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6 points to remember about atrazine

Gil Gullickson 01/30/2012 @ 3:20pm Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

Atrazine is in a perennial battle between the agricultural chemical industry and environmental groups. Caught in the middle are state and federal regulators and the farmers who actually apply atrazine on corn, sorghum, and other crops.

The latest spat is over a 2009 reevaluation of triazine herbicides (to which atrazine belongs) by the Obama administration. This follows a regularly scheduled triazine federal reregistration that the EPA approved under the Bush administration.

What does this mean to you? It's possible that atrazine could be banned under this reevaluation. That's what happened in the European Union in 2003, when regulators banned atrazine due to concerns about its impact on health and the environment.

It's also possible that more restrictions could result, such as lower rates Or, you could continue using this popular corn herbicide as you always have.

Here are some points to keep in mind about atrazine and its future use.

1. If you grow corn, you likely use atrazine.

It's used on over 60% of U.S. corn acres, says Chuck Foresman, global corn R & D lead or Syngenta, an atrazine manufacturer.

“There are more than 60 premix products that have atrazine in them,” he says. “Over the past 15 years, there is not a single product in corn that doesn't recommend the use of atrazine for a partner mix.

“Nothing will take its place,” he adds. “As an example, nothing is as effective on morningglory as atrazine. It also improves herbicide performance with critical weeds like giant ragweed and waterhemp. Atrazine is a relatively inexpensive but an efficacious product.”

“Waterhemp is a tough weed to control, and atrazine is a big help in the farmer's ability to control that weed,” says Darrin Ihnen, a Hurley, South Dakota, producer.

Leon Corzine, an Assumption, Illinois, farmer, compares atrazine to a crescent wrench in his toolbox.

“I might not use it all the time, but I might have a need for it – just like a crescent wrench for fixing machinery,” he says.

2. Current rates are lower than past ones.

Thirty years ago, much concern existed regarding soybeans planted behind corn to which atrazine had been applied. That's because multiple-pound-per-acre atrazine rates would carry over and damage the next year's soybeans.

No more. Use rates are much lower than what they used to be. “We never apply more than 1 pound per acre, and in some cases, it's only three quarters of a pound,” says Ihnen. “We use a half rate with our preemergence herbicide and come back with a half rate with our postemergence herbicide. That's more than enough to give the residual control to help control small-seeded broadleaves and help control grasses.”

3. Atrazine is safe to use so far.

That's because the previous reregistration processes and the current reevaluation show it is.

In the 2006 reregistration, EPA ruled in atrazine's favor after considering 6,000 studies and 80,000 public comments. The 2009 reevaluation was partially in response to a 2009 New York Times article citing that atrazine may be more dangerous at lower concentrations than previously thought. Standards could change if EPA rules atrazine is more hazardous to health than previously thought.

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