May 4, 2012
Save IR-4

The Interregional Research Project Number 4 (IR-4) – which works with EPA to register pest control products for specialty crops – might not live to see its 50th birthday.

In February, the Obama administration released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 (which starts in October 2012). As part of the proposal, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) plans to consolidate its IR-4 funding with that of five other pest management programs, creating a new entity called Crop Protection.

IR-4 supporters say NIFA’s plan could lead to the end of the project as we know it – which could lead to the end of specialty crop pest control as we know it.

“We were blindsided by this,” said Alan Schreiber, director of the Washington Asparagus Commission and Washington Blueberry Commission. Speaking on behalf of both commissions, he said IR-4 “is absolutely essential to our existence.”

IR-4 – based at Rutgers University in New Jersey, but with regional offices at land-grant universities in other states – receives an annual amount of about $18 million in direct funding, two-thirds of which comes from NIFA grants, said Jerry Baron, the project’s executive director.

Why is IR-4 so essential to specialty crops? Well, those crops have never gotten much attention from pesticide manufacturers – the companies that spend millions of dollars to find chemicals to control weeds, insects and diseases for the major commodity crops, and that generate the data required to get those uses labeled by EPA.

IR-4, on the other hand, works with land-grant researchers and EPA to make sure specialty crops get at least some sort of access to those pesticides. An IR-4 trial, for example, will study an existing pesticide to see if it works on a certain specialty crop. The data goes to EPA, which decides if the pesticide should be registered for use on that crop.

Since 1963, IR-4 has facilitated more than 25,000 registrations of pest control products for growers of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, ornamentals and other specialty crops, according to an IR-4 press release.

No one from NIFA wanted to speak to me on the record, but a public affairs specialist sent me some background information about NIFA’s budget proposal. According to that information, the proposed merger would not eliminate funding from any of the programs involved, and the “consolidation will allow NIFA to continue to address critical pest management issues, but to do so in a way that best uses the agency’s monetary and staff resources.”

Most of the funded activities would be for IPM projects, according to NIFA.

Rich Bonanno, president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, said IR-4’s mission goes well beyond Integrated Pest Management.

Baron agreed that IR-4’s present mission would not fit the proposed Crop Protection program’s priorities. He also said that even if NIFA were to maintain its current level of funding, IR-4 could still lose 30 percent of that.

A program like IR-4 that gets federal grants but is housed by a host institution (such as Rutgers) usually has to give some of that funding to its host to recoup housing costs. Currently, IR-4 is exempt from that requirement, but could lose that exemption if NIFA merges it with the other programs. That’s what would lead to the 30 percent cut, Baron said.

Of course, President Obama’s budget proposal is just that: a proposal. Congress has to approve it, and it’s highly unlikely it will survive the process intact.

Baron has heard scuttlebutt to the effect that Congress is committed to finalizing a budget before the November election, but nobody can predict what will happen with any certainty. If the president’s budget was to pass intact, however, IR-4 as we know it would disappear. He hopes that won’t happen.

“Hopefully, next year we can talk about the 50th anniversary of IR-4,” Baron said.

For more information about IR-4, visit To learn more about efforts to preserve the project’s independence, visit

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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