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Red Currants Featured on Commission Report

PULLMAN, Wash. — Model Tyra Banks graces the cover of the Sports Illustrated special swimsuit issue. Actor Brad Pitt stares defiantly from the cover of Rolling Stone. “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston smiles back at you from “US”. Wherever you look, super stars and super models.

Then there is the first progress report of the Washington State Commission on Pesticide Registration.

The red currant, “poster child” of Washington State’s more than 200 minor crops, commands the cover of this 12-page report. The red currant is a bush berry grown commercially on 100 acres by three producers.

While the acreage is minuscule, it constitutes about three-quarters of all the red currant acreage in the country. And those 100 acres produce more than 80 percent of the nation’s red currant crop.

When the Environmental Protection Agency canceled registration of ethyl parathion a few years ago, it canceled the only known control for the currant cane borer. That action put currant producers in a jam, threatening their very existence.

They weren’t alone. Since 1984 more than half the registered uses of pesticides have been lost as federal pesticide safety regulations have tightened, according to Alan Schreiber, commission administrator.

Growth regulators, herbicides, insecticides, and other substances used to control pests are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure they do not present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment when used properly.

The Federal, Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, which provides EPA with regulatory authority, requires that all pesticides be registered before they can be sold or distributed to the public. A 1972 amendment to that law required all currently registered pesticides be re-registered to ensure they meet current scientific standards.

For minor crop producers, there’s the rub. “To bring a new chemical on the market, a company has to spend $35 million,” said Schreiber. “That’s for one crop. It costs $50,000 to $300,000 to register each additional crop. Companies have got to make their money in seven years, before the product goes off patent.”

And if expected sales won’t translate into a profit, the manufacturers won’t pursue a registration. For Washington, the nation’s third leading producer of minor crops, that’s a migraine headache. Nearly all crops grown in the state (wheat is the major exception) are considered minor by chemical manufacturers. Even apples, a $1 billion industry in Washington State, fall into the minor crop category.

To help minor crop growers cope, the state legislature created the Pesticide Registration Commission in 1995. The 17-member commission runs a minor crops research program to help growers of minor crops obtain and maintain pesticide registrations.

The commission, headquartered at Washington State University’s Tri-Cities campus, holds public meetings throughout the state to solicit and review proposals from growers.

During its first two years, the commission has funded 80 projects and considered another 27. Funding comes from a variety of sources. State funding of $914,000 has been augmented by more than $950,000 in cash or in-kind contributions from growers and others in Washington, Idaho and Oregon; and more than $250,000 in support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Most of the research needed to qualify a pesticide for registration or re-registration occurs in Washington. About a third occurs in neighboring Oregon and Idaho, which also may benefit from registered and re- registered products. Work that cannot be done in the three states is farmed out to a handful of specialized labs around the country.

Registrations for food crops normally take three to four years, including data generation, report writing, and review by state and federal regulatory agencies. Registrations for non-food crops, such as flower bulbs, take less.

During 1996 commission-funded research played a key role in helping growers of timothy hay, vegetable seed, dry peas, lentils, chickpeas and currants obtain emergency exemptions to control pest problems.

The three exemptions granted dry pea, lentil and chickpea growers are estimated to be worth more than $20 million in gross returns to Washington growers, Schreiber said. This would be even more if Idaho production is added to the tally.

“We are doing things that will allow us to continue growing crops that otherwise we would probably lose,” Schreiber said. “The return to the state on taxpayer investment is easily ten to one.”

The commission’s work has also resulted in registrations for an herbicide used on vegetable seed and an herbicide use on clover. Dozens more are expected from work in progress.

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