Why should egg producers care about corn and soy herbicide use restrictions?

August 3, 2022

Pending herbicide use restrictions may significantly increase layer operations’ greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints. About 70% of many modern layer operation’s lifecycle GHG footprints are the emissions associated with the production of the corn and soybeans fed to layers. Herbicide use restrictions give growers few options other than plowing and other aggressive forms of tillage to control weeds and or to terminate a cover crop before spring planting of a cash crop.  Row crop farming’s GHG emissions will increase significantly should this occur, and so will the GHG footprint from egg production.

Herbicides like atrazine and glyphosate are widely used and form the foundation of conservation tillage practices on almost 75% of U.S. crop acres. This practice reduces GHG emissions by protecting and increasing soil carbon sequestration in organic matter and significantly decreasing fossil fuel use by reducing the number of times tractors, and tillage equipment must be taken across farm fields to control weeds.  Modern herbicides are also instrumental in the use of “cover crops,” which have grown from 2 to 20 million acres or more in the last ten years and are likely to grow to 30 million acres or more by 2030.  Conservation tillage and cover crops are the central practices in “Climate Smart Agriculture” on row crop acres.

The availability of these herbicides is being challenged by pending regulatory decisions by EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Last November, EPA, consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service on Endangered Species Act matters involving pesticides, issued a decision that found atrazine and glyphosate are each likely to harm more than 1,000 of the nation’s most endangered plants and animals. Under a federal pesticide labeling law, EPA has just proposed significant reductions in the allowable amounts of atrazine that can be used. Adhering to the permissible levels will force producers to adopt management practices that will be highly challenging at best, if not wholly impractical.  Grain growers have warned that they could be forced into conventional tillage practices like plowing.

UEP is working on these issues with the Agricultural Nutrients Policy Council and others in agriculture.  Please contact UEP’s Environment Consultant Tom Hebert if you have questions.