The California Department of Pesticide Regulation reports pesticide use dropped by more than 30 million pounds in 2001, to the lowest level since DPR began collecting the data more than a decade ago.

Preliminary DPR statistics showed that reported pesticide applications totaled 151 million pounds, compared to about 188 million pounds in 2000.

DPR's preliminary data also documented declining use of chemicals classified as possible carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and toxic air contaminants. Usage dropped both in pounds applied and acres treated.

“Pesticide use in California has dropped for three consecutive years, measured in pounds,” said DPR Director Paul Helliker. “We've now seen a 60-million-pound decline since 1998. There are always a variety of factors that influence pesticide use, but we also know that DPR runs the best pesticide regulatory program in the nation. We've been advocating reduced-risk, reduced-use pest management, and California pesticide users are putting that philosophy to work.”

Production agriculture accounts for most reported pesticide uses, with 137 million pounds in 2001, compared to about 172 million pounds in 2000. Structural pest control accounted for 4.9 million pounds in 2001, compared to 5.2 million pounds the previous year.

Use decline crops

Major crops that showed an overall decline in pesticide pounds applied from 2000 to 2001 included raisin and table grapes (down 7.2 million pounds), wine grapes (4.8 million pounds), sugar beets (3.2 million pounds), processing tomatoes (3 million pounds), oranges (2.3 million pounds), carrots (1.6 million pounds), and almonds (1.5 million pounds).

DPR's informal investigation found that weather, economic conditions, and health-based regulatory restrictions were all factors contributing to the decline. Disease and weed pressures were low for many crops, reducing demand for fungicides and herbicides. Lower commodity prices also contributed to less pesticide use.

For example, use of the fumigant methyl bromide dropped about four million pounds, or 39 percent, as new DPR regulations took effect. (At the same time, a federal phase-down cut supplies of methyl bromide and boosted prices.)

With strong encouragement from DPR, farmers turned to reduced-risk chemicals, as reflected by an increase in cumulative acreage treated. They also continued adopting alternatives to pesticides. DPR has provided more than $8 million for about 240 grants to support reduced-risk farm and urban projects. (Due to the state budget deficit, DPR grants have been eliminated for fiscal 2002-03.)

Pesticide use data for 2001 is preliminary. Error checking continues, and some Kern County data have not been submitted to DPR, due to data processing problems. DPR expects total reported use will exceed 151 million pounds, but should not total more than 156 million pounds, based on a statistical analysis of Kern pesticide use for the last five years.

Highlights

Some highlights from the preliminary data, comparing 2001 to the previous year:

  • Most significant declining uses (in pounds) occurred in sulfur, petroleum oils, and methyl bromide. Sulfur is a natural fungicide favored by organic and conventional growers. Use dropped 16 million pounds (25 percent). Sulfur still accounts for about one-third of all pesticide use reported.

  • Insecticides made of organophosphate and carbamate chemicals — compounds of high regulatory concern — declined by 2.4 million pounds (21 percent). Cumulative acres treated with these pesticides declined by 1.5 million acres (18 percent).

  • Chemicals classified as carcinogens declined by 3.1 million pounds (13 percent) and also declined in cumulative acreage treated by 3.2 million acres (47 percent).

  • Chemicals classified as reproductive toxins showed an overall decline of 6 million pounds (23 percent) and 1.3 million cumulative acres treated (33 percent).

  • Chemicals categorized as toxic air contaminants, another regulatory concern, decreased by 6.1 million pounds (28 percent). Cumulative acres treated decreased by about 1.5 million acres (34 percent).

  • Chemicals categorized as ground water contaminants decreased by about 553,000 pounds applied (18 percent). Cumulative acres treated decreased by about 335,000 acres (15 percent).

  • Reduced-risk pesticides decreased by 40,000 pounds applied (7 percent), but cumulative acres treated increased by 134,000 acres (5 percent). However, more reduced-risk pesticides showed increased use than decreased use.

First to require

In 1990, California became the first state to require full use reporting, and DPR has compiled the reports in the most extensive database of its kind in the nation. Reported uses include production agriculture and postharvest fumigation of crops, structural pest control, landscape maintenance, and other uses. Reporting exempts home and garden applications of pesticides, and most industrial and institutional uses. (Municipal water treatment is one such exemption.) Reported pesticide uses typically account for about one-third of all pesticide sales in California.

Summaries of 2001 preliminary data are available free online at <<a href="http://www.cdpr.ca.gov" target="_blank">www.cdpr.ca.gov>. Final data summaries will be posted when analyses are completed. Data summaries from 1990 to 2000 are also available. Each summary includes two versions of the data (one indexed by chemical, the other by crop), with number of applications, acreage or units treated, and pounds used. A county-by-county summary is available online.

The 400-page summaries also may be ordered in hard copy ($10 each). To order, send payment to: Cashier, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, P.O. Box 4015, Sacramento, CA 95812-4015. A complete data set of the 3.2 million individual 2001 pesticide application records is also available on CD ROM for $12. For information about the CD ROM or other versions of the data, call the DPR Pest Management and Licensing Branch at (916) 324-4046.