Are You Spray Compliant? What Farmers Need to Know About Proposed EPA Herbicide Label Updates

FBN Network

Mar 20, 2024

Below, we’ve provided answers to some of the most common questions farmers have about the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal so that you understand how to be spray compliant, including:

Why Is the EPA Making a New Proposal?

Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the EPA has a legal responsibility to ensure that pesticide registrations do not jeopardize the continued existence of federally threatened or endangered species as outlined in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, due to resource constraints and the administrative workload required, the EPA has completed its ESA obligations for less than 5% of its actions.  

In July 2023, the EPA outlined new measures for protecting endangered species and meeting its ESA obligations in its Draft Herbicide Strategy Framework. The proposed strategy aims to provide early protections for more than 900 listed species and their critical habitats from agricultural uses of conventional herbicides in the lower 48 states while streamlining the herbicide registration process to ensure ESA compliance.

How Could the Proposed Rules Affect My Farm?

In short, the proposed restrictions complicate herbicide applications. Applicators must meet all drift and runoff mitigation requirements for each herbicide sprayed, which could add costs, change operational logistics, and require more planning time.

In certain situations, some herbicides or herbicide classes may be prohibited if fields are in environmentally sensitive areas. With more restrictions and fewer herbicide solutions to work with, growers may need to reconsider their weed control strategy.

In February 2024, the EPA announced it was exploring offset opportunities to give stakeholders more flexibility in meeting the proposed herbicide label requirements. In the future, pesticide registrants and users may be able to use offsets, such as funding habitat restoration for endangered species, when avoiding or minimizing pesticide exposure to an endangered species is impossible or impractical.

How Will I Know If My Herbicide Applications Are Affected?

The proposed changes in the EPA’s draft Herbicide Strategy will likely affect every herbicide application in the lower 48 states. Once finalized, spray applicators must ensure the herbicides they spray comply with the new mitigation requirements. 

As the EPA registers new herbicides and reviews existing ones, they will upload the latest mitigation requirements to their Bulletins Live! Two website. As mitigation requirements are added, the Bulletins Live! Two website will be listed on the pesticide label.

Applicators are required to follow the pesticide use limitation(s) found on the label and in the Bulletins Live! Two system for the intended application area, pesticide product, and application month. It's important to note, there is a six-month window to obtain a bulletin before applying a pesticide (e.g., you can obtain a bulletin January 1-July 1 if you plan to apply the pesticide on July 1). Therefore, before you apply a pesticide, check to see if new or additional directions for the product have been added to Bulletins Live! Two. Best practice is to print a copy of any bulletins (or lack thereof) and write the date the bulletin was printed on the page. Place it with other application records for safekeeping.

Do the Proposed Rules Only Apply to Herbicide Applications?

These proposed spray application rules are specific to herbicide applications; however, the EPA is also drafting new rules for insecticide and fungicide applications. The EPA expects to issue a final Insecticide Strategy by March 31, 2025. There is currently no deadline for the completion of a final Fungicide Strategy, but a deadline date is expected by the late summer of 2024. 

As the EPA begins to roll out these proposed herbicide application restrictions later this season, work with your trusted advisors to ensure your spray applications stay compliant. You can view this USDA webinar for a more detailed overview of the EPA’s Draft Herbicide Strategy.

What Are the Proposed EPA Herbicide Application Changes? 

The EPA plans to implement various label restrictions that include drift and runoff mitigation strategies to meet its ESA obligations. The agency would evaluate existing herbicides during their scheduled renewal and new herbicides during registration to ensure compliance with ESA standards. During those times, the EPA may amend label requirements to include new mitigation measures.   

Spray Drift Mitigation

The EPA proposes more restrictive physical buffer zones for some applications to reduce off-target herbicide exposure to sensitive plants and animals. The buffer zone requirements for each herbicide application will vary based on application equipment, spray droplet size, and level of species impact. Using hooded sprayers, reducing application rates, or installing windbreaks may reduce the buffer requirements by up to 50% based on the current draft’s language.   

EPA’s Proposed Maximum Drift Buffer Distances for Aerial, Ground, and Airblast Applications for Conventional Agricultural Herbicides

Runoff and erosion mitigation. Draft Herbicide Strategy Framework.

The proposed measures to reduce herbicide runoff and erosion are slightly more complicated. The EPA recommends a point-based system where applicators must earn “efficacy points” by implementing mitigation strategies to limit runoff and erosion. Under this strategy, every herbicide application would have an assigned point value based on its chemical formulation, crop sprayed, and potential environmental impact. 

To spray the herbicide, applicators/farmers must earn enough points by implementing various approved mitigation measures. More effective mitigation measures for limiting off-target herbicide movement would earn farmers higher point values. 

Based on the current strategy proposal, most herbicide applications under general restrictions would require up to six efficacy points. However, applicators in Pesticide Use Limitation Areas may need nine or more points to meet the proposed requirements.

A few examples from the proposed “mitigation menu” include:

Mitigation measure

Proposed point value

Fields with <2% slope


Cover crops


Grassed waterways


Soil incorporation within a few hours of application


Water retention systems


No-till; reduced tillage


Riparian forest buffer


Fields that are >1,000 feet from sensitive habitats, have subsurface drainage, or site-specific runoff/erosion plans implemented with guidance from a conservation district may be exempt from these mitigation measures.  

When Will the Proposed EPA Herbicide Rules Go into Effect?

The EPA has committed to issuing a final Herbicide Strategy by May 30, 2024. The Draft Strategy is currently being amended to address stakeholder comments that arose during the public comment period in the fall of 2023. 

Once in place, the final strategy will be implemented in phases as existing herbicides are eligible for registration review. Herbicide users can review the EPA’s Upcoming Registration Review Actions to see when specific products are scheduled for EPA review and potential additional label restrictions. 

New herbicide active ingredients would incorporate the herbicide strategy during the registration process.

How Can I Develop an Effective Crop Protection Strategy?

FBN® offers a broad portfolio of crop protection products, including:

When you shop for ag chemicals on FBN, you get access to product details and product labels that can help inform your purchasing decision. Prices are transparent, and you can conveniently have crop protection delivered directly to your farm. 

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FBN Network

Mar 20, 2024

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