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Pesticides Usage on Agricultural Products in California Term Paper

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Updated: Dec 10th, 2019


In the history of the Americans, agricultural pesticide use has been associated with the farmers that live in the rural areas. The rural community population has exhibited an increasing trend since rural farmlands have also increased throughout the nation. This has contributed significantly to the increased usage of agricultural pesticides that has been recorded by the various bodies in the agricultural sector.

Most of the pesticides that are applied on the crops have the ability to diffuse in the atmosphere due to their relatively high volatility. Other atmospheric factors such as the movement of air cause the transfer of the pesticides from one region to another. Consequently, most people have been exposed to such pesticides. This has become a controversial issue not only in the American community but also in other regions of the world.

Exposure to the chemical causes some health problems such as eye and gastrointestinal irritation. Other health problems that are associated with the exposure include frequent headaches as well as fatigue, a phenomenon that has been rampant among people who live in areas with high atmospheric pesticide concentration.

This paper gives a detailed account of the usage of pesticides in California putting into consideration several aspects that are associated with the phenomenon. The aspects include the effect of pesticide use on the environment as depicted in human health and the economic significance of the phenomenon.

It outlines the approaches that can be effective in reducing the use of pesticides as well as an economic analysis of the same. It also gives the factors to be considered when carrying out a cost benefit analysis of the reduction the usage of the pesticides besides giving the recommendations.

Pesticide Usage in California

The global crop protection market has recorded annual sales, which have been valued at nearly $31 billion. The United States accounts for 25% of the sales. Research has shown that between 1992 and 2000, there was no remarkable decrease in the overall Agricultural use of pesticides in the U.S. (Epstein, & Bassein, 2003, p. 352).

However, the use of the most dangerous pesticides namely carbamates and organophosphates declined by 14% during the same period. According to Rull and Ritz (2003), the use of such carcinogenic compounds or rather pesticides decreased from 206 million kilograms (AI) in 1992 to 177 million kilograms (AI) in 2000 (p. 1584). Despite the decrease in the use of these two most dangerous pesticides in the U.S, in 2000 approximately 40% of the total mass of agricultural pesticides used to be in the riskiest group.

California is the largest as well as the most diverse agricultural state in the U.S. Its agricultural products account for more than half of the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. Research has shown that the state uses more nearly 22% of the total agricultural pesticides in the nation (Colborn, 2006, p. 14; Ridgway, et al., 1978, p. 105).

A report that was released by the California Department of Pesticide regulation at the beginning of the last decade revealed that California is among the states that have the highest pesticide usage in the United States-approximately 86 million kilograms of pesticides per year.

The overall use of chemicals in the treatment of plant diseases did not decrease over the past one decade. Due to this, the government introduced some conventional compounds or rather pesticides with reduced-risk compounds that would serve the purpose (Pretty, 2008, p. 451). They included eight fungicides for the control of plant diseases. The new compounds were adopted on a significant scale since the beginning of the last decade.

There has been a fluctuation on the use of pesticides in California. Research has shown that increase in pesticide use has been enhanced by greater pest pressure or projected profits. For instance, areas that have a high humidity exhibit a high usage of pesticides due to the growers’ attempts to prevent the adverse effects of the pests that emerge during that period.

In California, the rules governing agricultural applications of chemicals require the farmers to report on their pesticide usage. Some of the aspects that must be incorporated in that report are the date of application, the amount used as used as well as the ell as the geographical location of the farm in question (Hahn, 2000, p. 880).

This practice has been in practice since 1990 and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) acts as the regulatory body of the practice. The CDPR also ensures that the data is error free and it is kept safely.

There are some methods that have been proposed for ranking agricultural pesticides by their potential hazard as air contaminants. In devising these methods, the two most important characteristics of pesticides are put into consideration-toxicity and volatilization (Lang, 1993, p. 580).

In California, the pesticide air contaminant (TAC) ranking programme is one of the programmes that have been used to monitor the levels of pesticide residues in the atmosphere. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) does the monitoring in agricultural communities. The communities involved in this practice are selected based on area use of the monitored pesticide. It is also conducted in the regional urban centers. This presents the ability or rather opportunity to calculate the inhalation risk.

Most of the pesticides, particularly fumigants that are used in California are carcinogenic. Unfortunately, some of the pesticides have been transferred to households through several agents. This has increased the number of people who face the risk of being exposed to the dangerous compounds (Lee, et al., 2011, p. 1169).

Some of the potentially carcinogenic compounds or rather pesticides include methyl bromide and metam sodium (MITC) among others. Among other groups of people in the society, children are the most vulnerable to the lethal effects of pesticides. They have a high metabolic rate thus have a higher inhalation rate as opposed to the grownups who have a rather low inhalation rate to body weight ratio.

Among the 208, 000 people in California who live in areas where the density of the pesticides exceed the safe levels, 53,000 of them are children. The phenomenon poses a great danger to the well-being of not only children but also to the other members of the society.

Pesticide residues get into the human body through several ways. The most common ones include inhalation as well as ingestion. Ingestion is considered one of the ways when the food products have traces of pesticides (National Research Council Staff, 1993, p. 56).

The pores in the human skin have also been a pathway for the entry of pesticides into the body system (Jared, 2002, p. 10). Children have a higher probability of getting exposure to pesticides through the soil especially due to their hand-to-mouth activities.

However, the children who are born and raised within the farmlands have a high risk of exposure compared to their counterparts that are born and raised in the other places. According to Nash, the farm workers in California are approximately 22% of the 5.2 million farm workers in the U.S. (2004, p.207). This shows the proportion of Americans that have the highest probability of being exposed to the life-threatening agricultural chemicals.

Economic Analysis

As far as agricultural economics is concerned, pesticide reduction remained a debatable matter for the last two decades. The key players have not yet arrived at a consensus of whether pesticides are risk reducing or risk increasing. In agricultural economics literature, the term ‘risk’ is often used in the technical sense of whether pesticides decrease or increase profit variability, as opposed to whether the use of pesticides, on average, increase or decrease profits.

The term is sometimes used in the same way in pest management literature. However, in pest management literature, the term sometimes encompasses a variety of concepts (National Academy Press Staff, 2000, p. 101)).

The concepts include the uncertainty of the infestation itself and the uncertainty of whether an IPM technique will be as effective in controlling pests as a calendar-spray program. It also refers to a grower’s profit risk by either applying too few pesticides that make them lose the crop revenue or of unnecessarily increasing costs by applying more pesticides than necessary.

The reduction of unnecessary or cost-ineffective pesticide applications can be an economic benefit to the growers. However, in most cases the decrease in the use of pesticides must be accompanied by an increase in the cultural control practices if adequate pest management is to be achieved.

According to the Committee on California Agriculture and Natural Resources (2004), cultural practices often are more labor intensive than the use of pesticides (p. 88). Research has shown that the price index of pesticides in the United States increased by 19% between 1991 and 1997, the wage index for agricultural labor increased by 22%.

This implies that at the time of declining crop prices, it may not be economical for the individual growers to reduce their reliance on pesticide. However, economic analysis for a group of growers indicates that non-chemical methods such as breeding or the use of GM crops are more economically efficient than the use of pesticides.

Available options for dealing with the problem

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is one of the technical strategies that have been adopted in an attempt to reduce the use of pesticides. The main goal of the approach is to achieve least pesticide use or rather to reduce the pesticide load in the environment. It entails the combination of several techniques that do not call for the use of nay chemicals in the process.

They include the modification of cultural practices, the adoption of pest resistant varieties, habitat manipulation as well as biological control methods. It is noteworthy that the selection and the application of pest control methods in this particular approach are tailored in such a way that they minimize the risks to human health, beneficiary and non-target organisms as well as the environment.

However, the use of pesticides under this strategy is allowed if the pests in question are not responsive to the combined effect of the four techniques (Henke, 2008, p. 32). In the cases where pesticides are used, the USDA has postulated some guidelines that should govern the application process. The USDA requires that the cost-benefit ration should be confirmed prior to applying the pesticides. Additionally, the pesticides used should have minimal negative effects not only to human beings but also to the ecosystem.

