Pesticide use in Fresno County drops due to drought, fallowed fields

A crop duster applies fungicide to an orchard of nectarines north of Easton in this file photo from 2000.
A crop duster applies fungicide to an orchard of nectarines north of Easton in this file photo from 2000. Fresno Bee file photo

Fewer bugs, favorable weather and a decline in acreage contributed to a drop in pesticide use for Fresno County in 2014.

The county’s pesticide use dropped 7 percent, or 2 million pounds, over the previous year, according to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s 2014 pesticide use report, the most recent year the state has for complete data.

In all, the county used 31.8 million pounds, with sulfur the most widely used chemical. Of note to state and local officials was the overall drop in chemicals classified as fumigants, carcinogens and those likely to pollute the air or contaminate the groundwater.

The San Joaquin Valley is the state’s leading agricultural region, and it remained the largest user of chemicals in the state.

The report shows that the top four areas of pesticide use in Fresno County were: tomatoes, almonds, grapes and fields where fumigation was used to clear the soil of pests and diseases.

Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Les Wright said the decline in pesticides likely was the result of fewer acres being farmed.

“I attribute it to fallowing due to the water shortages,” Wright said.

The drought and declining prices contributed to a drop in acres of cotton, lettuce, alfalfa and grapes in 2014.

Overall, the amount of pesticides used in California fell 3 percent to 189 million pounds. The state collects data on all pesticide uses, including landscaping and pest control for residential and commercial buildings. By far, agriculture is the largest user.

State officials said that while pesticide use varies depending on insect problems, weather and acreage, the number of chemicals listed as carcinogens dropped 6.5 percent to 30 million pounds. Also on the decline were chemicals with the potential to contaminate groundwater; those fell 18 percent to 845,280 pounds.

The use of fumigants dropped 5.44 percent in 2014 to 40 million pounds.

“The comprehensive information on pesticide use in California that is gathered by the Department of Pesticide Regulation is unique in the nation,” said Brian Leahy, director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation. “I am especially pleased to note that California is reducing the use of the pesticides that can be the most hazardous to human health and the pesticides most challenging to control.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob