The National Cotton Council (NCC) submitted letters and comments regarding a range of regulatory matters important to the U.S. cotton industry.
Among those were support for a bill to correct problems with the Endangered Species Act; support of regulatory reforms included in the Horticulture Title of the 2018 farm bill; and support of regulatory transparency so long as it did not hamper EPA’s pesticide office using subscription-only data banks.
The NCC joined more than 170 co-signers on a letter to House Agriculture Committee leadership urging support for inclusion of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) legislative fix. The letter specifically urged support for inclusion of critical regulatory relief legislation (the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act) in the 2018 farm bill -- a measure that addresses duplicative permitting processes for pesticides under the NPDES permit system.
Along with 22 other agricultural and forestry stakeholders, the NCC submitted comments regarding whether pollutant discharges from sources that reach jurisdictional waters via groundwater or other subsurface flow that has a direct hydrologic connection to the jurisdictional water may be subject to Clean Water Act (CWA) regulation. This effort was underscored by 1) EPA's past confusing policies regulating water pollution and 2) a recent court case that threatened to upend the congressionally mandated separation of surface water and groundwater regulations.
The NCC acknowledged the positive step of EPA's establishment of an interagency working group to coordinate Endangered Species Act consultations for pesticide registrations and registration review. This Memorandum of Agreement between the EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)/National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) also suggested that USDA, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of Management and Budget join the working group and that CEQ serve as its chair.
Soon after, the NCC joined more than 30 other organizations on a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act reform letter to House Agriculture Committee members. Serious concerns were expressed over a policy conflict between federal agencies, specifically the EPA and the Services. The letter pointed out that the Services’ inability to adroitly and consistently provide biological opinions on pesticide registrations not only duplicated EPA's work, but delayed the process to the point of endangering agriculture's ability to continue to supply food, fuel and fiber. The letter asked that the Committee work together with stakeholders to resolve this decades-long conflict.
Later, the NCC filed three sets of comments with the FWS urging the agency and the NMFS to address inefficiencies, streamline consultation processes, and reduce regulatory overreach.
Early in 2018, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion that challenges to the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule would be heard in district courts and not circuit courts. As result, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit lifted its nationwide stay of the Obama Administration's rule.
This corresponded with the NCC’s strategy of supporting efforts to allow consistency and simplicity in water regulations. That strategy included the NCC joining with 21 producer interest organizations on comments to an EPA proposal that sought to amend the effective date of the 2015 rule defining WOTUS. The NCC also noted that a prudent and measured step came soon thereafter when EPA and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (COE) finalized a rule adding an applicability date to the 2015 Clean Water Rule. That date was two years after the rule was published in the Federal Register in mid-February of 2018. During those two years, the agencies planned to consider revisions or a new rule to regulate agriculture.
A U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia judge granted multiple states' requests to stay the 2015 “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule. This prompted the NCC to post on its website a list of states that were covered (about half) and not covered by injunctions against WOTUS. Simultaneously, EPA and the COE sent their proposed rewrite of WOTUS to the White House to begin the interagency review process. The NCC and other agricultural stakeholders believed the new proposal defined a much narrower set of waters and wetlands for protection than did the 2015 WOTUS rule.
Later, the NCC filed comments supporting a supplemental rule to rescind the 2015 WOTUS rule and then continued to monitor that issue for the remainder of the year. Then, after EPA and the COE released a new, proposed WOTUS rule late in the year, the NCC reviewed the proposal and began preparing comments to submit to EPA and the COE during the 60-day comment period. The NCC also issued a statement saying that when finalized, this rule (Revised Definition of “Waters of the United States”) would replace the onerous 2015 WOTUS rule and “would provide relief from burdensome over regulation of non-navigable waters such as roadside and farm ditches.”
In other regulatory matters, the NCC:
• joined 14 other cotton organizations on a letter to Cotton Belt senators 1) asking them to support Andrew Wheeler as the Deputy EPA Administrator (later confirmed by the Senate) and 2) conveying the need to fill other EPA leadership vacancies so the agency could operate effectively.
• supported North Carolina cotton producer Allen McLaurin as he continued to serve on EPA's Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee. That panel held a two-day session that focused on ways to regulate pesticide spraying from unmanned aerial vehicles and on how the agency handles biotechnology.
Crop Protection Product Support
The NCC continued to work with EPA to ensure it evaluated crop protection products using science-based data so producers could access the necessary tools and technology needed to efficiently produce high quality crops. That NCC effort included 1) submission of multiple comments to the agency regarding its risk assessments for several products and 2) following the review process for those products.
