In May, US Congressmen Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Jim Baird (R-IN) introduced the bipartisan Plant Biostimulant Act of 2022 (H.R. 7752). To learn more about the Bill and its implications, 2BMonthly reached out to the Board of Directors of BPIA, the US-based trade association representing biological products, including biostimulants, and spoke with two board members, Terry Stone with Corteva Agriscience and Keith Pitts with Bioceres Crop Solutions.
What are the key objectives of the Plant Biostimulant Act of 2022?
The key objectives of the H.R. 7752 – Plant Biostimulant Act of 2022 (PBA) are three-fold, (1) the PBA provides a federal definition for a plant biostimulant, (2) the PBA exempts plant biostimulants from regulation under the Federal Fungicide, Insecticide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). [Note: The Act also provides a definition for a “nutritional chemical” a product category historically exempted from FIFRA regulation, but, to date, not defined and an updated definition for “vitamin hormone products, that reflect their current usage”], and (3) the PBA authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct a soil health study regarding plant biostimulants, as defined in the PBA, to assess and recommend best management practices that will promote soil health and several other environmental and agronomic benefits.
Under the PBA, plant biostimulant means a substance, microorganism, or mixture thereof, that, when applied to seeds, plants, the rhizosphere, soil, or other growth media, act to support a plant’s natural processes independently of the biostimulant’s nutrient content, including by improving nutrient availability, uptake or use efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, and consequent growth, development, quality, or yield.
If this definition looks familiar, it is! This proposed plant biostimulant definition is harmonized with the existing, official European Union definition for plant biostimulant and is the “preferred” definition developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the biostimulant policy and regulatory analysis study authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. This “preferred” definition has since been endorsed by BPIA and other trade associations, as well as by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
On a more strategic level, the PBA is our “next important step” in our decade long effort to create a clear path to market for plant biostimulants that achieves many of our long-stated, long-pursued objectives of:
- Establishment of a definition for plant biostimulant through federal legislation, recognizing these products as a unique category of plant health product distinct from nutrient fertilizers and pesticides.
- Achieving a uniform national framework that would allow the registration of plant biostimulants and ability to more accurately describe the benefits of these products on product labels. This would include the development and adoption of an American Association of Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) model bill for individual States to adopt that would help to streamline the registration process across the nation.
- Educating and highlighting the benefits of plant biostimulant products for USDA and other stakeholders related to soil health, sustainability, and climate smart agriculture opportunities.
- Achieving regulatory clarity from EPA regarding existing regulations, including the definition of plant regulator within the FIFRA law.
Would the Plant Biostimulant Act serve to better define the difference between biostimulants and plant (growth) regulators?
The PBA is an important next step in establishing clarity for several product categories and their regulatory status under FIFRA.
By defining a plant biostimulant and then exempting plant biostimulants from regulation under FIFRA, the PBA provides greater clarity of what products fall under FIFRA regulation, e.g., pesticides and plant regulators, versus those products exempt from FIFRA regulation, e.g., fertilizers, seed inoculants, nutritional chemicals, vitamin hormone products and now, plant biostimulants.
However, even once this law is enacted, other key initiatives underway still need to be further developed and brought to completion. Most importantly, the pending US EPA Guidance for Plant Regulator Products and Claims, Including Plant Biostimulants that has been in draft form for nearly seven years and would help delineate what label claims, and/or product composition, would trigger FIFRA jurisdiction (registration as a pesticide with EPA) versus those same aspects that fall outside FIFRA jurisdiction. This is a missing piece to the puzzle of creating a transparent, uniform and workable path to market for plant biostimulants.
Similarly, under the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act 4 (PRIA4), the USEPA established a new, voluntary (registrant initiated) PRIA category, M009 (https://www.epa.gov/pria-fees/pria-4-fee-determination-decision-tree), a non-FIFRA Regulated Determination process. The M009 process includes, but is not limited to, determinations for treated articles exemptions, 25b minimum risk pesticides, and pesticidal device(s), which now can also include an assessment of whether or not a product, and its associated label claims, would be classified as FIFRA-regulated “plant regulator” or FIFRA-exempt “biostimulant”. As we look to PRIA reauthorization in 2022, the biostimulant industry needs to work closely with EPA to develop an effective M009 review process for biostimulant categorization assessments. With experience and well-documented “record of decisions” from the US EPA on the M009 process, the comprehensive regulatory process will become clearer to us all, whether we are industry developers, state or federal regulators or users of plant biostimulants.
What are the next steps?
First and foremost, the industry needs to thank Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Jim Baird (R-IN) and their staff for their leadership and support for writing and introducing the Plant Biostimulant Act. Now, it is on us as BPIA members, and as leaders in the biologicals products industry to recruit more support for the PBA by encouraging more members of the United States House of Representatives to join as co-sponsors of the PBA. Similarly, we need to recruit sponsors and supporters in the United States Senate for the eventual introduction of companion bill in the Senate.
The PBA is not currently envisioned to pass as “stand alone” legislation, but it is a marker or placeholder bill that we hope will be, and are diligently working to have included as a provision in the 2023 Farm Bill.
