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Illinois study shows economic importance of atrazine

Agriculture.com Staff 02/27/2007 @ 10:29am

Illinois corn farmers and the state’s economy could suffer annual losses in excess of $500 million without atrazine, according to study released today at a meeting of the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB), according to an IFB release.

The study, "Illinois Without Atrazine: Who Pays?," by University of Chicago Professor Don Coursey, analyzed the costs corn growers would face if atrazine was unavailable and the corresponding impact on the state's economy. The study also touched on a potential ban's negative environmental consequences.

"Without atrazine, Illinois growers would absorb a loss in the first year between $159 million and $555 million," Coursey said. "It is the equivalent of a huge tax hike on Illinois corn farmers." Coursey, an economist and Ameritech Professor of Public Policy Studies at the Harris School of Public Policy, released his report during the Illinois Farm Bureau's Government Affairs Leadership Conference.

Atrazine is the most popular corn herbicide in the United States and Illinois, where it's been used on corn crops for nearly 50 years. Illinois is nation's second-largest corn-producing state, with corn receipts accounting for 18.5% of the total value of U.S. corn receipts in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Corn alone provided nearly 40% of Illinois' total farm receipts in 2005, at more than $3.5 billion, also according to USDA.

Coursey considered the estimated yield losses due to inferior crop protection, at between $111 million and $211 million and recurring farming costs, between $48 million and $344 million.

"The majority of the lost income and increased expenses will be carried by Illinois corn growers, their families and the communities in which they live and do business," said Coursey.

Farmers would be forced to use less effective and more expensive herbicides that have negative environmental consequences. Environmental detriments include increased use of fossil fuels, sedimentary and chemical runoff, carbon dioxide release, reduced Illinois soil quality and loss of natural habitats. Coursey did not estimate the cost of these environmental effects, but suggests they are "considerable" and additional to the grower costs mentioned above.

"The elimination of atrazine would also have a negative impact on the nation's and Illinois' efforts to replace gasoline with alternative and renewable sources of energy," Coursey said.

"The availability of relatively inexpensive corn in Illinois is essential in reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, further developing renewable and environmentally friendly fuel alternatives," he added. "Without atrazine, each of these efforts would be thwarted, making that solution harder and more expensive to attain."

EPA re-registered atrazine for continued use last year after an unprecedented 12-year review of all science pertaining to the herbicide. Atrazine is one of the first herbicides to be re-registered under the strict requirements of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which mandates special measures for the protection of infants and children. Despite this, some critics have argued the herbicide should be limited or banned.

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