Reducing Pesticides on
Local Apple Orchards
- Reducing Pesticides on Local Apple Orchards: The Necessity,
The Challenges, The Successes
- By Patricia Dines
- Sonoma County Environmental Impact Reporter, Oct. 1993, pp.
- (c) Patricia Dines, 1993. All rights reserved.
- Many of us live in Sonoma County because we feel that the
beautiful natural environment is more healthy for us and our
families than more urbanized areas. The scenic vistas and rolling
hills decorated with apple orchards and vineyards -- as well as
the wide range of delicious fresh foods available -- contribute to
our sense of this area's natural beauty.
- Unfortunately we are learning that, while we don't have
belching smokestacks or miles of concrete, our health and
environment are being compromised daily by a perhaps more
insidious danger, the many toxins of modern life. Including the
pesticides used in the local agriculture that we value in so many
- THE THREAT OF PESTICIDES
- For some, the threat of pesticides is quite present in their
life, as they observe the headaches, nausea, or breathing
difficulties that occur whenever area farmers spray their
orchards, forcing them to stay inside or leave the area. Or the
physical reactions when they drink water from their well,
necessitating regular purchases of bottled water. Or when they
notice that the route their children take to the school bus stop
goes by a farm where the farmer sprays near the road, and they
worry about the effect on the growth and development of their
- Others have health problems that they don't realize are caused
by pesticides, because many pesticide poisoning symptoms mimic
other problems. Pesticide reactions such as headaches,
light-headedness, nausea, diarrhea, breathing difficulty, and
stomach cramps, can be mistakenly attributed to colds, hayfever,
asthma, or stress. Even doctors frequently misdiagnose these
reactions, as they are rarely trained in pesticide diagnosis.
- And as we begin to observe that these physical symptoms may be
related to pesticides, we may wonder if they are more than a
nuisance and actually a matter of serious concern. All across the
nation, people are wondering if our national health epidemics such
as cancer and disorders of the immune, reproductive, and
neurological systems could be related to the over one billion
pounds of pesticides that we put into our ecosystem each year --
pesticides which are known to harm humans in these ways. Evidence
is steadily accumulating to substantiate those concerns. And while
pesticides in food are an issue of serious concern, the direct
local exposure in agricultural areas such as ours can be even more
of a toxic threat.
- BUT AREN'T PESTICIDES SAFE?
- In our quest to protect our health, we get many conflicting
views about the safety of pesticides. On the one hand, proponents
of pesticides will tell us that the government ensures that all
pesticides are tested thoroughly before being put on the market,
for both health and environmental effects. That farmers and
farmworkers are trained and wear safety gear to protect them. That
farmers use amounts that are not harmful to others. And they tell
us that the environmentalists are extremists that don't understand
the realities of economics and making a living farming.
- NO, PESTICIDES ARE NOT SAFE
- On the other hand, there is a growing body of evidence that
the threat of pesticides is much more serious than this, and that
the government is not adequately protecting us, the farmers, or
the environment at anything near the level that we're led to
believe. And increasingly, established mainstream institutions
such as the National Academy of Sciences are joining long-time
pesticide activists in calling for dramatic changes in the
- For contrary to claims that EPA tests protect us, there are
many shockingly large holes in the EPA testing system. For
instance, many pesticides on the market have not been tested for
their health and environmental effects; up to 99.5% of a formula
can be toxic yet unknown, hidden by trade secret laws; and any
evidence of a product's health or environmental harm can be
overridden by claims of economic necessity for crop
- In addition to the risk of exposure through food, those in
farm areas are also vulnerable to more direct pesticide exposure.
Not only does the wind carry pesticides when they are sprayed, but
they also settle into the local ecosystem, where they can remain
toxic for weeks and even months. They can get into the
groundwater, and be activated by heat, rain, fog, and dew. Through
the processes of evaporation, wind, and condensation, they can
often travel far from their original location and generally
permeate the area. In this way, the effect of a farmer's choice to
spray toxins can go far beyond the property line. [See sidebar
1 for more information]
- With all this evidence accumulating on the limits of the EPA
processes intended to protect us, the EPA recently made a dramatic
change in its warnings about pesticide use. Acknowledging that
even the use of legal pesticides may cause health and
environmental problems, they now recommend the minimal use of
pesticides, and only if non-chemical approaches don't work.
- SO WHY ARE PESTICIDES STILL BEING USED?
- So why do farmers still use pesticides? Because they feel they
help protect their crop, and thus their income, from the ravages
of insects and disease. They offer increased safety in a high-risk
often low-margin occupation. When each year weather and insects
can dramatically damage the crop of even the most competent
farmer, pesticides are viewed as ways to reduce risk and maximize
yield and quality, in order to get the best income possible from
their year-long efforts.
- Pesticides are familiar, something they know they can count on
to produce certain results - such as a high percentage of the
unblemished fruit that consumers have come to expect. And they
have become dependent on them, for once they have disrupted the
natural balance of predators, pesticides must continue to be used
to keep any insects at bay.
