Expert Panel: Atrazine’s Economic, Environmental Benefits Up to $4.8 Billion Annually

Increased yields, decreased producer costs and environmental benefits from atrazine and other triazine herbicides was estimated to be up to $4.8 billion per year, according to studies released by a panel of experts in Kansas City on November 9.

David C. Bridges, Ph.D., president, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, University of Georgia led the webcast news conference hosted by AgriTalk host Mike Adams. Bridges said the findings show substantial benefits to crop production, environmental protection and U.S. job creation.

“It’s hard to overestimate the importance of atrazine and the triazine herbicides to U.S. agriculture and global food supplies.  They benefit food production, the environment and the economy — and that means jobs,” Bridges said. “Some say there are ready replacements. In fact, there is no substitute for atrazine.”

The findings show atrazine increases U.S. corn production by about 7 additional bushels per acre of production, while U.S. sorghum farmers benefit by more than 13 additional bushels per acre of yield.  Those higher yields help save the U.S. beef, dairy, pork, poultry and egg industries more than $1.4 billion per year.  These benefits resonate throughout the entire supply chain, from farmers and food processors to retailers and consumers, Bridges said.

According to Richard Fawcett, a former agronomist at Iowa State University, atrazine also helps the environment by facilitating conservation tillage. Conservation tillage in turn reduces soil erosion and reduces sedimentation in streams and lakes, reduces fuel use and carbon emissions and reduces runoff of herbicides. Although atrazine has been on the market for over 50 years, the herbicides value to farmers remains high, Fawcett said.

“The yield benefit with atrazine is still there today. Atrazine helps nearly all those new products work better. It doesn’t take a lot of atrazine to make a lot of those herbicide work better,” Fawcett said.

Atrazine has made conservation tillage practices possible for many farmers, and that benefits the environment. “We do know that wildlife habitat has been greatly improved. Conservation tillage created habitat, benefits ecology,” Fawcett said. “When I was a kid, you would never see wildlife on a farm, but today you do. The wildlife is back.”

USDA reports that U.S. cropland soil erosion declined by more than 40 percent between 1982 and 2007. Conservation tillage and related practices have contributed to this result. The triazine herbicides play an integral role in those programs.

In addition, conservation tillage and no-till farming reduce agricultural diesel fuel use by more than 18 million gallons per year and annual carbon-dioxide emissions by more than 180,000 metric tons.

“For many farm families, especially in this struggling economy, atrazine’s productivity boost represents the margin between keeping the family farm and home — and losing everything,” said Don Coursey, Ph.D.  “Atrazine’s value extends from farms to the small businesses they support and their local communities. Our findings today show that atrazine provides a basis for between 30,000 and 48,000 American jobs in corn production alone,” Coursey said.

Paul Mitchell said without atrazine, yields would go down, and planted acres would have to increase to make up for the loss. “There can be no doubt, based on these studies that atrazine is contributing significantly to food production, environmental protection and jobs in the areas of its use,” Mitchell said.

The panelists on the webcast were:

David Bridges, Ph.D., author, “A biological analysis of the use and benefits of chloro-s-triazine herbicides in U.S. corn and sorghum production”

Paul D. Mitchell, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin, and author, “Economic assessment of the benefits of chloro-s-triazine herbicides to U.S. corn, sorghum, and sugarcane producers” and “Estimating soil erosion and fuel use changes and their monetary values with AGSIM: a case study for triazine herbicides”

Micheal D. K. Owen, Ph.D., professor of agronomy and associate chair, Agronomy Department, Iowa State University, and author, “The importance of atrazine in the integrated management of herbicide-resistance weeds”

Richard S. Fawcett, Ph.D., president of Fawcett Consulting and former professor of agronomy, Iowa State University, and author, “Efficacy of best management practices for reducing runoff of chloro-s-triazine herbicides to surface water: a review”

Economist Don L. Coursey, Ph.D., Ameritech professor of public policy studies, Harris School, The University of Chicago, and author of the earlier released “Illinois Without Atrazine, Who Pays?” and “Jobs, safety and informed choices”

Also included are the results of the study, National Corn Growers Association’s yield contests of 2006-2009: summary of atrazine versus non-atrazine use

To watch the webcast, follow this link on the AgrilTalk website