Fruit growers are being urged to look for alternative pest controls as government regulators look to quash the use of insecticides deemed unsafe by farmworker advocacy groups.
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Fruit growers are being urged to look for alternative pest controls as government regulators look to quash the use of insecticides deemed unsafe by farmworker advocacy groups.
One insecticide under fire is azinphos-methol, or AZM, long employed in apple orchards to eradicate codling moths.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced last month it would phase out use of AZM by 2012.
The end is still years out, but agricultural experts say it might not be the last such insecticide to be banned or further restricted, and fruit growers should start researching alternatives now so as not to panic later.
"It's time to begin _ even if the regulatory environment isn't forcing it _ using these alternatives to have a better understanding of how they work," said Jay Brunner, entomologist and director of the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center.
In 1999, Washington apple growers used eight so-called organophosphate insecticides in their orchards to battle pests. By 2005, the number had fallen to just four, including AZM.
Organophosphates are among the most commonly used pesticides worldwide, both for agriculture and domestic use. For humans, overexposure can cause acute toxic effects: wheezing, nausea, headaches, seizures and in extreme cases, death.
Farmworker safety groups have been lobbying for the insecticides to be banned, and chemical companies have been working to develop less-toxic alternatives. Some already are on the market, while others are still awaiting approval by the federal government.
The alternatives have benefits and disadvantages, Brunner said.
The newer products can improve worker safety, while allowing laborers to return to the fields more quickly after spraying. Growers may also be able to combat several pests at once with just one pesticide, he said.
Conversely, the new products may kill enemy insects introduced to an orchard to take out pests. Many of the alternatives also are more expensive, costing as much as three times their traditional counterparts.
"New technology today is going to be more expensive than technology developed 40 years ago," Brunner told fruit growers at the Washington Horticultural Association's annual conference Wednesday. "But I do think you'll see added benefits."
The changes are encouraging and long overdue, said Ken McCall, who grows 70 acres of apples on his 900-acre Pasco farm. The new products provide for improved worker safety and come at a time when some pests had become resistant to the original pesticides anyway, he said.
But they also are going to make life interesting for growers in the next few years, he said.
"We may have to change how we put workers in the field. We may have to change how we spray. I can see a need for myself to gather more knowledge, and find out who I'll use as an expert, because I'm not one," McCall said with a laugh.
McCall's farm foreman, Trinidad Cervantes, echoed that sentiment, saying that phasing out certain dangerous pesticides _ such as AZM _ is a positive move for farmworker safety.
"Now there's a lot to consider," he said. "There's a lot to learn."
Source: Associated Press