On July 3, Delta Farm Press spoke with Jeff Jacoby, FMC director of public affairs. The interview centered on the causes and aftermath of Delta wheat sprayed with FMC's pesticide Fury. Excerpts of that interview follow (DFP questions in bold).
When FMC found out about this on May 22, what were your actions?
We did a number of things. First, we offered any help we could to the agencies within the states. Second, we worked with a sampling lab in Jackson, Miss., called Argus Analytical. There, we offered to pay for any grower who wished to have his wheat sampled.
As time moved on, we decided that the best thing for all parties was for FMC to purchase the affected wheat. We're paying the farmers for the wheat, as well as for its transport and storage.
Have y'all been in contact with any farmers who are less than happy with your offer to buy their tainted crop?
Not all of the farmers are pleased, but a sound majority have accepted the offer, which we think was a fair and reasonable one.
The main reason we went forward with this solution was that we wanted to keep the growers whole. They are, after all, our ultimate customer.
We certainly didn't want to put out any sort of bad connotation regarding the product, either. It's an excellent product.
We have registration pending on cereal grains with EPA which includes wheat, and we didn't want to hurt that process in any way.
We also wanted to maintain the integrity and public confidence of the food distribution system. It was important that we contain the affected wheat, identify where it happened and bring it to closure very quickly before it had the potential to enter the channels of trade. I think we were able to do that with the help of the Arkansas Plant Board and Mississippi Department of Agriculture, as well as the EPA, FDA and USDA.
What about the lab results? Why is no Fury being found on many of the samples?
Our data indicates that 21 days to 28 days after spraying, Fury residues would be undetectable. Most of these misapplications occurred in April. It's now July, so that makes sense.
Regarding the Fury tracking group FMC sent out — were they sent out with a binding document for farmers to sign before an offer was made for their wheat?
No binding offer was made without a price. Our agreement with the regulatory agencies required that FMC notify growers within 48 hours, and that we have purchase agreements to growers within five days. We had to have auditors on the ground coordinating this quickly.
Are you expecting a lawsuit to be filed over this?
There is always the potential for a lawsuit. In this case, we did what we thought was right. I'm not sure what grounds there would be for a lawsuit.
We've stepped up to the plate and think we have done a number of things to help those farmers involved in this situation.
Has anyone inside your company been disciplined over (Fury being sprayed on Delta wheat acreage)?
That's pending the agency investigations. There's clearly a letter on file with all our employees in North America on the importance of making recommendations in compliance with the label. But any internal action by FMC would be considered to be confidential, that is between FMC and its employee or employees.
I assume you've conducted an internal investigation. As no one has been disciplined yet, I'm guessing you're just waiting on the states' reports?
Clearly we want to work with the agencies to get to the bottom of it and ensure that all elements of the industry, including crop consultants, university Extension personnel, aerial applicators, distributors, dealers and growers can learn from this experience.
But no one has fessed up (to giving the first go-ahead for spraying wheat with Fury)? No reps have said they made a mistake? It isn't necessarily FMC, but either the consultants we've spoken with are wrong or an FMC rep is. Someone is responsible for being the one who gave the original okay to spray this stuff. Everyone can't be telling the truth about not being the originator.
There are a number of different elements involved in the agencies' investigation here. I don't see this as FMC versus consultants, but trying to determine how this happened and how we can prevent it in the future. The agencies will determine who is at fault and make an enforcement decision based on their investigation.
I would not agree that someone is lying here. I don't know what all the consultants have said. That's why the agencies' investigations are going on with all parties involved.
Farmers were in limbo for a while with their wheat crops. Because harvest took place late, their double-crop beans are now late. Is it fair to shackle FMC with potential losses due to late planting? Is that someone else's responsibility or is that just the way the cards fall?
I don't believe that's our responsibility. We feel we have made a fair offer, given the circumstances, for the crop involved.