The California Department of Pesticide Regulation reports a small increase in pounds of pesticides applied in 2004, but that included a dramatic rise in the use of some nature-friendly chemicals.

Commercial pesticide use increased from 175 million pounds in 2003 to 180 million pounds in 2004, an increase of less than 3 percent.

More than half of the five million pound increase in 2004 could be linked to two chemicals that qualify for organic agriculture — sulfur and mineral oils. In addition, “A dramatic increase occurred in the use of some newer, reduced-risk pesticides,” said DPR analysts. Meanwhile, use of several classes of highly toxic chemicals declined, both in pounds applied and acres treated.

DPR Director Mary Ann Warmerdam said the statistics were timely. “They coincide with DPR policy initiatives to emphasize more sustainable, less toxic pest management for agriculture and industry, and in homes and gardens,” said Warmerdam. “This is just another indication that we are moving in the right direction.”

Last year, Warmerdam directed DPR's Pest Management Advisory Committee to begin developing a statewide blueprint for integrated pest management (IPM), a least-toxic approach that stresses more prevention and less reliance on chemicals. A diverse workgroup made recommendations to the committee late last year. DPR expects to move forward on its IPM blueprint after the pest management committee meets in February, said Warmerdam.

“The recommendations include more IPM research, as well as public-private cooperative efforts that offer strong and positive incentives to industry,” said Warmerdam. She also welcomed a recommendation for renewed support of IPM grant programs. DPR produced dozens of successful IPM projects around the state, until budget cuts suspended the IPM grants in 2003.

Some details from the 2004 DPR pesticide use summary:

As measured by pounds, sulfur was the most-used chemical with 54 million pounds, or about 30 percent of all pounds applied. Sulfur — favored by both conventional and organic farmers — saw use increase by nearly 800,000 pounds (1.5 percent) in 2004. Use of mineral oil, another chemical that qualifies for organic production, increased by 2.8 million pounds (44 percent).

Meanwhile, “A dramatic increase occurred in the use of some newer, reduced-risk pesticides such as spinosad, acetamiprid, pyraclostrobin, methoxyfenozide, carfentrazone-ethyl, and boscalid,” DPR analysts reported.

Spinosad is a relatively new chemical class of insecticides derived from a natural soil bacterium. It was first discovered by a vacationing scientist in an abandoned rum distillery in the Caribbean. Spinosad use increased by 4,400 pounds and 52,000 acres — to a total of more than 858,000 cumulative acres — in 2004.

Use of insecticide organophosphate and carbamate chemicals — compounds of high regulatory concern — continued to decline. Use declined by 130,000 pounds (1.6 percent) and by 360,000 acres treated (5.7 percent) in 2004, compared to the prior year.