production of sugar beets after the bans were originally implemented. France is the European Union’s largest producer of sugar beets and is home to some of the biggest sugar producers.

Similar bans have been proposed in the New York, and if passed will impact farms across the region that produce some of our most popular and valuable crops. In an era when the average Thanksgiving dinner cost consumers 14 percent more, it should be clear that we can’t afford to set our farmers and our food supply up for failure.

Just as most of us have embraced the innovation of vaccines, we must embrace and re-frame the way we view agricultural innovation.

Vaccines have been developed because we need them to stop the spread of disease.  Pesticides and herbicides have been developed to stop pests, disease, and fungus, proliferated by a changing climate, from destroying our food supply.

Would it be ideal if we lived in a world without these threats? Of course, but that’s not reality. We must adapt to the threats that exist and support the innovation that will continue to offer reliable tools to protect our food.

The agricultural products that are the target of these bans and restrictive proposals are some of the most regulated products in the world. It takes more than 11 years for a new product to move from the lab, through the regulatory process and eventually to the field. Beyond the EPA regulations that farmers must abide by, New York goes even further with licensing and use regulations.

Legislating science is a slippery slope. Once a product is banned, getting it back when needed will be a challenge.

It is my hope that in the legislative sessions to come, our lawmakers will listen to the science and think long and hard before taking away a resource that could make the difference between the success of our local agricultural industry, or their failure.

Danielle Penney-Stroop is the President of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance.  She lives in Woodbourne, NY.