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Tour aims to educate EPA

The educational efforts of North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service specialists and agents are not confined to farmers and other citizens. Sometimes, other government agencies are the beneficiaries of extension expertise.

That was the case last year when Christmas tree specialists and agents organized a tour of Christmas tree farms in western North Carolina for federal Environmental Protection Agency officials. EPA is considering whether to change the label that specifies how North Carolina growers apply Di-Syston, an insecticide used to control aphids and mites on Fraser firs.

Specialists, agents and growers expect to learn in early 2001 what action EPA will take.

North Carolina Christmas tree growers use Di-Syston differently than do growers in any other area of the country, explained Dr. Jill Sidebottom, area Extension forestry specialist stationed at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center at Fletcher. A 24C Special Local Needs Label allows North Carolina growers to apply a level teaspoon of the insecticide at the base of each of their trees.

In other areas, the label specifies that the insecticide be incorporated into the soil and watered. Western North Carolina’s mountainous terrain makes that kind of application all but impossible, hence the special label. The insecticide is also used to control aphids and mites on a number of other crops.

Under the Food Quality Protection Act, however, EPA is reevaluating pesticide labels and is considering changing the Di-Syston label in North Carolina. Sidebottom said EPA also is concerned about worker and wildlife safety.

North Carolina growers don’t want to lose Di-Syston and the special label. While there are other insecticides that control aphids and mites, they all must be sprayed on trees, Sidebottom explained. Growers in western North Carolina usually plant their trees close together. That proximity and the steep terrain make it difficult to use the equipment needed to spray trees. Growers fear that without Di-Syston, it will be difficult to control mites and aphids.

That’s where Sidebottom and Western North Carolina extension agents come into the picture. Sidebottom had been in touch with EPA officials for more than a year, providing information about Di-Syston use on Christmas trees in North Carolina. Jerry Moody, horticultural agent in Avery County, had also been in contact with EPA and continually issued an invitation to the EPA officials with whom he spoke to come to North Carolina and see how Di-Syston is used. When growers began writing letters to EPA in support of Di-Syston, EPA officials decided to take Moody up on his invitation.

The result was a three-day visit last June during which Sidebottom and Moody, along with Jeff Owen, area Christmas tree specialist; Watauga County agent David Tucker; agent Jerry Washington, who works with growers in Ashe and Alleghany counties; and Mitchell County agent Jeff Vance showed the visitors eight Christmas tree farms in Ashe, Avery, Mitchell and Watauga counties. The EPA officials also met with growers.

“I think it was a very successful tour,” said Sidebottom. “They (the EPA officials) were very willing to listen, and the growers made their case well.”

EPA is supposed to make public its decision on Di-Syston use on Christmas trees. Sidebottom said that after the decision is announced, the public will have 60 days to comment, after which a final decision on the label will be made.

She added that Christmas tree growers are hoping that the label will not be changed. However, EPA could ban Di-Syston use on Christmas trees.

“Before the tour, that’s [a ban] what we expected,” Sidebottom said. “Now, I think we will keep the label for few more years.”

If that’s the case, that will give growers time to take steps, such as planting trees further apart, that will make it easier to move equipment around the trees and spray other insecticides.

Dave Caldwell


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