In 1972, the United States adopted the IPM approach as one of the major components of the federal agricultural policy. The key bodies in the agricultural sector declared their goal of implementing the approach on three-quarters of the of the U.S crop coverage by 2000. The bodies include the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency.

A study has shown that of the projected year (2000), some level of IPM was used on 70% of the U.S Crop coverage. However, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that the percentage was a misleading indicator of the progress of the ultimate goal-reduction of pesticide use in the nation.

Even after the adoption of the IPM approach in the agricultural policy of the nation, pathologists and pest managers have not yet reached a clear consensus that the use of pesticides should be reduced. This has also increased the debate about the issue with a significant proportion of the farmers still opposed to the adoption of the approach.

The debate can be attributed to the fact that the IPM practice does not focus on integration either for management of a particular pest or for multiple pests. Nonetheless, according to Henke (2008), many of the IPM practices, at least in theory, could affect pesticide use (p. 63).

These include the release as well as the adoption of pest-resistant cultivars via genetic engineering or traditional cultivar development, release of pheromones or other semiochemicals, advances in cultural control and use of biological control agents or rather the release of natural enemies.

According to International Centre for Pesticide Safety (2001), farm-level evaluation of the IPM benefits and costs portray a desirable picture (p. 118). It is characterized by a general reduction of pesticide use, production cost and risk as well as an increase in net returns to producers.

Microbial control agents have the potential of reducing the use of agricultural pesticides in California. However, research has shown that there is limited use of these agents in the state and there has been no indication of an increase. Lepidopteran insects can be controlled by Bacillus thuringiensis while bacterial pathogens can be controlled by Agrobacterium radiobacter and Pseudomonas fluorescens (Jared, 2002, p. 13).

Additionally, Ampelomyces quisqualis can be used to control the species of fungi that cause powdery mildew. Nematodes can be controlled by Myrothecium verrucaria. The state Department of Pesticide Regulation’s records show that producers rarely use microbial agents in the control of pests.

As far as the reduction of agricultural pesticide use is concerned, genetically modified crops have been portrayed not only to the public but also to the scientific community as a successful strategy. For instance, in Hawaii commercial papaya plantings with resistance to Papaya ringspot virus saved the papaya industry against the disease.

Genetic modification has also led to the production of herbicide-tolerant crops an aspect that has enhanced the reduction of herbicides in areas where such crops are planted. Nash argues that herbicide tolerant crops allow no-till farming, which exacerbates some disease problems but reduces soil erosion and use of fossil fuels in plowing (2004, p. 208). However, research has shown that the herbicide-tolerant crops exhibit a 5% yield reduction compared to the non-transgenic crops.

Some GM plants are tailored to produce toxins against certain pesticides. For instance, some of the crops e.g. Bt-cotton produce Bacillus thuringiensis toxin that has been successful in the control or rather inhibition of the activity of the lepidopteran insects. Introduction of the Bt-cotton in California resulted in lower insecticide use.

A similar genetic modification has been introduced to corn but its effectiveness in inhibiting the activity of insects is still under debate. However, research has shown that corn that is genetically modified with the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin is less frequently invaded by the European corn borer (ECB).

The wounds that are produced by the action of the ECB pave way for the myco-toxin producing fungi namely Fusarium verticilioides and Fusarium proliferatum. Since the borer does not invade the GM corn, it has less fumosin. This reduces the use of not only insecticides but also the insecticides.

There are also social strategies for the reduction of pesticide use. Some of them include the mandated reduction, which can be done by imposing certain measures to not only the agricultural producers but also the suppliers of the pesticides especially those are potentially lethal to human health.

They may take the form of loss of or restricted registration, taxation or even the attrition of the older chemists (chemists that supply the high-risk pesticides). Under the Montreal Protocol and Subsequent Agreements as well as the Clean Air Act, an economic mechanism has been employed to enhance the phasing out of methyl bromide.