- To reduce or remove pesticides is to change a dominant farming
practice -- with all the economic, creative, and psychological
challenges that change entails. For farmers working on a thin
margin, the risks of this change are not trivial. Like all of us,
they have bills to pay and want to maintain their income. Even
those who see the necessity of pesticide reduction and are
invigorated by the challenge and opportunity it presents, take
seriously the practical and economic challenges such change
- NAMING THE CHALLENGE
- So then, in the middle of this apparent conflict between
environmental and economic needs, the real issue emerges -- "Can
we reduce or eliminate the agricultural use of pesticides in an
economic and feasible manner?" Thus, we can see economics not as a
barrier, preventing all action to reduce the toxic effects of
pesticides, but rather as a challenge to overcome, using our
nation's creativity, resources, and commitment to both economic
and physical health.
- Luckily, we are blessed by pioneers asking this question. And,
although funds are short and much work remains to be done, they've
been creating some very solid and feasible answers.
- A LOCAL EXAMPLE: APPLES
- To better understand the realities of this issue, we talked to
local apple farmers about their approaches to farming and
pesticides. From this we formed a more precise picture of the
realities of the pesticide reduction process, both in one
prominent local crop and in general.
- In 1992, Sonoma County farmers sold almost 56,000 tons of
apples, both fresh and for processing, and brought in over $10
million. This made apples the county's sixth highest crop -- and
probably the west county's first or second crop.
- In order to produce these apples, farmers put over 160,000
pounds of pesticides onto their orchards and into the local
ecosystem. These pesticides were used primarily to battle the
codling moth (the proverbial worm in the apple), scab, mildew,
aphids, and mites. (Note that the official government definition
of pesticides includes insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.
and this is how we use the term in this story.)
- Farmers start spraying pesticides in the spring, using
fungicides such as Captan, Benlate, Rally, and sulfur to suppress
the effects of diseases like apple scab and powdery mildew. The
number of fungicide sprays depends on how wet the weather is; a
wet spring like this year's will greatly increase the number of
necessary sprays. Even organic farmers will often use organic
fungicides such as sulfur to keep these diseases at bay, although
sulfur does not last as long and thus requires more frequent
applications than other fungicides.
- The next challenge facing the local apple farmer is the
codling moth. To combat this, those farmers using the so-called
"calendar" method will spray pesticides such as Guthion, Diazinon,
Lorsban, and Imidan once a month from May to August. These
pesticides are usually strong enough to eradicate other insects
such as aphids at the same time (not to mention beneficial insects
and natural predators), although targeted sprays for aphids and
mites are also sometimes necessary.
- Some area farmers find great comfort in the traditional
calendar method, offering them simplicity, lower risk, and easy
scheduling. Yet, as [Sidebar 2] indicates, many of the
pesticides used on local apples can cause serious health and
environmental damage, and thus their use is a matter of
- THE GOOD NEWS
- There is good news. Over recent years, many local farmers have
become concerned about pesticides and have been examining and
adopting methods of farming that use less or no pesticides.
- Local experts estimate that, of the approximately 7,000 apple
acres in Sonoma County, about 2,600 are pesticide free, while
another 1,000 to 2,000 are being farmed by farmers taking some
measures to reduce their pesticide use.
- As a result, apple pesticide usage levels are dropping.
Although some farmers still use the traditional calendar method
and current pesticide levels are still a matter of concern, the
results to date are encouraging and show that significant
reduction is a viable possibility.
- WHY SOME ARE RE-EXAMINING THEIR USE OF PESTICIDES
- Understanding why a farmer might consider reducing their
pesticide use is vital if we wish to support them in doing so.
Local farmers gave five key reasons for considering reducing
- First is a desire to reduce the costs and hassles
of using pesticides. Alternative methods such as monitoring insect
populations before spraying can allow farmers to get the same
results with fewer sprays, saving them time, effort, and
- Second is seeing a market opportunity, either in
selling organic fruit (such as Perry Kozlowski) or in maintaining
orchards for those homeowners who don't want pesticides near their
homes (such as Angelo Giusti).
- Third are health and environmental concerns -- a
desire to reduce or eliminate the pesticide levels to which they
expose themselves, their workers, their families, their neighbors,
and their customers.
- This is the first reason that Ted Richardson of Gabriel Farms
gives for farming organically. And it was a key reason that
Michael Martin converted his family orchard to organic 5 years ago
-- an orchard farmed chemically for 45 years. After noticing
headaches whenever he went into the orchard, he "felt
[that] chemicals weren't contributing to our health" and
decided to farm without them.
- Dan O'Connell, a conventional farmer committed to reducing his
pesticide use, states safety as a key motivation -- especially
safety at the time of application, "because that's when the
pesticide is most toxic." He feels that farmers should always use
the safest option possible, when it's economically feasible.