The first comments submitted by the NCC in 2018 were in response to EPA’s draft human health and ecological risk assessments for 2,4-D and cyfluthrins (baythroid). The comments explained the importance of both products to cotton producers and highlighted the historical data on usage that shows no scientific evidence of concern.
Next, comments were submitted to EPA’s draft human health and ecological risk assessments for the registration review of five insecticides: abamectin (Agri-Mek®), buprofezin (Courier®), emamectin benzoate (Denim®), pyriproxyfen (Knack®) and bifenthrin (Brigade®). The NCC’s comments highlighted each product’s importance and the need for multiple modes of action so growers could practice successful resistant management techniques.
The NCC submitted comments to EPA on the agency’s draft human health and non-pollinator ecological risk assessments for the neonicotinoids: imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran. The comments highlighted the importance of each of these insecticides and the unique mode of action that each product provides to cotton producers to enhance their integrated pest management programs and insect resistance management programs. The comments also noted concerns with the flaws in EPA’s risk assessments and provided some alternatives on how EPA could improve its procedure for assessing products.
Later, the NCC sent comments to EPA on the pesticides acetamiprid (Intruder insecticide), pymetrozine (Fulfill insecticide), cypermethrin (a pyrethroid), and pyrithiobac-sodium (Staple herbicide). The comments pointed out the low human health and environmental concerns of the products and the unique modes of action that each brought to producers’ fields. The comments also emphasized the place that each took within integrated pest management programs and resistance management programs.
The NCC, along with 20 cotton producer organizations, also responded to EPA’s draft human health risk assessment for glyphosate’s re-registration. The comments highlighted glyphosate’s historical safety record and the consensus among countries that it poses no risk to human health. Simultaneously, the NCC filed comments in response to EPA’s notice of a new product registration for the herbicide, pethoxamid.
The NCC noted the value of having multiple modes of action for resistance management purposes and how the addition of another active ingredient would enhance producers’ options to improve their strategies for effective weed control.
The NCC, along with 37 other organizations, requested that EPA extend by 90 days (to August 2018) the comment period for the National Marines Fisheries Service’s Biological Opinion (BiOps) for chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated in a speech that he planned to ask the Service to reconsider its decision that chlorpyrifos is a threat to salmon and Orca whales under the Endangered Species Act. Later, the NCC’s comments to EPA regarding that (BiOps) noted the importance of malathion to the boll weevil eradication program and of chlorpyrifos to the pink bollworm eradication program.
The NCC also joined numerous other industry organizations of the Chlorpyrifos Alliance on a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The letter highlighted chlorpyrifos’ crucial importance to pest management and expressed serious concerns with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision to revoke tolerances and registrations for the pesticide.
In letters to three key EPA officials, the NCC urged continued registration of chlorpyrifos based on decades of safe use/efficacy in cotton. Later, the NCC joined other stakeholders in a brief to the Ninth Circuit asking for a rehearing on the case involving chlorpyrifos. The Department of Justice filed for the case’s rehearing by the full court, and the NCC joined a brief in support of its request.
The NCC also submitted comments to EPA supporting the registration of a new active ingredient (trade name: Trunemco) targeting nematodes in cotton. The comments emphasized that because nematode control is a critical challenge for U.S. cotton production, the NCC continues to support the registrations and re-registrations of safe products.
Recognizing the value of new auxin-traited cottons (which includes Enlist™ cottons and Xtend ® cottons) and their respective herbicides, the NCC met with representatives of Dow AgroSciences LLC to discuss reports of off-target incidences regarding Enlist Duo® on Enlist™ traited cottons. A NCC Cotton's Week article about the discussions included important product label information and urged producers to carefully read and follow label directions as well as contact appropriate representatives if further clarification was desired.
Another letter to Wheeler conveyed support for the continued registration of the new dicamba formulations. The letter from the NCC and state/regional cotton interest organizations reiterated the need for the product as a major component of weed resistance management, especially against Palmer amaranth. As a Pesticide Policy Coalition member, the NCC also facilitated a coalition letter to Wheeler on the same topic.
The NCC submitted comments to EPA’s docket, “Pesticide Product Registrations: Applications for New Uses and New Active Ingredients,” in support of afidopyfropen’s registration. That insecticide targets aphids and whiteflies.
