OPN recently connected with Brian Leahy, Director of California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), on how his department assists and protects organic producers in California.
OPN Connect: Tell us about how your department intersects with organic producers.
We don’t treat organic pesticides any different than conventional. Organic producers use pesticides that are approved and most of the new active ingredients are “bio-pesticides”- that’s the legal definition. A lot of the pesticides we see end up on the organic approved list.
The companies that create pesticides, called registrants because they have to go through a rigorous registration process before they can sell a pesticide, are as target specific and as benign as possible while still controlling the insect, weed or pathogen that threatens food crops or human health. At DPR we treat all pesticides the same for registration purposes. The process of listing a pesticide as organic is a separate process outside of DPR’s regulatory authority.
OPN Connect: What regulations are in place that protects organic growers in California?
California has a much lower loss rate from pesticide drift than the rest of the country. It’s because we have very tight rules in the hands of licensed individuals. This protects organic land from drift problems.
The Department has a strong working relationship with the California Department of Agriculture’s Center for Analytical Chemistry testing laboratory that tests produce for pesticide residue to ensure that produce is below established health protective levels. Organic pesticide residue tolerances are five percent of the conventional standard. We also have a strong working relationship with CDFA and the State Organic Program who take our samples.
OPN Connect: How does IPM & reduced risk pest management play a role in achieving your department’s goals?
Our mission is to protect human health and the environment and to foster reduced risk of pest management. We are taking a hard look at IPM and how to integrate IPM into daily life and society. From farms to childcare facilities and restaurants, our goal is to integrate IPM in every place that pesticides are used.
Organic production in some areas is getting more challenging because of new pest pressures and less conventional production. It’s important for the organic community to look at investing in IPM research and to work with IR-4 USDA program. This is a program that enables farmers to use a pesticide that has been approved for say corn or soy on a product like spinach or lettuce.
OPN Connect: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently announced that climate change impacts may cost the U.S. agriculture sector up to $9.2 billion by 2039. How will California be a leader in mitigating these risks for its producers?
This is huge issue; climate change is rapidly changing the face of agriculture in California. Pest management is radically changing, we have warmer days and we have weather that isn’t normal.
Our biggest damns are filled with melted snowpack and that is changing radically. If the snow has melted before your last irrigation, you’re in trouble.
To address this Governor Brown is showing the rest of the world that we must all change your carbon footprint; we must change our entire economy to reduce the amount carbon we putting into the atmosphere.
Our commitment to doing real things on the climate is strong and this commitment supports all California producers. We need to do real Ag research to get on top of it now and integrate IPM to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
OPN Connect: From your perspective what are the biggest issues facing California organic producers today?
The number one issue is labor. Even if we had a sane immigration policy we couldn’t get enough people who want to work in the fields. Everything in Ag innovation is aimed at how to get away from reliance on labor. The world of labor is huge driver of change.
Land use is second -the farm urban interface is a driver of change.
Water is an issue in so many ways. There are increased water demands. Farmers are putting in crops that require more water. Pesticide and nitrogen pollution is an issue - everyone in the “water world” is looking hard at water quality.
Technology is changing Ag as it always does. Companies are spending billions to develop smart technology that is changing the very nature of agriculture.
The regulations on producers are a hurdle. Producers do an amazing amount of adjusting to gain regulatory compliance in CA.
OPN Connect? As a moderator at the Organic Growers Summit what do you hope to convey in your "Issues Facing Organic Farmers" session?
If you are running an Ag business in California you need to be involved in the politics, engage in social media and influence people to understand that farming is not only a noble profession but is a great member of the business community. What you do is important; you do it well and responsibly. California farmers are regulated hard and provide food and jobs in a responsible manner.