- Organic apple farmer Perry Kozlowski states the more long-term
form of this view when he says, "I'm not going to be one of the
people that add to the problem. It might be 3 or 4 generations
from now that will really know [the effect of using these
pesticides] -- why take a chance? You know it can't be
- A fourth reason farmers examine reducing
pesticides is the damage pesticides can do to their farming
efforts, both by killing off natural predators and pollinators,
and by breeding resistant pests and diseases.
- A recent article in Bioscience names these as the primary
reasons that U.S. crop losses from insect damage nearly doubled
between 1945 to 1989, from 7 to 13%, even though pesticide use
increased tenfold during that time.
- Bioscience estimates that the destruction by pesticides of
natural enemies costs the U.S. $520 million in additional
pesticide applications and increased crop losses, and that at
least 10% of the pesticides used in the U.S. are applied just to
combat increased pest resistance. The article also estimates that
honeybee and pollination losses from pesticides cost the U.S. $320
million a year.
- Some local apple farmers, such as Dan O'Connell, avoid using
certain pesticides, such as Sevin, a carbamate, because they kill
the bees so important to apple pollination.
- The fifth reason that farmers consider pesticide
reduction -- usually for those farmers more reluctant to change --
is a need for alternatives, because their usual pesticide has been
removed from the market, or because processors, the government,
consumers, and even some supermarkets insist on reduced residues
in food products.
- A KEY COMPONENT: OPTIONS
- Whatever the reason, all farmers exploring reducing or
eliminating the use of pesticides need one key thing -- realistic
options. Logistically and economically feasible alternatives for
handling the insects and diseases that can harm their crop and
- And, as [Sidebar 3] shows, they can learn about these
options from a variety of books, stores, and experts. They may
look at resources in a wide range of categories, including
organic, sustainable agriculture, Integrated Pest Management
(IPM), or general agriculture. (Note: IPM originally meant using
biological and other nontoxic methods first, with pesticides being
used only as a last resort; it now is sometimes also used to mean
pesticide reductions in traditional pesticide farming.) Some
people even find useful information by looking at pre-pesticide
farming books or remembering what was done on their farm when they
- And some learn about their options by talking to the U.C.
Cooperative Extension farm advisors, for in this area we are lucky
that this mainstream agricultural resource is well-acquainted with
non-pesticide options. In fact, many options are being developed
and refined at our local U.C. Extension, in efforts led by local
experts such as farm advisors Paul Vossen and Lucia Varela.
- Vossen has done extensive experimentation in apple farming in
this area, coordinated with other researchers in the U.C. system.
He feels that one of the main objectives of his job is "to try to
get growers to reduce the amount of toxic materials that they use
and put in the environment.... to try and get people to move
towards as organic as possible a situation as they possibly
can....Pesticides, as far as I'm concerned, are something that our
society is going have to get away from, for a number of reasons,
and most of those reasons center around their overall effects on
the environment." He is proud of the fact that in his tenure of 12
years, farm advisors have gone from offering one option for common
problems -- pesticides -- to being able to offer a range of
solutions, many of which are non-toxic.
- FOUR APPROACHES TO REDUCING PESTICIDES
- So, after examining information on their options, many farmers
decide to try pesticide reduction.
- In general, there are four different approaches that local
apple farmers choose, depending on their goals, the specifics of
their site, and -- most importantly -- their willingness and
ability to take risks.
- I -- LOW RISK: A farmer seeking a less-risky approach
can start by building his soil and monitoring conditions before
- For instance, 10 years ago Dan O'Connell started a
soil-building programs for his 16 acre orchard, and found that
within a few years this allowed him to reduce his pesticide use by
a third, across the board. He also has not had to use a miticide
for years, which he attributes primarily to the nutrient program
strengthening his trees, as well as to his avoiding chemicals that
kill the mites' natural predators.
- Organic farmer Ted Richardson uses a variety of organic
techniques to build his soil, including cover cropping and
fertilizing with compost. He feels that soil health is vital to
long-term results in farming. "If [the soil] is not
biologically active, you're [just] going year to year and
force-feeding it. It's like you're making it a fertilizer junkie
-- as opposed to long-term soil health, that takes care of itself
by its own processes."
- Monitoring before spraying can also reduce pesticide use. Stan
DeVoto used to spray for codling moths every 21 to 28 days like
clockwork, and had been since he started apple farming in 1976.
Then four years ago, at a "cost of pennies," he started putting
codling moth traps in his orchards and checking them regularly to
actually confirm that he had moths before spraying. In this way,
he can often wait another week or two before spraying, perhaps
even cutting out one spray in a season. Although the traps entail
some effort, his results have been promising -- he's finding that
his codling moth damage level is generally at about the same as
those using calendar-based spraying.
- Phil Bertoli, a Pest Control Advisor (PCA) and long-time apple
farmer, feels that determining the most appropriate time to spray
before spraying allows farmers to "use their [pesticide]
dollar at the most critical time" and can prevent the cost of
wasted applications. He feels that being aware of timing will
become even more important in the future, as farmers switch to
less toxic materials that leave less residue but often don't last
- Paul Vossen indicates that increased monitoring before
spraying has been a major cause of reduced pesticide use on area
- II - MODERATE RISK: Other farmers are willing to
take a larger risk in reducing their pesticide use. In place of
some or all of their monthly codling moth sprays, they entrust
some or all of their acres to pheromone mating disruptors. These
disruptors saturate the orchard with the female codling moth
scent, making it hard for a male codling moth to find a real
female and thus disrupting their mating.
