From: Brian Skoloff, Associated Press
Published February 16, 2005 12:00 AM

Pesticide Tax, Farmer Education Could Lessen Pollution from Runoff, Report Says

FRESNO, Calif. — An environmental group has proposed a tax hike on pesticides that would fund classes for California farmers on how to reduce the amount of toxic runoff in the state's water supply.


Gary Wolff, chief economist at the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, an environmental research group, said farmers who enroll in such classes could receive rebates that make up for the 7.9 percent tax increase.


"They would actually be making money," said Wolff, who wrote the institute's Feb. 8 report, "Investing in Clean Agriculture."


Urban buyers of all sorts of chemicals, such as chlorine for pools, also would pay the added tax and bear some of the costs for the classes, the report says.


Pesticides are taxed in California at 2.1 percent of wholesale value. The group wants to increase that to 10 percent. The tax would last three years, then revert to 2.1 percent.


"It is in our opinion the only way to escape long-term social forces that could be very detrimental to farms and farmers and food security," the report says.


Pesticide use in California in 2003 jumped 4 percent from a year earlier to about 175 million pounds, according to the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.


"Pesticide expenditures as a percent of profit have been rising steadily," Wolff said. "By getting a handle on when and where they can use less pesticides, farmers are going to improve their bottom line."


Farmer David Sarabian, who grows peaches, plums, nectarines and grapes in the San Joaquin Valley, said new taxes are not necessary.


"We're an educated group of people," he said. "We know there are alternatives and sometimes you use them, and sometimes they work, but sometimes they are cost-prohibitive."


Wolff's report says similar tax increases have worked elsewhere. In Denmark, a program started in 1986 reduced pesticide use by more than 50 percent within 10 years, the report found.


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