The EPA has started the process that may lead to the banning of atrazine. Should that happen, it will be a lot harder and more expensive to raise corn and soybeans. Atrazine is currently used on about 80% of the corn in Indiana. According to Bill Johnson, weed specialist with Purdue, “Atrazine is easily the most effective broad spectrum herbicide we use that gives us control of grass and broadleaf weeds.”
Decades of research have shown atrazine is safe; and, as recently as 4 years ago, the EPA did not show atrazine as a threat to the environment. Yet now their most recent assessment says the technology is a danger to man and animals. Johnson says, if farmers are prevented from using atrazine, the alternative may have more adverse environmental impacts, “The banning of atrazine will not result in the reduction of herbicide use. We will be using a higher level of chemicals in our corn production system.” Some of these have the potential to have an even greater impact on the environment than atrazine.
“No one cares more about the safety of agricultural pesticides than farmers,” said Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association. “Farmers make use of pesticides on their farms to ensure an abundant, affordable, food supply of foods for consumers all over the world. We care about keeping land, rivers, and ponds safe for our families, our neighbors, and our communities.”
Environmental impacts aside, Johnson says the loss of atrazine will have a devastating financial impact on growers, “My estimation is that weed control costs would increase by $10 an acre and probably more. We would also have to use more complicated mixtures since some of the replacements do not control the broad spectrum of weeds as effectively.” He said farmers would have to add more than one product to replace the loss of atrazine.
A 2012 University of Chicago economic study reported farming without atrazine would cost corn growers up to $59 per acre. While corn prices have fallen since the report was released, the availability of atrazine for use in corn could make the difference between growers making a profit or incurring a loss on their crop.
Efforts are also underway to eliminate glyphosate. That, along with the loss of atrazine, could make the production of corn almost impossible.