The NCC was joined by 24 other cotton interest organizations in sending comments to EPA that underscored acephate’s importance as a critical tool of cotton integrated pest management across the Cotton Belt. The comments focusing on this organophosphate were submitted in response to EPA's release of its “Draft Human Health Risk Assessment and Preliminary Ecological Risk Assessment for Several Pesticides.”
The NCC submitted comments to EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs regarding the agency’s pending registration decision for Oxamyl. The comments urged EPA to recognize this product’s long-term registration and its unique mode of action for resistance management scenarios.
The NCC continued to monitor breeding and biotechnology issues coming from USDA.
Early in the year, USDA stated it did not regulate or have plans to regulate plants created through a set of new techniques such as genome editing (gene editing).
Genome editing is used to produce new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods -- if they are not plant pests or developed using plant pests and otherwise could have been developed through traditional breeding techniques. USDA’s statement reaffirmed the agency’s existing policy to treat the products of gene editing the same way products from traditional plant breeding are treated if the gene editing products are similar or indistinguishable from traditionally bred products.
The NCC, with the support of several other cotton organizations, submitted nominations to EPA for the agency’s Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP). The NCC-recommended scientists were: Dr. B. Rogers Leonard, Louisiana State University; Dr. Charles Allen, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service; Dr. Steve Martin and Dr. Michael A. Caprio, Mississippi State University; and Dr. Randall G. Luttrell, formerly with USDA's Southern Insect Management Research Unit. Those selected served as SAP ad hoc expert members at a meeting to consider and review resistance in lepidopteran pests to Bacillus thuringiensis plant-incorporated protectants in the United States.
The NCC filed comments with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in support of a genetically engineered cotton designated as event GHB811. The comments noted that GHB811 provided tolerance to both glyphosate and to HPPD-inhibitors which can provide cotton producers with: 1) a new mode of action (MOA) in a wide spectrum of broadleaf weed control, 2) pre-plant burn down and residual activity, and 3) an additional MOA to help reduce resistance pressure on other active ingredients in herbicides.
Early in year, the NCC submitted comments to APHIS in support of a petition submitted by Texas A&M University seeking a nonregulated status for ultra-low gossypol cottonseed. Late in the year, USDA announced the deregulation of that variety which allowed the product to move forward for a review by the Food & Drug Administration to assess it for human and animal consumption.
The NCC also sent comments to APHIS regarding the agency’s proposed revisions to its biotechnology regulations in part 340 within Title 7 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR). The NCC asked that these revisions strive for transparency and clarity and emphasized the importance of: 1) simplifying regulations on the research and development phase of products; 2) maintaining consistency with other APHIS programs and those of other agencies; and 3) recognizing the impacts on domestic and international markets.
The NCC joined other stakeholders in coalition comments on USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) proposed rule to implement the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. The NCC, which followed this rulemaking process throughout 2018, supported AMS' efforts to facilitate a national label and stop a patchwork of state and local labeling laws, but expressed concern that some options in the proposed rule would harm agriculture by requiring labels which imply that refined ingredients like sugars and oils, derived from a bioengineered crop, contain genetic material when science showed they did not.
Comments were submitted by the NCC to EPA in advance of the agency’s convening of a Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to review resistance in lepidopteran pests. The comments: 1) emphasized the importance of Bt traits for cotton production systems, 2) supported scientifically sound resistance management that minimizes field level compliance mandates, and 3) restated its opinion that EPA is not legally authorized to mandate resistance management under FIFRA. The NCC also monitored the SAP’s efforts and the development of EPA positions related to resistance management of plant incorporated protectants.
Cotton Flow and Packaging
The NCC was active on several fronts throughout the year addressing issues affecting the timely movement of baled cotton fiber to domestic and foreign customers; the acceptance of materials used to package U.S. cotton fiber; and the development of new, innovative packaging materials and techniques.
USDA approved the Joint Cotton Industry Bale Packaging Committee (JCIBPC) 2018 Specification recommendations for Cotton Bale Packaging Materials for Commodity Credit Corporation loan program purposes. Those Specifications, on the NCC's website at www.cotton.org/tech/bale/specs/, included: 1) full approval of a new Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bag and bagging system, 2) definitions related to the PET woven bag, and 3) amendments to the Bag and Tie Codes and Official Tare Weights tables to reflect the addition of the new PET bag/tie system. The JCIBPC also approved the addition of a strapping manufacturer to the list of approved manufacturers of PET strap for patented z-weld friction technology® systems.
The JCIBPC Specifications’ test program review section provided information on: 1) continuing two lightweight cotton bale bag test programs, 2) one PET strapping system test program, and 3) one PET strap compatibility test program.
