July 19, 2004

Survey shows 52% decline in pesticide use on Ont crops since 1983

Ontario farmers have reduced their use of pesticides by 52% since 1983, according to figures from the latest pesticide use survey by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF). Overall pesticide use in fruit and vegetable crops decreased by 20% in the last five years alone. Specifically, insecticide use in fruit declined by 57%, while fungicide use in both fruit and vegetables was reduced by 54% since 1998.

Increased adoption of IPM and alternative pest control strategies such as border sprays for migratory pests, mating disruption, alternate row spraying, and pest monitoring are major reasons for these large declines.

"Cutting our pesticide use by more than half within twenty years is a great achievement," stated Greg Hannam, chair of AGCare (Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment). "Farmers are very proud of their environmental record when it comes to pesticide use."

OMAF has been carrying out its pesticide use survey every five years since 1973, following a request from the Pollution from Land Use Activities Reference Group (PLUARG), a body established by the International Joint Commission as part of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). PLUARG felt the data collected would be useful in estimating pesticide use in pursuance of the Agreement, detecting pesticide use in Ontario by crop and region, and assessing OMAF's effectiveness in pest and weed control.

The six previous reports have focused on pesticide use in agricultural crops, including field crops, fruit and vegetable crops and selected other crops, e.g. nursery, sod and ginseng. Occasionally, non-agricultural pesticide use has been addressed, such ass roadside spraying and commercial applicators; these applications are not discussed in the 2003 survey, however.

The surveys have shown a consistent decline in agricultural pesticide use, as measured by total active ingredient (a.i.); this is attributed to advancements in education, science, integrated pest management (IPM), and biotechnology.

Between 1983 and 1993, pesticide use in tonnes declined from 8,700 tonnes a.i. to 6,200 tonnes a.i. By 1998, this figure had dropped further to 5,200 tonnes a.i., with another reduction, to 4,200 tonnes a.i. by 2003.

The study includes figures on specific pesticides, such as atrazine, whose use was at 80% of the 1998 level, indicating that it is still needed as a weed management tool in field corn. Broad-spectrum pest control products, it notes, are being replaced by more targeted technology, with low amounts of a.i. used per acre.

"Farmers are responsible pesticide users. Pesticides are a costly input into crop production, and therefore we only use these products when it is necessary," Hannam said.

"Ontario farmers are utilizing every mitigation strategy possible to control pests in an environmentally and economically sustainable way," added Hugh Berges, Manager of Horticulture Technology, OMAF. "Society and low profit margins demand it."

AGCare is a coalition of 17 agricultural groups representing 45,000 growers of field and horticultural crops in Ontario. The organization provides science and research-based information and policy initiatives on pesticide use, crop biotechnology developments, nutrient management and other related environmental issues. The 2003 pesticide use survey may be viewed on the AGCare Web site, www.agcare.org. More information is also available from Greg Hannam of AGCare, 519/821-1018.

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