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In this photo from 2018, Jose Orvaz, an employee at Simmons Farms in Peters Township, prepares cabbage and broccoli for planting. Scott Simmons said the farm did use chlorpyrifos years ago, but hasn’t used that particular pesticide in about 15 years.

After a decades-long campaign by some health and labor organizations, the Environmental Protection Agency last week banned the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on food grown in or imported into the United States.

The pesticide has been used to control crop pests since 1965. It’s most commonly used on grapes, broccoli and cauliflower and row crops.

For years advocacy groups have noted chlorpyrifos’s negative effects on children’s brain development, citing studies that link the pesticide to learning disabilities and ADHD. News of the ban was met with praise on social media, including several Instagram and Twitter comments that commended the EPA for taking action.

But in Pennsylvania, the move was greeted with less fanfare.

“I do think it’s something some growers will miss not having,” said William Troxell, executive director of the PA Vegetable Growers Association, which did not formally take a position on the issue. “In a lot of cases, there are other insecticides that are less toxic that are available. Oftentimes growers do appreciate having something that’s known to be very effective available to them if they need it.”

Troxell said according to the association’s most recent data from 2020, out of 1,000 survey responses, 73% of Pennsylvania farmers consider themselves conventional, meaning they use pesticides either regularly or only when necessary.

Simmons Farms in McMurray falls into the conventional category.

“We feel comfortable using them (pesticides),” said Scott Simmons, a partner at Simmons Farms. “Being that it’s a family farm, we don’t want to use them any more than we have to – we eat all our own products. We try to be careful.”

Simmons said growing up, his family would spray crops with pesticides daily. Now, the farm, which complies with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, only uses pesticides when necessary. Simmons said today’s farmers can follow online pest trackers to determine when a certain fungus or pest will be in the area, and spray crops accordingly.

Simmons said the farm did use chlorpyrifos years ago, but hasn’t used that particular pesticide in about 15 years.

“We have seen a trend in the declining use of chlorpyrifos in Pennsylvania already as growers saw signals of this coming,” Emily Demsey, communications director for the state Department of Agriculture, wrote in an email. “Production of the chemical has been phased out of major producers.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture does not gather data on pesticide use, but the department’s observations support the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s most recent data showing only a small percentage of farmers surveyed use chlorpyrifos regularly.

The farm bureau advocated against the EPA banning the use of the pesticide.

“Farmers have been using (chlorpyrifos) for decades. Every farm is different, the soil is different. A lot of farmers are making decisions based on years of research of what is working specifically on their farms,” said Liam Migdail, a spokesperson for the farm bureau. “A lot of these are very, very farm-specific decisions. Whenever you take away a tool ... there’s a lot of relearning that has to happen, that process of trial and error.”

No relearning will take place at Redrange Farm in Fayette County.

“We do not use any chemicals in our gardens or farming areas,” Lorraine Coates, who runs the farm with Roger Clawson, stated in an email. “This ban does not impact us in any way.”

Some states, including Maryland, already have begun phasing out chlorpyrifos. Demsey said the EPA’s action is effective six months after the ban is added to the federal register, meaning it should take effect in early 2022.

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