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Is US Pesticide Use Trending Up or Down? - 03 June 2014

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TheCropSite
Monday 3rd June 2014.
Sarah Mikesell - TheCropSite Senior Editor

Sarah Mikesell
Senior Editor


Wyffels

5M

Is US Pesticide Use Trending Up or Down? 

Greetings from beautiful, sunny England! I’m visiting our sister company FAI (Food Animal Initiative) and am in Wytham, which is very close to Oxford University.

A USDA study released in May says that pesticide use in US agriculture increased from the 1960s to 1980s, but has trended downward into 2008.

Pesticide use on the 21 crops analyzed in this report rose rapidly from 196 million pounds of active ingredient in 1960 to 632 million pounds in 1981, largely because of the increased share of planted acres treated with herbicides to control weeds.

Total planted acreage increased from the early 1960s to early 1980s, which further increased herbicide use. Most acres planted with major crops were already being treated with herbicides by 1980, so total pesticide use has since trended slightly downward driven by other factors, to 516 million pounds in 2008.

  • Insecticides accounted for 58% of pounds applied in 1960, but only 6% in 2008.
  • On the other hand, herbicides accounted for 18% of the pounds applied in 1960 but 76% by 2008.
  • Fungicides’ share of pesticide use has remained at 7% or less since 1971, down from 11-13% in the early 1960s.

Approximately 5-10% of corn, wheat, and cotton acres were treated with herbicides in 1952. By 1980, herbicide use had reached 90 to 99% of US corn, cotton and soybean planted acres. Notably, the four most heavily used active ingredients in 2008 (glyphosate, atrazine, acetochlor and metolachlor) were all herbicides.

In 2008, corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, and potatoes accounted for about 80% of the pesticide quantity applied to the 21 crops examined.

  • Corn has been the top pesticide-using crop in the United States since 1972 and received about 39% of the pesticides in 2008. The increase in corn acreage led to an increase in pesticide use.
  • Soybean production had the next largest share in 2008 (22%), almost all of which were herbicides.
  • Potatoes’ share rose significantly in the 1990s and reached about 10% by 2008. Other pesticides, including soil fumigants and desiccants, constituted a large portion of the pesticides applied to potatoes in 2008.
  • Cotton accounted for just over 7% of the pesticides, mostly insecticides, in 2008, a major reduction from its 40% share in the early 1960s. The quantity applied to cotton trended downward since 1972 due to the replacement of DDT and other older insecticides with more effective products, eradication of the boll weevil, and adoption of Bt cotton.
  • Wheat accounted for less than 5% of the pesticides, mostly herbicides, in 2008.

Click here to read the entire study

The study did say that it stopped at 2008 as it was the most recent year for which they had enough complete data. But I'm curious how 2009 to present data would fare given the growing weed resistance issues in the US.

Find me on Twitter @SarahMikesell

Have a great week!

~Sarah





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