- Paul Vossen of UC Extension estimates that pheromone
disruption, if done properly and with a fairly low original
population, can give "control in about 4-5% damage range, which is
an acceptable control for an organic grower who might otherwise
suffer with anywhere from 40-90% damage."
- Phil Bertoli, whose family has farmed apples in this area
since 1940, first used pheromone disruption 7 or 8 years ago, when
he offered Paul Vossen acreage on his farm for experiments.
Bertoli was impressed by the results. After many years of testing,
pheromone disruptors have now moved from the experimental to the
product stage. Bertoli, now a PCA and consultant, recently helped
conduct a test of one of these products and found that with this
tool alone -- no codling moth sprays were used -- the apples in
the 5 acre test plot got less than 1% codling moth damage, which
he considers a notable success.
- And Bertoli is impressed not only by the results of these
tools but also by their relative cost. He calculates that when all
costs are included, pheromone disruptors cost the same as the
equivalent number of sprays, while saving the farmer the hassle of
spraying. Instead, one person walks around the orchard, hooking
disruptors on the trees, usually covering an acre an hour and
providing coverage from 2 to 3 months, depending on the product.
And he likes the fact that reduced spraying allows farmers to
offer consumers "a healthier fruit."
- In fact, Vossen and Varela are so satisfied with the results
now being achieved with alternative codling moth controls such as
pheromone disruption that they plan to shift more of their
research attention next year to other projects, such as refining
the options for apple scab.
- It's important to mention that, although these results are
impressive, experts indicate that pheromone disruption is most
successful in certain situations and that results can vary. But
the successes show what's possible when researchers look beyond
pesticides for solutions to insect problems.
- LEVEL III - HIGH RISK: The third group of farmers
take the largest risk, by converting some or all of their acreage
to organic and leaving all synthetic pesticides behind. This path
is often a high gamble, although the payoff can be worth the risk
for those who are successful. Although it takes a number of years
for farmers to re-establish the natural balance in their orchards
and become certified, this choice then allows them to enter the
growing organic field - with it's higher product prices.
Sales in the overall organic market increased 23% in 1992,
reaching $1.5 billion. Organic produce sales increased 30%,
reaching $243 million in 1992.
- However, the challenges of growing for this market are not
trivial. Even the most devoted organic people will tell you that
apples are about the toughest crop one could choose to grow
- New tools, especially for codling moth control, have greatly
increased the odds for organic farmers. Using the pheromone
disruptors discussed earlier as well as experimental tools such as
the granulosis virus and Trichogramma parasitic wasps, local
organic farmers such as Kate Burroughs, Ted Richardson, Michael
Martin, and Perry Kozlowski have achieved significant codling moth
control. For instance, Kozlowski has found that disruptors and the
virus on his 26 apple acres have kept his moth population in check
and contributed to a reduction in their levels; they damaged his
crop only 6-7% this year, a good level for organic farming.
- THE CHALLENGES OF ORGANIC
- Nevertheless, says Paul Vossen, growing organically "takes a
tremendous commitment by the operator -- a philosophical and
economic commitment -- because of the greater risk and the
potential for loss" and increased work at every stage of the
process. This work is necessary if the grower is going to get a
high yield of good-sized attractive organic fruit.
- A farmer must have a commitment strong enough to endure many
things. Three years of reduced production and increased damage
while waiting for organic certification. A transition period with
outbreaks of what had been minor insects, no longer being
controlled by broad-spectrum pesticides, but not yet controlled by
their naturally-occuring predators. And they must battle these
problems using organic solutions which are often more expensive,
more labor-intensive, and less potent.
- For instance, conventional farmers use a chemical to thin
apples (NAA), while organic farmers pay for this to be done by
hand. Fungicide sulfur sprays last only five days, meaning that,
in a wet spring such as this one, a farmer begins to feel that he
is living on his tractor. And even with sulfur, the organic farmer
is much more vulnerable to negative weather conditions -- and thus
more at risk for the negative scenario, where he invests
additional money in inputs yet finds his crop decimated by the
- But one of the most important commitments needed for an
organic farmer to succeed is one to learning -- about the
different techniques organic farmers use for common farm problems
-- and about the natural cycles and balances that the calendar
method often ignores. Only by learning nature's rhythms can he
effectively time his use of the expensive organic inputs.
- Perry Kozlowski had farmed family orchards for years, but when
he started farming organically about 6 years ago, he realized how
much his past work had been controlled by the calendar, rather
than an understanding and response to actual conditions in the
orchard. This opportunity to learn made farming more exciting and
interesting for him, and his successes gave him great personal
satisfaction. In general, those farmers that are most successful
are those that they are excited by the challenge of learning about
nature's cycles and processes.
