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A new report for the first time charts what the industry has known for years: California farmers for the past 12 years have been switching from older pesticides and moving to safer, more modern compounds to pursue Integrated Pest Management strategies.

The five-page report, titled Pesticide Use Trends in California Agriculture, compared the total use of 40 organophosphate and carbamate pesticides and found their use has declined by 66 percent from 1998 to 2009. The numbers come from California regulators who began requiring all agricultural pesticide use reported in 1990.

The decline of the highly regulated compounds has been steady over the 12-year period, according to the report, which was conducted for the Alliance for Food & Farming by the consulting firm Environmental Solutions Group.

“The data also indicate that, when it is necessary to use a cholinesterase inhibitor, the trend is toward the products classified as slightly toxic,” according to the report.

While the report shows farmers are shifting away from older, broad-spectrum pesticides, it is important to keep the older products handy for use to combat pests in certain situations, particularly against exotic pests that have no natural enemies, said the report.

The report also looked at the top 100 pesticides used in 2009 and found that the most widely used pesticide in California (sulfur) and the third-leading pesticide (mineral oil) are approved for use in the production of organic foods. Together these pesticides account for over one-third of all pesticides used in California agriculture, the report said.

“This report is only about California pesticides, but people across the country are moving to IPM and now we have data to back this up in a state that produces 50 percent of the nation’s agricultural products,” said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs at the Produce Marketing Association.

The new report represents a significant reduction in pesticide use and one that’s been happening all along, she said, adding, “It’s not a sudden turn of events but a strong evolution,” and “other states are likely following the same trend. The industry is looking for alternatives and chemical companies are developing new products that are more effective.”