A new report examining pesticide use trends in California provides clear indication that farmers are reducing their use of older, more stringently regulated pesticides in exchange for newer, environmentally-friendly methods to control pests. The report, issued by the Alliance for Food and Farming, analyzes California Department of Pesticide Regulations Pesticide Use Report data, which shows that application of older, broad-based pesticides has declined 66 percent over the past 12 years.
The new report titled, Pesticide Use Trends in California Agriculture was commissioned by the Alliance for Food and Farming, a non-profit organization representing both conventional and organic farmers of fruits and vegetables throughout the country.
"The purpose of this report is to examine whether long-term pesticide use trends support the widely-held belief that farmers are increasingly using Integrated Pest Management strategies and more modern tools targeted toward specific pests," said James Wells of Environmental Solutions Group and former director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR), who authored the report and conducted the analysis of CDPR Pesticide Use Report data. "The analysis shows a dramatic drop in the use of organophosphate and carbamate pesticides from 1998 to 2009. More importantly, the decline has been steady for the 12 year period, indicating that it is not just the result of 'low pest' years, but a clear trend in pest management strategies."
The report shows that organophosphate and carbamate pesticides currently represent just two percent of all pesticides used in California agriculture. According to the most recent data available, 39 percent of the pesticides applied are also approved for use in organic agriculture systems. In fact, two of the top three pesticides used by California farmers are approved for organic production. The remainder of all pest control products applied is made up of all other pesticides and includes several newer, reduced risk compounds that are common tools used by farmers as part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies.
While data is from California only, the Pesticide Use Report from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) is considered to be the most comprehensive in the world. Under the program, all agricultural pesticide use must be reported monthly to county agriculture commissioners, who in turn report the data to the CDPR. Similar use trends on a national basis were recently reported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
"It is very gratifying, but not surprising, to see these numbers so clearly reflect the shift in farming practices to IPM and other environmentally-friendly farming methods over the past decade," said Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming. "We knew this trend was happening but it is good to see it quantified in this analysis."
The Alliance report details how farmers are transitioning to reduce or eliminate use of the most strictly regulated pesticides as they strive to protect beneficial insects as a means of controlling damaging pests. However, the report also notes the judicious use of pesticides is important for farmers and can be crucial to IPM systems.
"As any home gardener knows, insect pests reproduce rapidly. The ability to apply conventionally and organically approved pesticides is still important to maintain as some pest outbreaks can be difficult to control," explains Wells. "In addition, California is increasingly experiencing the introduction of exotic pests which have the ability to destroy an entire crop, compromise the health of our forests and can be devastating to landscaping and home gardeners."
"Whenever pesticides are used by California farmers, that use is strictly controlled by the most advanced regulatory system in the nation," adds Dolan. "Farmers who grow the food you see in stores also feed it to their own families. In addition, they often live and work on their farms, which is strong motivation to use the most up-to-date and safest tools to control pests and diseases."
The full report on Pesticide Use Trends in California is available on the Alliance for Food and Farming's website at www.foodandfarming.info as well as on a special website which provides credible, science-based information to address common fears about pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables at www.safefruitsandveggies.com.
Highlights from report
-- There has been a significant reduction in the use of older, more highly regulated organophosphate and carbamate pesticides in California. Their use has declined 66 percent in the past 12 years.
-- The amount of these older, more highly regulated pesticides is far, far lower when compared with other pesticide classes including many newer, safer and more environmentally-friendly pesticides and those approved for use on organic crops. Currently, these older compounds comprise just 2 percent of the total pesticides used in California.
-- The reduction in use of older compounds indicates that California farmers are, in fact, successfully transitioning away from use of broad-based pesticides. This is likely the result of increased development and adoption of Integrated Pest Management strategies and a move toward softer, more environmentally-friendly compounds.
-- There is still a need for farmers to maintain the ability to use some of these older compounds for many reasons including the resistance of pests to more frequently used materials; the influx of exotic pests; and the lack of suitable alternatives in some instances. In addition, these materials may play a key role when used as a last resort to gain control of a pest outbreak that has overwhelmed an Integrated Pest Management system, allowing growers to re-establish IPM strategies.
-- It is important to note that these older compounds are also the most highly regulated. In California, which has the strictest pesticide regulations in the world, farmers using these products are subject to as many as 70 different laws and regulations each time an application is made.
-- Findings from the analysis conducted in California are similar to those reported by the U.S. Environmental Pesticide Agency concerning pesticide sales and usage throughout the nation.