Chlorpyrifos to be phased out; research planned

Issue Date: May 15, 2019
By Kevin Hecteman

As farmers deal with the fallout of California's decision to outlaw chlorpyrifos, the governor's May budget revision threw them a bone.

Along with the impending ban, CalEPA and the California Department of Food and Agriculture announced that Gov. Gavin Newsom will ask the Legislature for $5.7 million to fund research into alternatives and assemble a working group to evaluate and recommend the best ones.

In the face of pressure from activists citing health concerns, CalEPA announced last week that it would effectively ban chlorpyrifos, a broad-spectrum pesticide developed in the 1960s, by canceling registrations of crop-protection materials containing it.

The product will be phased out expeditiously. Farmers may continue using the material in the meantime, subject to restrictions.

Jamie Johansson, an olive farmer and president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said that two years isn't long enough to get new alternatives on the market.

"To get any new active ingredient registered in California generally takes around five years," Johansson pointed out. "If you want to bring in the replacement product in this two-year timeframe, the actions of DPR in terms of getting this product off the market have actually prolonged its presence on the market, because we can't get these new products through DPR."

On top of that, new registration regulations were passed last year, complicating the process, he added.

"One of the things that we have long asked for is a streamlined process that is timely from both a public-health standpoint and a farmer's need," Johansson said.

As it is, chlorpyrifos use is down as the regulatory lasso tightens. Use of chlorpyrifos declined from 2 million pounds in 2005 to just over 900,000 pounds in 2016, according to CalEPA.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation recommended new interim restrictions on chlorpyrifos applications in November, including discontinuing its use to the extent possible; a ban on aerial applications; a 150-foot setback from homes, businesses, schools and other sites considered sensitive; and quarter-mile buffer zones during allowed applications and for 24 hours afterwards. CalEPA recommended that county agriculture commissioners begin enforcing these guidelines on Jan. 1.

DPR has listed on its website (; see Page 3) "critical use" applications, listing crops and pests for which chlorpyrifos is at present the only viable alternative. These include alfalfa for weevils, blue alfalfa and cowpea aphid; almonds, for leaffooted bug and stink bugs; cotton, for cotton aphid and sweetpotato whitefly; citrus, for ants; and grapes for ants and vine mealy bugs, among other allowances.

Gabriele Ludwig, director for sustainability and environmental affairs at the Almond Board of California, said her employer has been funding research into the leaffooted bug and stink bug.

"For leaffooted bug, the big problem is we currently don't have any good tools to predict when it will show up," Ludwig said. "It's a sporadic pest, but when it shows up, it can be quite damaging."

A better understanding of the leaffooted bug's biology, such as where it overwinters and when it might show up in abundance, is crucial to coming up with an effective countermeasure, Ludwig added.

"The reason why chlorpyrifos has been so valuable is because once you see it in your orchard, you need something that knocks it down immediately," Ludwig said. "That's where a nice broad-spectrum compound like chlorpyrifos is very helpful."

The story is similar for stink bugs, Ludwig said, especially the invasive brown marmorated stink bug. Data from Stanislaus County show the pest spreading through orchards over the past several years, Ludwig said.

"When you get a new pest, having a broad-spectrum material is helpful to control the pest while you do the research to figure out how to do more targeted pest (control)," Ludwig said, adding that the Almond Board plans to work with DPR and the CDFA on research efforts.

Johansson said that under the current regulatory regime, chlorpyrifos has become a pesticide of last resort, and more than one replacement will be needed.

"The substitute for chlorpyrifos, more than likely, will have to be multiple products," Johansson said. "If they found one to replace it that would work with all 60 crops, it would be a miracle."

DPR and the CDFA will put together the working group seeking alternatives; the group plans to work with growers on the transition, Cal EPA said in a statement, as the governor's budget request makes its way through the Legislature.

"We look forward to working with the Legislature through the budget process on the Governor's proposal to support growers in the transition to alternative pest management," CDFA Secretary Karen Ross said in a statement.

CFBF and other agricultural organizations reacted to CalEPA's announcement last week with disappointment.

Johansson said the state's move leaves farmers between a rock and a hard place.

"Agricultural pests and crop diseases pose a real threat to the food we grow," Johansson said. "Farmers need effective, realistic alternatives to fight those pests and diseases, while assuring the safety of people and rural communities. Successful public health outcomes depend on successful pest management."

Canceling a pesticide, Johansson said, could lead to a smaller California food supply.

"That would leave our state's residents dependent on food grown elsewhere—and not grown under the stringent rules California farmers follow," Johansson said.

Indeed, chlorpyrifos is registered in upward of 50 countries globally, with more than 1,000 allowable maximum residue levels, Johansson pointed out.

"Even the EU has tolerances for chlorpyrifos," Johansson said. "It isn't just a matter of getting alternative products through DPR but getting our trading partners to allow its use for exports."

Casey Creamer, president of California Citrus Mutual in Exeter, said he worries about citrus farmers' ability to combat the Asian citrus psyllid and the disease it carries, huanglongbing, which is deadly to citrus trees. HLB, also called citrus greening, has devastated Florida citrus groves and could do the same to California's $2 billion-plus citrus business if left unchecked.

"The once-mighty citrus-producing state of Florida has lost 70% of its production due to this disease, which is expanding exponentially in residential citrus trees in Southern California at this very moment," Creamer said in a statement. "While our commercial growers will remain vigilant, it is vital that our policymakers recognize the seriousness of the threat and ensure sound scientific procedures are followed."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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