Central Valley: A holistic approach to reduce pesticide risk

Oct 13th, 2010 | By | Category: One Question, Student Work

Pesticide safety is a serious concern among agriculturists. While pesticides are seen as necessary to prevent crop losses, they often have unintended consequences on health and the environment. Laura Van Der Staay, who works in the IR4 program that facilitates pest management solutions for specialty crops and minor uses, feels that pesticide risk can be averted to a huge degree by adopting a systems based approach to pest management.

Q&A by Bernice Agyekwena and Neelima Mahajan

Q. Dealing with pests is one part of the problem and dealing with pesticides is another. When we talk of reducing pesticide risk, is there a safer and more sustainable approach to follow?

A. For reducing pesticide risk you need a systems approach that takes into account the whole ecological system. You use pesticides as little as possible and when you have to, you try and use reduced risk pesticides. You also bring in cultural changes – so you can control the cultivar, control cultural practices, understand the pest-host relationship and use a calculator to see when you need to spray pesticides. You might be able to reduce pesticide risk just by understanding your pests and understanding under what conditions they can lead up to an economic threat. You use the pesticide only when there is an economic threat.

Besides, you can have a variety or cultivar that helps manage pests and diseases. So if you have a root stalk that’s resistant to a root-borne disease or to a pest, then you don’t have to treat for that disease or that pest. You might also be able to find natural enemies – a predator or a parasite – that will be able to control disease. You can do DNA work where you can determine whether a variety will cause you an economic problem. If you use a system, you can find the best method in the environment that you are in for the specific pest that you have. The US is trying to use reduced risk pesticides that are not as harmful to the environment, animals and people.

photo: Laura Van Der Staay is the Program and Facility Coordinator, IR-4 Field Research Center Director at the Kearney Research Center, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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