A number of agri-chemicals used by apple and pear growers may not be re-registered when they are reviewed and Australian growers are not getting access to other new products that may be useful in orchard management.
Quietly sitting on the APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority) website right now is a list of 39 agri-chemicals that have been nominated for review to determine if their registration will be continued or not. Plus one chemical is currently being reviewed, chlorpyrifos, which is used by the pome fruit industry.
These chemicals have been given a priority ranking based on the level of concern state and federal authorities, such as the Department of Environment and the Office of Chemical Safety, have about them.
These reviews could ultimately result in the loss of some uses or removal of these products from the market.
Products under review
Fresh in our minds we have had the cancelation of fenthion which also went through this review process. We now realise that fenthion is only the beginning of what lies ahead. The chemicals listed are generally old and regardless of their importance to industry they have been listed because essentially the original data, which got them registered, may no longer be sufficient to meet contemporary registration standards.
To add to this, by now the products have become generic with potentially a number of sellers of the same active ingredient, so there is little or no incentive for an individual chemical company to fund the generation of any additional data, if needed.
Therefore, for those uses or products considered important, industries will be directly called on to fund the research required to fill any data gaps identified in the review. This was the case with fenthion, but the industry decided it would be too expensive to get it registered at a lower use rate. Also, it was highly uncertain whether such data generation would have helped improve the case for fenthion, making for a very risky investment.
It poses the question: How far can industry funds really stretch to research all chemicals under review that are used in apple and pear production?
Chemicals used in pome fruit production
Many products on the current review list are used in apple and pear production. For example: chloropicrin (soil fumigant), dithiocarbamates (mancozeb, polyram, ziram), and propargite (omite).
Chloropicrin is one of the industry’s most effective soil fumigants, overcoming specific apple replant disease, which, when left untreated, slows young tree growth effecting the establishment of new planting blocks. For many growers, the loss of chloropicirin will mean lost early production and an overall loss of rapid young tree development, which is essential for current modern production systems.
Dithiocarbamates are a group of fungicides that, because of their mode of action, are extremely unlikely to ever develop resistance. This group is vitally important and the ramification of losing dithiocarbamates will be significant not just to apple and pear production but across many horticultural industries. The loss of this group would result in the narrowing of the options, leaving industries fewer choices to combat fungicide resistance pressures.
Access to new products and product uses
Between 2008 and 2012, Australia missed out on half of the potential new registered product uses, which competitors in Europe and USA have access to. Moreover, 25 per cent of new products for apples and pears are currently not available in Australia.
Australia is not a global priority for crop protection product sales because it constitutes only 1.5 per cent of the global agri-chemical market. From a chemical company’s perspective, this means Australia represents a low return on investment compared with China and Brazil. Plus Australia has complex, slow and expensive regulatory requirements. Decisions on what to register in which country are generally made abroad and these decisions reflect strong commercial interests much more than the interests of the industries.
To cover the high cost of chemical development and registration, there are significant price premiums placed on newly registered products until the product goes off patent and generic equivalents enter the market.
Better ways to support minor-use registrations
While commercial interests limit how open companies can be about their product pipeline, if companies don’t communicate with growers about upcoming products and registrations, we will not know what products we may miss out on right up until we see the application for registration with the APVMA.
Ultimately, a better dialogue is needed between chemical companies and industry.
In the USA, the IR-4 Project is an example where better communication and collaboration is occurring. The IR-4 Project facilitates the registration of conventional chemical pesticides for specialty crops and minor uses. To do this it partners with government, industry and growers.
The Australian Government Department of Agriculture has recognised the problem of registering chemicals for minor uses as a market failure and have committed $8 million over four years across the AgVet industry to improve access to chemicals. This will mainly go to supporting minor-use permits and offer a solution to existing urgent demands.
There are currently six minor-use permits for apple and pears which, in comparison to other industries, is not many. However, apples and pears are major crops so it would be difficult to register anything as minor use unless it was a particular pest specific to a region. So this funding will provide some opportunities, but there is potentially more that can be done to help apple and pear growers get access to helpful chemicals.
To deal with the emerging problem at hand as an industry we need to assess what chemicals are likely to be removed in 5-10 years and how this might expose the industry to future pest and disease threats. This would help us establish plans to manage those threats and identify what new products we may want access to so we can communicate that with companies.