Miller: Saving IR-4 Critical To Greenhouse Crop Protection

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Think about the high-profile plant diseases growers are encountering these days – downy mildew on impatiens, boxwood blight – and what the consequences will be if you don’t have the appropriate products to protect those plants.


Take gloxinias for example.

“We’ve virtually stopped growing them because we couldn’t control the pests,” says Marvin Miller, market research manager at Ball Horticultural Company. “We couldn’t solve the tomato spotted wilt virus with it. Really, we’ve had a whole list of crops we’ve stopped growing because we couldn’t control pests.”

If funding for the IR-4 Project is reduced or eliminated, as Pres. Barack Obama’s 2013 budget plan is currently designed, Miller suggests the list of crops growers no longer produce will grow longer. According to OFA, Congress currently provides about $15 million to IR-4, which was established in the 1960s to facilitate the registration of safe and effective crop protection products for specialty crops like greenhouse plants.

For 2013, the Obama administration proposes consolidating IR-4 funds with other pest management programs into a single project called “Crop Protection.” If the current budget stands, Miller expects funding for floriculture research to take a hit.

“More than half the chemicals for floriculture crops today are probably the recipient of IR-4 research,” Miller says. “That by itself speaks volumes about the issue we now face.”

Miller adds that consolidating specialty crops research funds into a single project will likely benefit big-acreage industries like corn, soybeans and cotton.

“We think we’re big as an industry because we know all of our competitors,” he says. “But if you’re a chemical company, their bread and butter is corn, soybeans, cotton.”

And floriculture, in many cases, is an afterthought.

“Look at whitefly,” Miller says. “If a company has a chemical that attacks whitefly, they’ll get certification for cotton or for beans because of the pure acreage of those crops. Once you’ve hit those markets, you’ve already made your money back on any formulation. And the next question is did you seek certification to do the research so we can use that product on fruits and vegetables?”

Sometimes, Miller continues, chemical companies can’t justify the costs. That’s where IR-4 comes in: If IR-4 is eliminated or its funding is cut, the number of specialty crops being researched could diminish.

“Whether or not we would have enough [funds] to deal with any one pest efficiently is the real issue,” Miller says.

Given IR-4’s contribution, OFA and ANLA are urging growers to contact Congress to ask that the IR-4 Project be maintained as a separate budget line item in the USDA budget. Miller hopes growers will write letters.

Growers can do just that at