About IR-4

The IR-4 Project is federally funded through the USDA and land-grant universities to ensure that specialty crop growers can have access to legal, registered uses of essential pest management tools such as pesticides and biopesticides.

Nuts, flowers and carrotsSpecialty crops include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • Floral/nursery crops
  • Landscaping plants
  • Turf
  • Christmas trees 

Why is IR-4 needed?

IR-4 is necessary since the companies that develop pest management products often do not feel that it is economically rewarding to invest the time, money and personnel to obtain EPA clearances (registrations) of their products for use on smaller acreage specialty crops. Similarly they may ignore the need to control pests on major crops which occur rarely or over a restricted geographical area (minor uses).

Without the existence of EPA clearances in these situations, and the inclusion of the pest-crop combination on the label, the use of these products is illegal, as is the presence of any residues in the crop at harvest. And yet, frequently these agents are critical for the commercial production of a specialty crop. Thus IR-4 takes on the responsibility of developing the data needed to obtain these essential clearances from EPA.

Some IR-4 facts:

  • Funded by USDA continuously for over 50 years
  • Submits almost 50% of the pesticide use petitions received by EPA annually
  • Since 2000, 80% of the IR-4 projects have involved Reduced Risk pesticides
  • Specialty crops contribute $64 billion in sales to the US economy
  • The IR-4 Project directly and indirectly supports 104,650 U.S. jobs and enhances annual gross domestic product by $7.3 billion (Economic Impacts of the IR-4 Project and IR-4 Project Programs. S. R. Miller & A. Leschewski (2011). Center for Economic Analysis , Michigan State University)

The IR-4 National Headquarters is located at NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is supported by four regional programs which carry out the field and laboratory research needed to establish the clearances.

MidwestThe North Central region’s section of the national program covers the 12 states of IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, OH, ND, NE, SD, and WI and is headquartered at Michigan State University. The Program has designated Field Research Centers at MSU (on campus and the Trevor Nicholls Research Center at Fennville, MI) and at the University of Wisconsin. Field research is also conducted at a variety of other sites and facilities in the NC states. The region works in coordination with the USDA-ARS research site at the Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center in Wooster, OH and the Canadian minor use program.

IR-4 Project Elements

The IR-4 project has three major elements with differing goals and procedures:

  • Food crops
  • Environmental Horticulture
  • Biopesticides and Organic Support

Food Uses

If the pesticide is to be used on crops used for food or animal feed it is generally required to assess the level of residues present when the compound is used according to “good agricultural practice”. In this case, IR-4 researchers apply the pesticide to the crop under carefully controlled conditions, harvest the edible parts when appropriate, and send these to one of the IR-4 residue analytical labs. The results are submitted to EPA to help establish tolerances (legal limits) for the residues in the crop at harvest. This is the activity where IR-4 invests most of its resources.

View the results of the 2023 Food Use Workshop for Residue Studies, Product Performance, and Integrated Solutions (IS).

Grape sprays Lab work

Cherries Ginseng Beans
Recent examples of food use projects in the North Central region (from left to right): Dinotefuran (cherries), Difenoconazole (ginseng) and Flonicamid (dry beans).

Environmental Horticulture

In the case of ornamental, landscaping and other non-food crops, no residue research is needed. In this case IR-4 typically conducts research on the efficacy of the agent against the target pest and its crop safety. Assuming these are satisfactory, the data are supplied to the manufacturer to allow the addition of the crop-pesticide-pest combination to the label. The priorities for the program are determined at annual national workshops that parallel the one held to prioritize food uses.

View the results of the 2021 Biennial Priority Setting Workshop.

Biopesticides and Organic Support

The objective with biopesticides is to support research needed to help develop and demonstrate the efficacy of these materials for specific uses. Biopesticide and organic needs and opportunities for specialty crops are prioritized annually at a national workshop in the Fall. Small grants are then awarded to address these priorities.

In addition, the program has an important function in providing registration support in interactions with EPA for companies developing biopesticide and organic-compatible agents. These are often pioneered by smaller companies with limited or no familiarity with EPA registration procedures.

View an overview of the Biopesticide and Organic Support Program.