FRESNO (AP) — Pesticide use in California rose in 2010 after declining for four consecutive years, according to state data released Wednesday.
The data released by the Department of Pesticide Regulation shows an increase of nearly 10 percent in pounds of pesticide used from 2009 to 2010. More than 173 million pounds were applied statewide, an increase of nearly 15 million pounds from the previous year.
Most of the growth in use was in production agriculture, where applications increased by 12 million pounds. The increase reflected a 15 percent jump in acres treated with pesticides — a total of 75 million acres were treated in 2010.
Pesticide use fluctuates from year to year due to weather and economic factors, said department spokeswoman Lea Brooks. Last year's increase was mainly due to an abundant rainfall, better water availability for crop irrigation and the pricing of crops, Brooks said.
An especially cool, wet winter and spring required more fungicide use to control mildew, she said. Low summer and fall temperatures resulted in late harvests and led to more insect damage to some crops and additional treatments.
Water allocations for irrigation also played a role, said Les Wright, Fresno County's deputy agricultural commissioner. The county, which is the state's top agricultural county, ranked as the highest in pesticide use, followed by Kern, Tulare, San Joaquin and Madera counties.
"When we have water, we're able to plant more acreage, and more acreage equals more pesticide use," Wright said.
Pesticide use depends on the type of crops planted, he said, which in turn depends on projected crop prices. This year, farmers in the San Joaquin Valley planted more cotton, which increased the use of some pesticides, he said. In addition to cotton, crops that showed an increase in pounds of pesticides applied included wine grapes, carrots, almonds, and table and raisin grapes.
Sulfur, a natural fungicide used by conventional and organic farmers to control mildew, was the most used pesticide in the state. Its use grew by 10 percent and accounted for 27 percent of all reported pesticide use.
The fumigant 1,3-dichloropropene, also known as Telone, saw the greatest increase in pounds applied — its use went up by 37 percent. Telone is used on strawberries, almonds, sweet potatoes, carrots, and table and raisin grapes. It's an alternative to methyl bromide, which is being phased out under an international treaty to protect the ozone layer.
Environmentalists decried the increase in pesticide use.
"The numbers released indicate that we're stuck on the pesticide treadmill," said Paul Towers, spokesman of Pesticide Action Network. "Instead of providing support and forward thinking policies to help farmers transition from pesticide use, our state is continuing the use of unsafe and outdated chemicals."
Most alarming was the increase in the use of fumigants, Towers said, which are prone to drift and some of which are linked to cancer and groundwater contamination. Pesticides include fumigants, insecticides, herbicides, anti-bacterials and other chemicals.
The data covers only pesticides used in agriculture, termite treatment and professional landscaping. About two-thirds of the pesticides sold in California, including chlorine used for municipal water treatment and home-use pesticide products, are not subject to reporting.