Amendments to any existing US law can be challenging, particularly more so for laws that regularly deal with complex environmental, human health and economic and scientific policy issues, e.g., FIFRA. With this is mind, the industry will need to continue, and, in some cases, step up its communications and collaboration with regulators and policy makers in Washington, DC and state capitals across the United States, as well as internationally. Similarly, outreach to and partnerships with other key stakeholders, such as grower groups, food companies, NGOs, retailers, and academia will be critically important to the success or failure of this undertaking.
Ultimately, to be successful, we need all BPIA members actively involved in promoting this legislation and broadening our base of support for the PBA, as well as our larger objective to be able to bring efficacious, innovative and safe products under the “plant biostimulant” designation to market. Multiple BPIA committees will be involved in this effort, so expect regular communication from your committee leadership, our executive director, Keith Jones, and the BPIA board of directors. If you’re not a committee member yet, please consider contributing your organization’s most-welcomed talents, to our cause.
If the Bill becomes law, what would the next steps be at that time?
In addition to participating in the legal processes of turning enacted legislation into coherent and effective regulations, there are several other threads that BPIA members need to weave into a “complete” tapestry. We need to secure publication of the final version of the aforementioned EPA guidance document, and we need to establish a workable M009 PRIA review for FIFRA-exempt determinations.
Similarly, the industry has spent a great deal of time and energy on developing voluntary guidelines concerning the characterization, efficacy, quality, and safety of plant biostimulants. We need to continue to educate ourselves and others on these guidelines, and to promote their implementation to our industry and the broader community of interested stakeholders, including internationally recognized standard setting expert bodies like ISO and CEN.
All of these necessary next steps will allow us to finalize a state model law on plant biostimulants and to advance our ongoing efforts to work with state and federal regulators to establish a harmonized and efficient regulatory process for plant biostimulants that allow us to bring safe and effective plant biostimulants to market and make biostimulant claims on a uniform product label recognized by all involved regulatory entities.
Finally, we should not overlook the tremendous opportunities presented by the USDA soil health study authorized under this act. The soil health study provisions read as follows:
“SEC. 3. SOIL HEALTH STUDY.
(a) STUDY.—The Secretary of Agriculture shall conduct a study to assess the types of, and practices using, plant biostimulants (as defined in section 2 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (7 U.S.C.) that best achieve the following:
(1) Increasing organic matter content.
(2) Reducing atmospheric volatilization.
(3) Promotion of nutrient management practices.
(4) Limiting or eliminating runoff or leaching of soil or nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen into groundwater or other water sources.
(5) Restoring beneficial bioactivity or healthy nutrients to the soil.
(6) Aiding in carbon sequestration, nutrient use efficiency and other climate-related benefits.
(7) Supporting innovative approaches to improving agricultural sustainability, including the adoption of performance-based outcome standards and criteria.
(b) REPORT.—Not later than 1 year after the date on which funds are first made available for the study under subsection (a), the Secretary shall make publicly available and submit to the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry of the Senate a report that describes the results of the study.”
As an industry, we should be very excited about putting our full support behind this study. If properly resourced and managed, the findings of this study would be absolutely critical to establishing on-farm best management practices regarding the use of biostimulants that, in turn, could be used in a variety of sustainable agriculture, or climate smart, initiatives, including NRCS conservation incentive payments or other public, public-private and/or private ecosystem service incentive programs that are currently in the market or under development. The BPIA board of directors has discussed some efforts we can undertake now that would help advance the timeliness and value of this study, should it become authorized by Congress.
Can you provide us with some insights into some of the collaborations that took place to put this Bill forward?
The collaborations have been sustained and numerous. BPIA has worked closely, and collaboratively, with our colleagues at The Fertilizer Institute, the Humic Products Trade Association, CropLife America, Biotechnology Industry Organization, the American Seed Trade Association, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture to achieve our successes to date, but also have many to thank in federal and state government.
First and foremost, BPIA needs to thank Congressmen Panetta and Baird, and their staff, for their leadership and support. Additionally, we need to thank the USDA, and, specifically, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for their leadership in keeping industry and state and federal regulators in regular, purposeful communication in the lead up to, and execution of, the 2018 Farm Bill project.
Similarly, we recognize and appreciate the efforts of the US EPA and in particular the team at BPPD, for drafting the guidance on plant regulator products and claims, which we still need to press towards finalization.
Finally, BPIA needs to thank leaders within the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials and the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials, particularly Nick Young of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and Eddie Simons of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, for their renewed and ongoing support as we seek to advance a harmonized biostimulant regulatory framework with state regulators. https://aapco.org/
In general, even with the potential passage of the PBA, the industry has a lot of work to do, but we can move forward with increasing confidence that we have developed relationships that create a strong foundation upon which we can build further.
What are the implications of the Plant Biostimulant Act for BPIA member companies?
We’re moving one big step closer to meeting our long-desired goal in creating an effective and harmonized regulatory framework to bring safe, beneficial, and effective biological products, identified as biostimulants, to our customers to the benefit of their consumers and to the environment. There’s still a lot of work for us to do, and we can’t do it without the active support and participation of all BPIA member companies and the many interested stakeholders of these products.
If you’re interested in working with BPIA to advance these initiatives, please join here.