The NCC and the National Cotton Ginners’ Association (NCGA) filed comments with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to help clarify future guidance on how agricultural commodities are treated under the Federal Hours of Service and Electronic Logging Device rules. The industry comments included a request for 1) return trips to be included within the 150 air-mile exception for agricultural commodities and 2) multiple facilities to be considered as acceptable “sources” for agricultural commodities. The NCC and NCGA also followed this issue as FMCSA completed its guidance document that was aimed at ensuring consistent understanding and application of the exception by motor carriers and state officials enforcing hours of service rules.
NCC President/CEO Gary Adams’ memo to U.S. gins alerted them to ongoing incidences of mismatched permanent bale identification (PBI) tags/sample coupons with the 2018 crop. The mismatches were occurring despite a comprehensive communications effort during the 2017 ginning season and again before the 2018 ginning season by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service Cotton and Tobacco Program, the NCC, and others.
The NCC issued a news release in which it welcomed USDA’s announcement that “U.S. cotton is free—after more than 100 years—of the devastating pink bollworm.”
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who made the announcement at a ceremony in Washington, DC, said the pink bollworm had cost U.S. producers tens of millions of dollars in yearly control costs and yield losses. Clyde Sharp, an Arizona producer who co-chairs the NCC Pink Bollworm Action Committee with Ted Sheely, a California producer, attended the ceremony along with NCC President/CEO Gary Adams.
The NCC, with valuable assistance from multiple industry sources, developed a comprehensive video with educational information for plastic contamination prevention in seed cotton and lint. The video focused on best management practices to handle and process round modules – with a specific goal of preventing contamination from module wrap. The NCC urged producers and gin managers to utilize the video which was mailed to the NCC’s interest organizations and to all U.S. gins.
With federal and state labels for auxin products significantly modified for 2018, the NCC urged all producers to: 1) use only labeled products and comply with all training measures to avoid any off-target incidents, 2) contact their state extension service weed specialists for help in fully understanding and compliance with the appropriate federal and state requirements with these pesticides, and 3) verify they were legally prepared to use these products as labeled for the 2018 growing season by taking advantage of the extensive educational training provided by many states and by the product registrants.
The NCC joined with other agricultural groups to create guidance for properly using treated seeds – and to help support the continued use of seed treatments. The guidance, at www.seed-treatment-guide.com, highlights common-sense approaches such as following label directions, minimizing dust, locating honey bee hives near the field prior to planting, and cleaning of equipment afterwards with proper disposal of treated seed waste.
The 2018 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio, with 1,051 attendees, continued its focus on research of new and existing products and technologies and the transfer of these to producers through consultants, Extension, allied industry and others directly involved in assisting producers with crop production and marketing decisions. The forum featured a special workshop, "Risk & Reward: Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for Agricultural Producers.” Dr. B. Todd Campbell, a research geneticist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Coastal Plains Soil, Water, and Plant Research Center in Florence, S.C., received the 2017 Cotton Genetics Research Award.
The NCC’s COTTON USA Sustainability Task Force, which set goals in 2017 to build upon the strong environmental gains already achieved over the past 30 years, expanded this effort through the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. The Protocol is an integrated data collection, measurement and verification procedure that will document U.S. cotton production practices and their environmental impact. Task Force Chairman Ted Schneider introduced the Protocol to attendees at Cotton Council International’s Cotton Sourcing USA Summit. He noted that a Protocol pilot would be conducted in 2019 with full implementation planned for 2020.
Task Force member Jay Hardwick, a Newellton, La., cotton producer, received the 2018 Farmer of the Year Award from Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. He was recognized for his commitment to advancing sustainable agriculture through outstanding conservation and stewardship efforts on his farm and sharing best practices with his peers.
The NCC continued its support of the Cotton LEADS™ program. Among those joining the program’s 540-plus partners in 2018 were JCPENNEY and Wrangler®, which announced it wanted to double its use of cotton acquired through the company's sustainable cotton program.
Among other research and education activities, the NCC:
• cooperated with the National Cotton Ginners Association (NCGA) on the three well-attended 2018 Ginner Schools – the Western Ginners School in Las Cruces, N.M.; the Stoneville Ginners School in Stoneville, Miss.; and the Southwest Ginners School in Lubbock.
• reminded its members of "Recommendations for Handling Seed Cotton Exposed to Excessive Rainfall” in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. This NCC-developed document on its website was for helping producers and ginners maximize their efforts at preserving a crop’s quality under such conditions.