- Still, even with a commitment to invest, learn, and
experiment, the transition years can be, as Perry's were, "really
tough, very discouraging." Although he didn't lose any money the
first three years, he didn't make any either. In fact, "there was
one point, after the second year, I was teetering on whether or
not I was going to do it again, and I said 'God-darn it' -- I was
already certified by that time, so I'm not going to go through
this again -- I'm going to even try harder, because I was
bound-and-determined. I knew that if I could grow good fruit, I
could get good money for it. The trick was to grow the good fruit.
I just learned as much as I could learn from whoever I could find
to learn it from and now I'm getting to the point where I'm
growing good fruit."
- THE REWARDS OF ORGANIC
- For those that can pass through this obstacle course, the
results are rewarding. Perry Kozlowski feels that his trees are
healthier than they looked when they were grown with pesticides,
and his apples look "as nice or nicer" and are increasing in
quality each year, with more and more at the quality needed to
sell in the higher-priced fresh market. He gets offered top prices
for his apples and, after many years of investing and surviving
"the hard knocks," earns a good living growing organic apples.
Moreover, all year he and his workers can tend their orchards
without experiencing the effects of the synthetic toxins.
- Although organic farmers might not get the 30 tons per acre
and 90% fresh-pack that a good conventional orchard might get,
committed and skilled organic farmers can often get close, with up
to 20 to 25 tons an acre and 75% fresh. Successful farmers find
that this difference in yield is at least made up for by the
difference in price. Organic farmers easily get from 25-30% more
than conventional apples. This year's shortages increased prices;
Perry Kozlowski expects that he'll get 35-40% more a ton than a
conventional farmer would, and up to double and triple for some
- Another reward of growing organically is that some common
farming challenges can actually diminish over time, as nature
regains its balance. For instance, problems with "secondary" or
"induced" insects such as aphids and mites begin to disappear, as
the predator populations regain their strength in keeping
populations in check.
- THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE
- Of all the learning that Perry Kozlowski has had to do on his
conversion journey, he says, "What I think was my biggest learning
thing -- the difference between me now and me before -- is I'm
able to tolerate things better, that [I accept that there's
going to be a little damage] in the orchard, that it's not
going to be perfect, no matter what you do. ... You get some of
these guys who've farmed a certain way their whole life and they
see some worm damage in an orchard, they can't handle it."
- Kate Burroughs, Pest Control Advisor and co-owner of Harmony
Farm Supply, agrees: "It's not so much that you have reduced
yields but that you have higher damage, and most people can't
- But by learning new tools and new ways of thinking, local
organic apple farmers and researchers are the pioneers for
agriculture free of pesticides.
- IV -- NO PESTICIDE/LOW MAINTENANCE: Because of the
high-cost, high-risk, and labor-intensive nature of high-input
organic farming, another type of no-pesticide care has emerged. In
this type of farming, the farmer does not use pesticides but also
typically does not invest a great deal in building the soil or
using alternative means for handling insect and disease threats.
He often is responsible for a great many acres in various areas of
the county, a situation where the labor-intensive and
time-sensitive nature of organic maintenance methods often become
unrealistic. Instead, he largely gambles on positive weather
conditions and expects to sell most or all of his crop to the
processing market, where standards for blemishes on fruit don't
tend to be as strict. Although his damage is more and his yields
are significantly less than other farmers -- perhaps 2 or 3, at
most 5 tons to the acre -- he finds that this is balanced by his
reduced maintenance costs.
- Estimates indicate about 2,600 acres, or approximately 35% of
Sonoma County's apple acreage, are farmed in this manner (as
opposed to a few hundred farmed using the high-maintenance organic
- There are a range of opinions about this type of farming. Some
homeowners appreciate having no-pesticide care and find the level
of quality and income sufficient for their needs. Paul Vossen
points out that these farmers are "doing a service, because
[otherwise] many of those orchards wouldn't be farmed --
nobody would get anything out of them." Other farmers understand
the challenge of caring for so much small and scattered acreage.
Says Kate Burroughs of Harmony Farm Supply, " I think that the
reason that nobody wants to come and do the little mini-ranchettes
is that it's not worth it to them, for the amount of yield that
they get and the hassle factor of moving equipment around."
- However, Vossen and others see also several downsides to this
type of farming. For one, the low level of maintenance does
nothing to ensure the long-term viability of these orchards. Says
Vossen, "It's not a sustainable system -- they're just gleaning
some fruit off for a few years until there's no longer any profit
in it whatsoever." They also are concerned that farmers and
consumers seeing the produce can get a falsely negative view of
the level of quality possible with organic farming.
- At this point, however, this debate is somewhat academic, as
most high-maintenance organic apple farming is being done by
committed pioneers on their small to moderately-sized contiguous
orchards and there is currently no service available for
homeowners to get high-care organic farming on their small plots.
A number of homeowners, however, have expressed an interest in
such care, and perhaps the future will find some farmer finding a
way to take advantage of this market opportunity.
