Future of IR-4 in question
Specialty-crop interests rally to support continuation of the program.
More than a hundred specialty crops producers and their organizations have signed on to an effort to convince Congress not to change the IR-4 program. Since 1963, the IR-4 Project has mustered the financial and scientific resources to register crop protection chemicals for specialty crops—the so-called minor uses.
Richard Bonanno, a Massachusetts vegetable grower who is also president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, an extension weed management specialist at the University of Massachusetts, and chair of the IR-4 program’s Commodity Liaison Committee, is leading the effort.
The decision to lobby Congress came after the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Obama administration submitted its 2013 budget, in which the line item for IR-4 disappeared. Although not explicitedly stated, it supposedly was merged with several IPM programs to create a new Crop Protection Program. Concerned growers went to Washington, D.C., several times to testify before agriculture and budget committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“We’re trying to get both the House and the Senate to keep IR-4 as a separate line item and continue to fund it at about $12 million a year,” Bonanno said in a telephone interview with Good Fruit Grower. “We won’t know until this summer whether we were successful.
“Even though this is a proven program with tangible results, the future of IR-4 is threatened,” he said in an appeal to growers for support of the program.
The IR-4 Project is headquartered at Rutgers University in New Jersey—and that’s another complication. Jerry Baron, executive director of the IR-4 and a Rutgers weed scientist, said that while IR-4 is hosted by Rutgers, the university does not charge the customary 50 percent to cover indirect costs and overheads. If the program is changed, that might change as well—effectively cutting the IR-4 budget by a third.
“We’re very concerned about it,” Baron said. “By itself, consolidating our program with others is not a big problem. But it looks like it’s being done away with, and something new is being started. Where we once were a line item, the program and mission of IR-4 are not even mentioned in the proposed budget.”
Specialty crops, which include all the fruits and vegetables, combined are worth some $40 billion, about 40 percent of agricultural sales. But individually they are too small to provide the financial incentive for the agrichemical industry to invest in registering crop protection chemicals.
The IR-4 Project organizes the resources of land-grant university scientists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, commodity groups, growers, and the agrichemical industry to develop the data needed to register a new use for an existing chemical. Registration of a specific use is still up to the manufacturer.
Most chemical registrations are first obtained for the major crops and then new labels are developed for so-called minor uses, many times through the IR-4 process. Between 1963 and 2000, IR-4 helped obtain 5,500 food use clearances, 8,800 ornamental uses, and more than 200 biopesticide clearances, which together make up more than 40 percent of all clearances.
In his testimony to the House Subcommittee on Agricultural Appropriations, Bonanno expressed concern that USDA may be abandoning the program.
“It appears that USDA does not intend to continue to support the regulatory approvals of new crop protection chemicals and biopesticides for food and nonfood specialty crops in the proposed Crop Protection Program,” he said.
“We believe the IR-4 Project has become one of the most efficient, indispensable, and reliable government programs ever developed. Simply put, specialty crops cannot economically survive without the IR-4 Project,” he said.
More information on the effort can be found at www.saveir-4.org. The IR-4 Project also has a Web site at www.ir4.rutgers. edu.