Minor Crops Council names officer

Berger directs technical affairs for organization The appointment of Lori Berger as director of technical affairs for the California Minor Crops Council (CMCC) was announced by Jonathan Field, chairman of the council's executive committee and also manager of the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

Berger, who has extensive academic credentials and professional experience, will represent California minor and specialty crops in future uses of crop protection tools.

The idea for the CMCC, Field said, stems from the California Agricultural Issues Forum (CAIF), a group of fruit and vegetable programs devoted to working proactively and cooperatively for a more positive environment for producers and handlers of the industries represented.

The CMCC came about when the implementation and litigation processes for the Food Quality Protection Act began. After attending a hearing on azinphos-methyl in Washington, D.C., Field said, he was convinced the CAIF member industries need to have more input into the implementation process of the law. "We think we are pretty tough players, but none of us is big enough to do much by ourselves."

Other organizations basically attempt to ease some of the problems with the law, but, he added, "we wondered how we could work with the law from a practical standpoint.

"We could provide technical input for EPA or the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, so that all the input doesn't come from those people who want to do away with pesticides."

In meetings during the summer and fall of 1999, CAIF set out to determine how to do this without duplicating the work of others and be an adjunct or a complement to those who are working on the political side. The council took shape, using organizations in Florida and Washington as models.

On CARAT panel Berger, hired in April and based in Visalia, was subsequently appointed by the USDA/EPA to serve on the Committee to Advise on Reassessment and Transition (CARAT). It was established to help USDA move into more fully integrated pest management. The committee represents diverse interests, from environmentalists to pesticide manufacturers, plus universities and commodity groups.

Berger is well aware of the challenge of her tasks and the high stakes for her constituents. "When a significant chemical component of an IPM program is removed," she said, "its only available alternative might be five other chemicals."

In carrying out her duties, Berger is contacting California Department of Pesticide Regulation officials frequently and travels to Washington, D.C. about 12 times a year for meetings with EPA and other federal agencies.

She also will be working with the Western Crop Protection Association, USDA, and others to bring Washington, D.C.-based regulators to California to visit production sites and personally observe field and harvesting operations.

"This has been successful in Washington and Florida, where regulators are shown how specialty crops are grown and how pest management and other agricultural practices and economics make them very different from corn and soybeans."

Other tours, she added, have successfully focused on broader issues in agriculture, but one upcoming tour will be tailored to specific minor crops in California.

Although a big part of her job description is performing liaison between the field and the regulatory community, she also deals with risk mitigation.

"FQPA issues," she explained, "are based on a risk assessment, and the assessment for each product is developed from field activity, worker exposures, and dietary exposure.

Unfortunately, in developing an assessment, agencies often use worst-case scenarios from inaccurate or incomplete information. Examples are maximum numbers of acres treated, maximum number of pounds applied, and maximum number of treatments.

"However, when you look at use patterns, particularly the IPM plans we have in California, the usage, compared to what it could be, is relatively low in comparison to the worst-case estimates often utilized by EPA in its risk assessments."

She went on to say that Washington based officials have a great need to understand how our growers irrigate, prune, monitor for pests, and practice IPM. "So I am able to serve as a resource to provide that information on a real-world basis."

Pesticide use on so-called "minor" crops, or those with high-value and less than 300,000 acres, in California will be combined with the massive acreages of corn and soybeans elsewhere in the country.

"Minor crops potentially have the greatest to lose in terms of chemical tools because registrants generally are more interested in preserving the larger markets," Berger said.

She is talking with PCAs, farm advisors, and university researchers about product performance, product value to IPM programs, and how products are used. "All that helps EPA get a clearer picture of how much product is used and why it is needed."

Guided by detailed crop profiles developed for various crops by USDA and commodity groups, regulators will have a closer look at pest management, particularly the biological and chemical tools available and, in the event a registration is discontinued by either a regulatory agency or a registrant, what alternatives are available.

One of the next steps for the commodity groups of the CAIF is to develop pest management strategic plans, and Berger will be working with these too.

"Reduced risk chemistries exist, but the problem with them is the registrants are generally pursuing the larger markets first. But that's where we can assist with the Section 18 process and make sure our California commodities are prioritized in the IR-4 system."

The IR-4 is a partnership between USDA, state universities, and EPA which collects data for chemical registrations on products on crops whose acreage typically doesn't justify the commercial investment necessary to obtain a federal registration.

Regulator rapport Berger said she is developing a strong rapport with regulators, who often don't have the opportunity to communicate with people at the field level.

"I'm letting them know things like how badly we need a botrytis material for pears and kiwifruit and how we need to move things with second priority now up to the first priority."

She said is particularly pleased that crops such as California stonefruit and pears have been able to reduce significantly their use of organophosphates.

The CMCC membership now includes 13 California organizations: the Avocado Commission, Cantaloupe Advisory Board, Cherry Marketing Program, Citrus Research Board, Cling Peach Growers Advisory Board, Kiwifruit Commission, Melon Research Advisory Board, Pear Advisory Board, Plum Marketing Board, Prune Board, Raisin Marketing Board, Strawberry Commission, and Table Grape Commission. The Grape and Tree Fruit League and the Tomato Commission are associate members.

Berger said the CMCC is seeking commodity groups as additional members. She can be reached at her office in Visalia at 559-733-7497.

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