Michigan fruit growers are not giving up on azinphos-methyl (AZM, Guthion).

Even as the Environmental Protection Agency’s phase-out schedule continues unabated, further decreasing permitted uses this year and ending all uses of the insecticide in September of this year, Michigan growers continue to meet with EPA officials and with their members of Congress in Washington.

Michigan Farm Bureau is a key force organizing growers, with other organizations joining in. They were in Washington, D.C., the first week of March and again on March 22. The mix included growers, organization leaders, and tree fruit entomologists from Michigan State University.

Among those in Washingon March 22 were Kurt Weber, president of Michigan Peach Sponsors, Allyn Anthony from the Michigan State Horticulture Society, Dawn Drake with the Michigan Processing Apple Growers, and MSU entomologists Larry Gut, Mark Whalon, and Rufus Isaacs. Gut speaks for apples, Whalon for tart cherries, and Isaacs for blueberries.

None of the three entomologists have confidence growers can adequately control key insects in these three crops without AZM.

“We expect a final answer in July,” Weber said. “We have had an on-going dialogue with EPA, and we keep meeting with officials there.”

The first week of March, Michigan farmers Ben LaCross and Rodney Winkel went to Washington with a Farm Bureau contingent. They are growers of apples, sweet and tart cherries, peaches, blueberries, and other fruits and vegetables.

"White worms in red cherries don't mix," said LaCross, from Leelanau Country, in the heart of tart cherry country. "If we lose AZM and the processor finds one worm in my load of cherries, I lose everything—not just a little off the top, but the entire load—maybe an entire orchard.

"AZM is a spray we use just once a year, but losing it will have a major impact on Michigan's cherry industry."

"Losing AZM creates a public-relations nightmare for both EPA and the farmer," said Winkel, from Grandview Orchards in Berrien County. "We would have to go from spraying an orchard one day with AZM to spraying it five days in a row to combat all the different pests with alternative products."

Under the current phase-out plan, 2012 is the last year farmers can use AZM. Use of AZM has been restricted by decreasing application rates for the past several years. Equivalent protection with alternative products works for some but not all fruit crops, and dramatically changes application times, quantities, and costs.

The entomologists also argue that while other insecticides are “reduced risk” for orchard workers, they are not reduced risk for beneficial mites and insects and do not have a lower environmental impact.

Implementing a host of new pesticides in AZM's place could hamper international trade as well, impacting some of the strongest overseas markets for Michigan fruit growers.

"AZM must remain in the tool box of fruit growers until more viable alternatives are established," said Ryan Findlay, national legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB).

"We were very pleased with EPA's willingness to have a frank discussion with us about the importance of AZM to Michigan's fruit growers," said Ken Nye, Michigan Farm Bureau’s fruit and horticulture specialist. "We're looking forward to continuing this dialogue soon."