- And so these are the four main approaches that Sonoma County
apple farmers are using to reduce or eliminate their pesticide
use. And these efforts are a key reason that pesticide usage on
Sonoma County apples, though still high, is dropping.
- And the efforts of these farmers in reducing pesticides
benefit not only themselves, but also the community and society at
large. Not only because we have access to healthier produce --
these apples are bought not only fresh, but as juice, cider,
sauce, vinegar, and baby food. But also because our daily exposure
to environmental toxins -- and the health threats they bring -- is
- And these threats are not minor. A recent article in
Bioscience attempted to quantify the environmental and economic
costs of pesticide use. Through systematic and conservative
analysis of concrete data, they concluded that pesticides easily
cost the U.S. society over $8 billion a year, including costs for
illness, loss of natural enemies, pesticide resistance, fishery
and bird losses, and groundwater contamination.
- WHAT'S NEEDED NEXT
- So, as the world wrestles with the health, economic, and
environmental issues of pesticides, seeking alternatives that
allow sustained productivity and economic viability, Sonoma County
farmers, researchers, and suppliers are among those paving the way
toward the new solutions.
- From looking at their stories, we can glean a number of key
conclusions about both this specific topic and the general topic
of pesticides and agriculture.
- 1) WE DON'T HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE TOXINS OF URBANIZATION
AND THE TOXINS OF AGRICULTURE. Many farmers and environmentalists
see a realistic third choice, where agriculture successfully
reduces and eliminates pesticide use while maintaining adequate
production and economic viability. Thus the community gets both
health and beauty from their environment.
- 2) FOR THIS TO OCCUR, WE MUST DRAMATICALLY INCREASE SUPPORT
FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF REALISTIC OPTIONS TO PESTICIDES.
- A vital component of farmers' willingness to reduce their
pesticide use has been the development of options. The few options
currently available, while valuable, have been developed on
shoestring research budgets; experts believe that a significant
increase in research dollars could increase not only the number of
tools, but also their range of applicability, success rates, and
- This increased funding can occur in three ways. First, by
shifting government farm research funding more substantially into
organic alternatives (estimates indicate that of the $1.4 billion
spent annually by the Federal government on farm research, less
than $1 million is spent on organic research.) Second, by
supporting private organizations that are pioneering organic
research, such as the Organic Farming Research Foundation. And
third, by buying organic and "pesticide free" produce. Only when
farmers have a market for their produce do they take the risks to
change their ways. Supporting organic food is an investment in the
health of ourselves, our families, our community, and our
environment. This is when our vote is most direct and most
- 3) WE MUST SUPPORT LAWS AND ACTIONS THAT CLEAN UP OUR
PESTICIDE REGULATION SYSTEM, SO THAT IT TRULY OFFERS THE
PROTECTION IT WAS INTENDED TO. We must stop accepting excuses
instead of test results for pesticides already on the market. EPA
testing procedures should reflect the physiology and diets of all
members of our community, as well as the fact that we daily get
multiple pesticide exposures. The FDA must have the authority and
the commitment to act in a timely manner about food with dangerous
pesticide levels. We must insist, as the courts recently did, that
the Delaney clause apply to processed food as well; claims that
the law is "outdated" because "modern" residue testing is so much
more precise are clearly contradicted by the facts.
- But, while government restrictions are important, we must not
depend on them to protect us. Only when farmers have options will
they willingly give up their pesticide tools.
- 4) AND WE SHOULD APPRECIATE THE PIONEERS WHO ARE CREATING OUR
LESS TOXIC FUTURE. It is only because of those farmers and
researchers who are developing (and recovering) new solutions to
age-old farming problems that we will find our new way through, to
a county and a country healthy both physically and
- Patricia Dines has been a journalist for many years
covering a variety of topics. She'd like to express her gratitude
to those who so generously gave their time and energy providing
information for this article, including those mentioned in the
article as well as: Joan Clayburgh of Pesticide Watch, The County
Agricultural Commissioner's office, and John Kolling. For further
information and resources on the topics discussed here, you may
contact her at (707) 829-2999.
- EVIDENCE: THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT PROTECTING US
- Contrary to commonly-heard claims, a large number of
the pesticides on the market have not been tested for their health
and environmental risks. This is because they were on the market
before legislation was passed in 1972 requiring health and
environmental testing. Manufacturers were allowed to continue
selling their products while they got them tested. Deadlines were
set for this -- deadlines which are largely unmet. According to
the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco,
"EPA's record on reregistering pesticides ... has been abysmal. To
date, EPA has reregistered 27 or 7% of the 400 pesticides lacking
acceptable data." Yet these products continue to be sold, and
people assume they are safe because they bear EPA registration
- Up to 99.5% of any pesticide formula can be hidden from
examination, by being called an "inert" ingredient. Although some
of these "inert" ingredients are as or more toxic than the
"active" ingredient, their identity -- and thus their health
effects -- is a secret, protected by trade secrets laws.
- Even EPA testing does not assure that pesticides that
cause significant harm will not be allowed to be sold and used.
