California farmers use more pesticides

November 16, 2006 7:35am

•  State says ‘highly toxic’ categories are down

•  Fresno County remains number one

Despite a statewide decline in the use of several highly toxic chemicals in 2005, including fumigants and other “pesticides of regulatory concern,” the overall use of pesticides in the state grew last year, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation says.

Fresno County saw the use of more than 32 million pounds of pesticides in 2005, up from 29.4 million pounds in 2004.

DPR tentative statistics for 2005 show 194 million pounds applied for all commercial uses, compared to 180 million pounds in 2004. Half of the increase was attributed to sulfur, a natural compound used by organic and conventional growers to combat mold and mildew, the department says.

At the same time, use of many higher risk chemicals declined, both in pounds applied and acres treated, while use of some reduced-risk compounds increased dramatically, the state report says.

"DPR continues to put strong emphasis on reducing pesticide risks and use whenever possible," says DPR Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam. "While last year's weather presented challenging conditions for growers, we see a growing reliance on sustainable pest management.”

She says the number of pounds applied is not as significant as the chemicals that contribute to the total.

"Increased use of less toxic materials shows that we are moving in the right direction,” Ms. Warmerdam says.

As in previous years, most farm pesticide use occurred in the Central Valley, the nation's No. 1 agricultural area. Fresno, Kern, Tulare, San Joaquin, and Madera counties had the highest use, as measured in pounds.

((Download a list of pesticide use by county by clicking on the link below.))

Pesticide use varies from year to year based on many factors, including types of crops, economics, acreage planted, and other factors – most notably weather, the department says. A cool, wet spring in 2005 promoted fungus and other diseases in crops such as grapes, requiring more intensive pest management.

Highlights of the report:

• As measured in pounds, the most used pesticides were sulfur, petroleum oils, metam-sodium, 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D), and mineral oil.

• Sulfur use increased by 7.3 million pounds (13 percent) and was the most highly used pesticide in 2005, both in pounds applied and acres treated.

• By pounds, sulfur accounted for 32 percent of all reported pesticide use. Sulfur is a natural fungicide favored by both conventional and organic farmers.

• Fumigant chemicals decreased in pounds applied from 2004 to 2005 (1 million pounds, 2.5 percent) and decreased in cumulative acres treated (54,000 acres, 14 percent).

• Use of about half of the major fumigants decreased in pounds but nearly all major fumigants decreased in acres treated.

• Crops that showed an overall increase in pesticide pounds applied from 2004 to 2005 included wine grapes (6 million pounds), oranges (2.7 million pounds), raisin and table grapes (1.8 million pounds), walnuts (1.2 million pounds), and almonds (1 million pounds).

• Major crops or sites with decreased pounds applied included rice (1.5 million pounds), fresh tomatoes (700,000 pounds), strawberries (420,000 pounds), and lemons (370,000 pounds).

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