When does no really mean no? American Cotton Producers representatives were left to ponder that question following an exchange of views with the EPA's Steve Johnson during their recent joint meeting with The Cotton Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.

The question that precipitated the exchange had to do with why EPA seemed to be holding out the possibility of granting a Section 18 emergency exemption for the use of Pirate on beet armyworms on the Texas High Plains last month.

That was despite the fact that the manufacturer of Pirate had withdrawn its registration package for the insecticide after it became obvious that EPA would not grant it a full federal label.

Texas members of the American Cotton Producers said that because EPA didn't come right out and give producers a resounding "no," on Pirate, some High Plains growers delayed spraying with alternative pesticides because they thought EPA might still make it available.

In his comments, Johnson, the assistant deputy administrator for EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, reviewed the registration history for Pirate, citing EPA's concerns about the compound's persistence in the soil and impact on birds.

Although it had granted Section 18 emergency exemptions for Pirate over a four-year period, the agency concluded last winter that it would have to deny Section 3 or full registration for Pirate.

"In this situation, most companies decide to withdraw the application, as did American Cyanamid," said Johnson. "The reason they do this is that if we issue an official denial, they have to go through a judicial process that could involve lengthy hearings and other legal issues."

Despite the withdrawal, when cotton producers on the High Plains experienced unusually high infestations of beet armyworms in early August, questions began to arise about the availability of Pirate.

"Yes, there were other products available," said Steve Verett, executive vice president of Lubbock-based Plains Cotton Growers Association, at the ACP meeting. "But, nothing can compete with Pirate when it comes to beet armyworms."

Johnson acknowledged that the agency received a number of inquiries. "From the beginning, we told Texas officials `Do not submit Section 18 requests,' but we got them anyway. The answer was no from the beginning. Then, we thought we said no several times after that."

"But, why didn't you put it in writing and put an end to the questions once and for all," said a Texas ACP member.

"Then, growers would have known they had to use an alternative compound instead of thinking there might be a remote chance they would still get Pirate?"

"Well," said Johnson, pausing. "What if we had had a total failure with the other products? If we had issued a flat, written denial for any use of Pirate, then we would have not been able to allow it in an emergency situation in Texas or any other cotton-producing state. That was what we had to weigh in making our decision."

While the ACP members seemed to appreciate Johnson's candor, many left the meeting shaking their heads. "This is just one more example of how convoluted the registration process has become," said one.