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Climate change may be increasing the use of pesticides

A new report from the Pesticide Action Network finds pesticide use is expected to increase and become more hazardous as the climate warms.

California farmers used nearly 18% of all the pesticides applied in the country and pesticide use is four and a half times higher in the Golden State than the national average.

California farmers use more than 200 million pounds of the active ingredients in pesticides every year.

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The Food and Agriculture Department finds pesticide use in the United States climbed 5% between 2005 and 2020. Herbicide use was up more than 34% during the same period.

The chemical use in large scale farming is increasing as effectiveness drops and climate change is widely expected to put additional pressure on agriculture.

“As climate change impacts decrease the efficacy of pesticides, climate change impacts are also predicted to worsen pest pressures and problems,” said Asha Sharma, a researcher with the Pesticide Action Network. “At the same time climate change is supposed to negatively impact crop health.”

It doesn’t help that the majority of synthetic pesticides are made from fossil fuel derivatives and some pesticides like food fumigant sulfuryl fluoride are greenhouse gasses themselves.

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The chemicals contribute to greenhouse gas emissions when they are made, distributed and used on fields.

The report insists that the nation needs to wean itself off large scale pesticide use because as the climate warms and effectiveness of pesticides fall, more and more will have to be used to get the same results.

The report calls for farmers to adopt more ecologically friendly farming practices, like rotating crops and relying on natural methods to control pests.

“So, if you have problems with cucumber beetles,” said Robert Faux, a farmer in Iowa. “Then you try and provide habitat for things like snakes and frogs and some of the critters that find cucumber beetles to be very tasty.”

Researchers suggest that the nation’s food system can also focus on rotating more crops so the pests that feed on a single crop do not build up in a region.

“You’re continually rotating or intercropping with different crops that do not have those same pests or diseases,” Sharma said. “So, you’re not going to need the huge amounts of pesticides that we see applied in conventional agriculture today.”

A more natural farming system relies less on pesticides and herbicides.

The report calls for government action that includes pesticides in climate planning that reduces reliance on synthetic pesticides, rules that reduce pesticide toxicity, and transitioning to agroecology.