It entails increasing taxation on the compound. In the beginning of the last decade, the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) ordered the re-evaluation of the pesticide tolerances, which was to be completed by 2006. This would lead to the elimination of most of the pesticides that present a high risk to human health.

Processor-mandated requirements are also essential in reducing the agricultural use of pesticides in the state. Some food processors restrict growers’ pesticide use. For instance, Sun-Maid™ requires that its raisin growers should submit application reports. Additionally, they prohibit the use of registered pesticides that are of greatest concern to consumers, i.e. selected fungicides and insecticides.

Another example involves the regulation of sulfur-based pesticides in grapes because sulfur residues inhibit wine fermentation. Wineries in California have extended the period between the last acceptable sulfur application and harvest making farmers to avoid the application of the pesticides on their crops.

Consumers can also dictate the use pesticides and other chemicals on crops by promoting organic agriculture. It is worth mentioning that this strategy was experienced in California during the 1990s. During that time, organic agriculture became one of the fastest growing segments of California.

Research has shown that approximately 2% of California’s farmland is organic. Despite the low yields of the organic plants, the profits are usually higher because of the premium price set for organic products. In apple production, both the conventional and the organic plants have equivalent yields. This gives the organically grown apples a higher profitability as well as greater energy efficiency than the conventionally grown apples.

The aspect that prevents many of the conventional producers from adopting organic production is the fact that the postharvest losses of many organic fruits and vegetables are higher than for the conventional ones. This would make them more costly even if harvested yields were comparable.

Factors that inhibit the reduction of pesticide control

Pesticide application is generally not driven by the presence of a disease. The perceived risk of a disease even before it occurs or even the consequences of a disease that occurred in previous years are the major factors that make producers to apply pesticides to their crops (Moats, S., & Moats, W., 1970, p. 462). This makes it hard for the farmers to avoid the use of pesticides as a preventive measure.

As aforementioned, the IPM practice is assumed as a strategy that it yields maximized benefits both to the growers as well as to the society with minimal risks incurred. However, not all the stakeholders bear the same costs and risks. The growers bear potential loss both from expenditures associate with using more pesticides than necessary and from crop loss associated with under treating. Recent research has shown that the benefit coat ration is 1.3:1. Consequently, many producers are reluctant to embrace the IPM practices.

In carrying out research about this subject, data can be obtained from the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency. Other sources include the California Air Resources Board (CARB), California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) as well as the California Pesticide Usage Reports (PUR).

Data can also be obtained by carrying out a survey in the market involving not only farmers but also consumers. The cost benefit analysis can be calculated by factoring in the following aspects:

  1. Agricultural: Yield of the crop, quality of the crop, cost of production and quality of land
  2. Human Health: Disease vector control, farm worker, formulator worker, applicators and non-occupational exposure
  3. Property and material damage: damage to commodities during storage, structural integrity of buildings and right-of-way maintenance
  4. Environment and aesthetic impact: Non-renewable resources, tourism, home and gardens
  5. Distributional effects: geographic, social, balance of payments
  6. Regulation control costs: legislation and enforcement

The uncertainties in this case would be the uncertainty of the infestation itself and the uncertainty of whether an alternative method will be as effective in controlling pests as a calendar-spray program.

There are some limitations to such a study. The reference levels for pesticides vary between agencies and programs. Some of the emerging concerns as far as the effect of pesticide exposure is concerned are not fully exploited. They include endocrine disruption and neurological disruption. Additionally, data analysts or rather researches have not yet considered the effect (toxicity) of one’s exposure to multiple pesticides.

In Contingent Variance analysis, a constant individual utility is taken as the basis for evaluating change in the supply of a non-market good. The appropriate welfare measure for the evaluation of a pesticide-related health outcome is compensating variation, which refers to the utility level before the change (Garming, Waibel, 2009, p. 127).

The utility level before change, which is also referred to the compensating outcome, would be the most appropriate welfare measure for the evaluation of a pesticide-related health outcome as stipulated below:

The utility of a farm household (Uₒ) is represented as the sum of Health (Hₒ) and other goods that are summarized as income (Iₒ). If supply with health is improved to H1 while keeping income constant e.g. through a new pest management approach, (Iₒ=I1), farmers move to a rather high utility (U1). In this case, the value of improvement in health would be defined as the amount of income the farmer in question would be willing to forego (WTP) in order to be as well off as before the change in health (utility level Uₒ with H1, I2).

