Pesticide use reaches lowest level since 1992

By Colleen Valles The Associated Press
Wednesday October 24, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Pesticide use for agriculture, pest control and landscape maintenance declined in California in 2000 for the second straight year, dipping to the lowest level since 1992, a state report says. 

That decrease is largely due to increased use of reduced-risk chemicals and practices. That includes scouting the fields to see what pesticides may be present, rather than simply spraying because it’s a certain time of year, said Glenn Brank, spokesman for the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, which released the report Tuesday. 

“We’re certainly encouraged by the reports from the last two years,” he said. “A change in weather and other factors may change those numbers for 2001, but I think there very clearly is an indication that we are going in the right direction.” 

Good weather in 2000 led to a lower number of pests to infect crops, which helped bring down pesticide numbers, Brank said. 

About 188 million pounds of pesticides were used throughout the state in 2000, down from 202 million pounds in 1999. There’s been a drop of almost 27 million pounds since 1998. 

“What it shows is that when people really work on this they can make a huge difference in reducing pesticide use,” said Susan Kegley, staff scientist for San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network. 

Kegley attributed much of the decline to regulatory and public pressure. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing all pesticides in use and has further restricted many of them. Growers know that others may go the same way, so they’re looking for alternatives, Kegley said. 

The use of soil fumigants, such as methyl bromide and metam-sodium, which are used in higher application rates than many other pesticides, has also been reduced. Methyl bromide use decreased by more than 4.3 million pounds and the use of metam-sodium decreased by 3.9 million pounds statewide. The two chemicals were also used on fewer acres. 

California has the toughest restrictions on methyl bromide in the country, and it’s working on other soil fumigants, Brank said. 

“We’ve launched a statewide initiative to control the use of fumigants in general because we don’t want people to shift from methyl bromide to some other fumigant,” he said. “That just shifts the problem.” 

Kegley said that’s already happening to some degree, with the use of the soil fumigant telone on the rise. 

Pesticide use was down 3 million pounds in wine grape crops, down 2.7 million pounds in raisin and table grape crops and down 2 million pounds in processing tomatoes. 

California’s 6,000 almond growers, who supply 75 percent of the world’s almonds, also decreased pesticide use by 3 million pounds statewide. 

“I think our growers are getting better at looking at their orchards in more of a scientific way, and looking at targeting pests and timing the spraying so that it’s most effective,” said Chris Heintz, director of product research and environment for the state Almond Board. 

In addition to using fewer chemicals, the almond industry is also using less-toxic pesticides, she said. 

“These are hard economic times for growers, and I think some of the decrease in use is from growers trying to save money,” Heintz said.