This is because any and all data on a pesticide's heath and
environmental effects can be (and frequently are) overridden by
economic arguments that a pesticide is necessary for production of
a certain crop -- in an analysis that does not consider
- Workers are often not sufficiently protected, even when
they wear the required protective clothing. Tests have found
toxins in the bodies of workers who were wearing such clothing,
indicating that the procedures are not sufficient. There are an
estimated 300,000 pesticide-related illnesses each year among
farmworkers. Pesticide-related illnesses are the most frequent
work-related illnesses in California, although farmworkers do not
get the OSHA protection that other U.S. workers enjoy. Certainly,
training and protective gear improve the situation, but
significant risk still remains for the worker.
- Neighbors and passerbys wear no protective equipment
and are otherwise poorly protected. Current law only protects
neighbors if they can prove that "substantial" amounts of material
drifted onto their property -- substantial meaning droplets on
objects that can be measured. However, many pesticides can cause
physical symptoms and harm from lesser amounts, including inhaled
vapors, and thus there are many unhealthy circumstances where area
citizens are not protected by the law.
- Many pesticides persist in their environment weeks or
months after they are sprayed. That is what they are designed to
do. Therefore, they can continue to effect anyone working on or
living near a farm that uses pesticides, including the farmer,
farm workers, their families, neighbors -- and indeed the entire
community. For it has been shown that pesticides can travel quite
far from their original target site, by a variety of means -- wind
(10-35% of ground-sprayed pesticides usually miss the target
area), water (including groundwater), heat volatilization, dew,
and evaporation. Bees and other animals, if not immediately harmed
by the toxins, can go into a sprayed area and bring the toxin on
their body to other areas. For instance, there is evidence that
bees can bring pesticides from sprayed flowers into their hive's
food supply and thus poison their whole hive.
- THE HEALTH & ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF PESTICIDES USED
ON LOCAL APPLES
- EPA Carcinogens
- Twelve of the pesticides used locally on apples in 1992 are
considered by the EPA to be probable or possible carcinogens. Over
12,000 pounds of these pesticides were used on apples, including
7,600 pounds of the most frequently-applied pesticide, phosmet
(Imidan). Other commonly-used pesticides in this category are
captan, thiophanate-methyl (Topsin), benomyl (Benlate), and
- Organophosphates and Carbamates
- Additionally, over 7,500 pounds of the pesticides used on
local apples were organophosphates -- including malathion,
diazinon, azinphos-methyl (Guthion), and chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) --
and carbamates -- including carbaryl (Sevin) and methomyl.
- According to the book Pesticides: Health Aspects of Exposure,
published in 1988 by California's Department of Health Services,
"The organophosphate and carbamate insecticides include some of
the most acutely toxic and potentially lethal pesticides." Yet, in
spite of well-documented acute systemic effects resulting from
exposure, their use nationally is expanding, often replacing the
chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as DDT, in the control of
- Approximately 40% of the pesticides used in the U.S. are
organophosphates. [According to the Journal of Pesticide
Reform,] the EPA estimates that the use of one
organophosphate, chlorpyrifos, is so extensive that Americans
could ingest 313% of the Acceptable Daily Intake from food alone.
Another organophosphate, Guthion, is one of the most
commonly-detected pesticides on apples.
- Health Effects
- Organophosphates and carbamates work by disrupting the nervous
system of insects. Unfortunately, they affect human nervous
systems in similar ways. After an acute poisoning of these
pesticides, nerve damage occurs within hours and paralysis may be
evident within 24 to 96 hrs. Lesser acute symptoms include
restlessness, dizziness, confusion, tension, anxiety, slurred
speech, decreased reflexes, breathing difficulties, increased
heart rate, emotional instability, diarrhea, and nausea. Some of
these symptoms can erroneously be assessed as the flu, or alcohol
or drug intoxication. Highly toxic poisoning symptoms include
vomiting, convulsions, central respiratory paralysis, coma, and
- More long-term exposure effects include damage to nervous
system and brain function, such as reduced flexibility of thought,
motor skills, memory skills, and concentration. In tests, those
exposed to these neurotoxins did less well than matched controls
on tests of auditory (listening) attention, visual memory, problem
solving, reaction time, dexterity and other neurophysiological
measures, and reported other symptoms typical of central nervous
- According to Raymond Singer, an expert in neurotoxology, "the
symptoms of neurotoxicity can mimic many diseases that effect the
nervous system, such as schizophrenia, psychosis, depression
[etc.]...as well as neurological conditions like multiple
sclerosis (MS)." The Lancet reports that even one episode of
organophosphate intoxication may cause a lasting deficiency in
- The majority of pesticide-related illness among farmworkers
(thought to be as high as 300,000 incidents a year) involve
exposure to neurotoxic pesticides such as these. There have been
cases where entire crews of farmworkers have been poisoned.
- Organophosphates and carbamates have also been shown to effect
the immune and reproductive systems of experimental animals.