The WTP value would be obtained by carrying out surveys in the agricultural market. Pre-tests, the formulation of a careful survey design as well as the use of focus group discussions would be some of the important factors in enhancing content validity. I would gradually familiarize the farmers with the problem of pesticide-related health and ask them to recall pesticide use in the previous years as well as the experiences they might have had with poisoning and poisoning symptoms.

Afterwards, I would present a pesticide with a low human toxicity but with the same pest control efficiency as the currently most used pesticide to the respondents. The difference between the prices of the two versions of the pesticides-the toxic pesticide and the pesticide with low toxicity would be used as the WTP for the study’s health attribute.


To reduce the usage of pesticides in California, producers should be encouraged to use alternative methods for pest control such as IPM, microbial control agents as well as growing genetically modified foods. Additionally, the government should remove all barriers that hinder growers from using the alternative pest control methods. Some of the barriers include some federal insurance policies that hinder the reduction of pesticide use in the state.

The federal farm policy is not always consistent with the goals of pesticide reduction. For instance, the farmers who rotated crops, as a measure of pesticide reduction, did not qualify for funding under the 1985 Farm Bill. There are federally subsidized crop insurance programs for most crops in California.

The programs dictate that for a grower to qualify for insurance indemnities, he/she must follow best management practices, which encompass pesticide applications. This approach is also used by the insurance farms in the private sector.

Reference List

Colborn, T. (2006). A Case for Revisiting the Safety of Pesticides: A Closer Look at Neurodevelopment. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(1), 10-17.

Committee on California Agriculture and Natural Resources. (2004). California Agricultural Research Priorities: Pierce’s Disease. Washington, DC: National Academia Press.

Epstein, L., & Bassein, S. (2003). Patterns of Pesticide Use in California and the Implications for Strategies for Reduction of Pesticides. Annual Review of Pesticide Usage, 41, 351-375.

Garming, H., & Waibel, H. (2009). Pesticide and Farmer Health in Nicaragua: A Willingness-to-pay Approach to Evaluation. European Journal of Health Economics, 10, 125-133.

Hahn, R. (2000). State and Federal Regulatory Reform: A Comparative Analysis. The Journal of Legal Studies, 29(2), 873-912.

Henke, C. R. (2008). Cultivating Science, Harvesting Power: Science and Industrial Agriculture in California. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

International Centre for Pesticide Safety. (2001). Preventing Risks from the Use of Pesticides in Agriculture. Albany, NY: World Health Organization.

Jared, W. (2002). Pesticide Exposure. Risk Management, 49(10), 9-15.

Lang, L. (1993). Are Pesticides a Problem? Environmental Health Perspectives, 101(7), 578-583.

Lee, S., et al. (2011). Acute Pesticide Illnesses Associated with Off-target Pesticide Drift from Agricultural Applications: 11 States, 1998-2006. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(8), 1162-1171.

Moats, S.A., & Moats, W.A. (1970). Toward Safer Use of Pesticides. BioScience, 20(8), 459-464.

Nash, L. (2004). The Fruits of Ill Health: Pesticides and Workers’ Bodies in Post-World War II California. Landscape of Exposure: Knowledge and Illness in Modern Environments, 19(2), 203-219.

National Academy Press Staff. (2000). Future Role of Pesticides in U.S. Agriculture. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

National Research Council Staff. (1993) Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Pretty, J. (2008). Agricultural Sustainability: Concepts, Principles and Evidence. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 363(1491), 447-465.

Ridgway, R.L. et al. (1978). Pesticide Use in Agriculture. Environmental Health Perspectives, 27, 103-112.

Rull, R.P., & Ritz, B. (2003). Historical Pesticide Exposure in California Using Pesticide Use Reports and Land-Use Surveys: An Assessment of Misclassification Error and Bias. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111(13), 1582-1591.

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