California’s latest data shows a slight drop in statewide pesticide use — with an exception being Santa Barbara County. In 2016, farmers in Santa Barbara County used 5.5 million pounds of pesticides on crops, compared to 4.9 million pounds in 2015, according to the latest report from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
Besides the increase in pesticide use, the chemicals landing on fields are worrisome, said Sarah Aird, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, a coalition of environmental organizations. Three of the most-used pesticides in Santa Barbara County — chloropicrin, 1,3-dichloropropene, and metam-potassium — are known carcinogens, and they’re often used together, she said, raising cancer risk for people living near fields or buying crops.
Farmers spraying pesticides aren’t just choosing chemicals haphazardly — they need permits from the Agricultural Commissioner’s office, which is also where the Department of Pesticide Regulation gathers its data. According to Rudy Martel, assistant Agricultural Commissioner for the county, it’s hard to say why pesticide use rose. Weather, disease, and the pests themselves could all factor in. “But it’s not about, well, we’re going to use more pesticides and that way we’re going to make more money,” he said.
Other pesticide updates ring fewer alarm bells. One chemical, chlorpyrifos, long fought by pesticide reform advocates, has seen lower use in Santa Barbara County as of this latest report. And as of this January, growers are prohibited from spraying certain pesticides between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. within a quarter-mile of any school to limit children’s exposure to these chemicals.
But overall, Aird is concerned pesticide use is moving in the wrong direction. “When we see pesticide use at such high levels,” she said, “we feel like it shows a lack of vision and lack of leadership in terms of what our agricultural economy should look like in the next 25-50 years.”