- Environmental Effects
- Organophosphates and carbamates tend to be highly toxic to
bees, birds, and fish. Even sublethal doses can effect their
ability to survive; for instance, sublethal doses of Diazinon can
adversely effect bees' division of labor and foraging ability,
especially in younger bees.
- Al Gore, in his book Earth in the Balance, notes that some
pesticides can cause behavioral changes in animals in extremely
low concentrations. As an example, he quotes the Russian
environmentalist Alexei Yablokov describing the carbamate Sevin as
so potent that "even in an infinitesimal concentration of
one-billionth, [it] can change the behavior of a school of
fish; their movement becomes uncoordinated." As our nervous
systems are similarly effected by these toxins, this shows not
only the harm we are doing to animals but the harm we are doing to
- Because of the toxicity of pesticides to bees, local
beekeepers are supposed to be informed before insecticide
applications so they can move their hives. Unfortunately, they are
not always informed and can return to find their bee populations
- Additionally, wild bee populations can be neither informed nor
moved. A number of area farmers and beekeepers have noticed a
dramatic decrease in local wild bee populations. Although many
pesticides are toxic to bees, no study has been done to determine
if pesticides are causing this local decrease. Another potential
cause is a number of mite infestations in hives, although this
might be indirectly caused by broad-spectrum pesticides which kill
the natural predators of some mites.
- A Local Farmer's Experience
- Local organic apple farmer Perry Kozlowski [of Kozlowski
Farms] used to use pesticides on the farm when he grew up. He
remembers that he, like many farmers, ignored the rules and didn't
wear a mask while spraying, because " I figured if I was spraying
it on the apples, and people were going to eat the apples, how bad
could it be?" And he laughs.
- Then one day, when he was spraying the organophosphate
Lorsban, he turned around and noticed that the spray was killing
everything in the area. He says, "the ground was covered with dead
stuff -- bugs, insects -- whatever was out there was all laying
down on the ground....I was amazed." After seeing that, he decided
to start wearing his mask, and now is glad to be able to farm his
apples successfully without having such pesticides around.
- RESOURCES LIST [As published in the original
article; not updated]
- PESTICIDE PROBLEMS
- San Francisco Bay Area Regional Poison Control
- (800) 523-2222 24 hour emergency number.
- Office of the Agricultural Commissioner
2604 Ventura Ave., Room 101, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 (707)
- Responsible for regulating farmers' use of pesticides. Call
regarding specific farming incidents, including spray
- LOW-SPRAY AND ORGANIC FARMING INFORMATION
- Harmony Farm Supply
- 3244 Highway 116, North, Sebastopol, CA 95472 (707)
Organic books and supplies. Co-owner Kate Burroughs is a
Pesticide Control Advisor and knowledgeable about both organic
farming and Integrated Pest Management.
U.C. Cooperative Extension
- 2604 Ventura Ave. Rm 100P, Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Main number: (707) 527-2621 Master Gardeners (707) 527-2608
- Farming and gardening advice and publications. Catalog
- Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas
P. O. Box 3657, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72702 (501) 442-9824
- Detailed free information packages on commercial
sustainable agriculture, including excellent summary of
low-spray and organic apple farming. List of publications
- P. O. Box 2008, 603 4th St., Davis, CA 95616 (916)
Distributor of a wide range of agricultural books, including
hard-to-find books on low-pesticide, IPM, and organic. Catalog
Rodale Press/Organic Gardening
- 33 E. Minor St., Emmaus, PA 18098-0099 (215) 967-5171
Publisher of Organic Gardening magazine and a variety of
CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers)
- 303 Potrero St. #51, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, (408)
A leading organization for certifying organic farmers.
ORGANIC FARMING RESEARCH
- Organic Farming Research Foundation
- P. O. Box 440, Santa Cruz, CA 95061, (408) 426-6606
Non-profit organization supporting organic farming research
projects and funded by community contributions. The executive
director was head of the CCOF for five years.
- The Sierra Club - Toxics Committee
P. O. Box 466, Santa Rosa, CA 95492
- SIERRA CLUB: (707) 544-7651 CHAIR: Larry Hanson (707)
Local group working on area toxics issues.
- 116 New Montgomery #530, San Francisco, CA 94105 (415)
Membership organization. Offers pesticide information and
supports local action on pesticide issues.
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
- MAIN OFFICE: 40 West 20th St., New York, NY 10011 (212)
AREA OFFICE: 71 Stevenson St., San Francisco, CA 94105 (415)
- Membership organization. Offers pesticide information and
acts for greater controls on their use. Various publications,
including an excellent summary of the current pesticide
situation in After Silent Spring: The Unsolved Problems of
Pesticide Use in the US.
National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
- 701 E St. SE, Suite 200, Washington DC 20003 (202)
National network committed to pesticide safety and the adoption
of alternative pest management strategies.
- Environmental Health Network HC-63 Box 7187, Snowflake, AZ
85937 (415) 331-9804
- Membership organization for those affected by environmental
toxins. Bi-monthly newsletter full of useful information.
This entire website is (c) Patricia
Dines, 1998-2007. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 04/05/07