EPA, FDACS leaders benefit from ‘Spring Reg Tour’

 Regulators get a “backstage look” at farms and more –

Two participants learn about sod farming practices in South Florida on FFVA's Spring Regulatory Tour. -- Photo courtesy of Michelle Ranville, EPA.

The whole point of FFVA’s Florida Spring Regulatory Tour hit home for Meredith Laws in a helicopter during an aerial tour by the Lee County Mosquito Control District.

“They took us up in a helicopter, and that experience showed us why certain [pesticide] label statements don’t work in every situation – like for pilots. I realized that you can’t make these guys wear neoprene gloves when they’re operating a helicopter – that’s absurd. It’s the kind of thing that you may not consider when you’re sitting in a high-rise building in Crystal City, Virginia.”

Laws was among the roster of scientists, economists and other regulators representing chemistry, toxicology, engineering and other fields. The tour, which took place March 24-28, provides an overview of important environmental and regulatory issues in South Florida. Participants come away with an awareness of the diversity of production practices, pest management and land-use issues in South Florida and a better perspective on how federal, state, regional, and local regulatory processes are inter-related.

The participants, many from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, toured farming operations and other facilities directly affected by their decisions.

They saw the unique and challenging aspects of pest and nutrient management in a high-rainfall subtropical environment. The tour, which spans South Florida from Fort Myers to Belle Glade, also serves as a forum for discussion with local pest management and land-use decision-makers.

The itinerary included stops at:

- Lipman Produce

- Old Collier Golf Course

- Southern Gardens Citrus

- Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative/Florida Crystals Corp.

- King Ranch

- Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc.

FFVA's Dan Botts helped organize the tour. -- Photo courtesy of Dennis Howard, FDACS

Dan Botts, FFVA’s vice president of Industry Resources, organized the tour with the help of hosts and sponsors including the Florida Tomato Exchange, Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association, and the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association, among others.

Discussions and demonstrations focused on a variety of topics, including:

- What is being done by the industry to better manage water quality

- Specifics on citrus greening and management of the psyllid and the disease

- The interplay between invasive species, endangered species and crop protection chemical use

- How volatilization and spray-drift issues are managed in sites that interface with sensitive and other areas

- Pollinator protection

- Worker Protection Standard program revisions and implementation

- Fumigation challenges

- General regulatory impacts on land-use practices in Florida

Participant Dennis Howard, chief of the Bureau of Pesticides at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said of the tour: “The Spring Regulatory Tour is a fantastic experience. It offers state and federal regulatory officials a rare ‘back stage’ perspective on a variety of challenges and innovative solutions that characterize Florida’s agriculture, golf course and mosquito control operations. Tour participants and hosts come away not only with a better understanding of one another’s issues, but also with interpersonal contacts that strengthen their ability to work together toward the common good.”

The group learns about fertilization of sugar cane. -- Photo courtesy of Dennis Howard

And Laws, who is branch chief of the Insecticide Branch, Registration Division of the EPA, said she knew her colleagues were impressed with the tour because of their level of enthusiasm about debriefing senior management upon their return. “They were so anxious to do that. They kept asking me when the debriefing would be scheduled. They were very enthusiastic to show senior managers all they’ve learned about the concerns people have in South Florida.

“In 25 years, I’ve been on a lot of tours, and this was the best tour I’ve been on,” Laws said. “Very well-done. And all the hosts – what they did to welcome us and host us was really impressive.”

Laws also mentioned that the label associated with the pilot and the neoprene gloves has already been changed.

Participants were surveyed afterward about their experience. When asked what the most valuable part of the tour was in light of their job responsibilities, one participant said, “When the presenters talked about the specific problems they had with pesticide labels, and suggestions on possible solutions to resolve issues.” Another said, “Knowing the farmers’ opinions and processes outside the regulatory environment.” Others said: “Looking at the produce operations allowed me to see the food safety practices in action,” and “Seeing all the water-control measures and how heavily the growers rely on those water levels to successfully farm.”

Other comments included:

“The tour really reinforces the idea that many applications are unique. Our generic label uses and generic exposure scenarios are a problem.”

“Different parts of the country face different issues that are not always known at the federal level — knowing this information can influence how we do our work in a positive manner.”

“I feel 100 percent more aware of the practices and challenges growers are facing in this region, and I am excited to use this information and knowledge to help me do my job better, with greater understanding.”

Howard took a moment to see the bigger picture and share an important reason regulators and growers alike value responsible practices. “Participants left the tour with indelible memories of the sweeping beauty of Florida’s rural landscapes,” he said.

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