California just banned this pesticide. Here’s how it will impact SLO County growers

Get a spectacular soaring view above Sacramento Valley’s blooming almond orchards

John Hannon shot this spectacular aerial view of blooming almond orchards in the Sacramento Valley. It's from the Arbuckle area in Colusa County. Did you know California grows more than 80 percent of the world's supply of almonds?
Up Next
John Hannon shot this spectacular aerial view of blooming almond orchards in the Sacramento Valley. It's from the Arbuckle area in Colusa County. Did you know California grows more than 80 percent of the world's supply of almonds?

A California-wide ban of a pesticide linked to neurological problems will impact some San Luis Obispo County growers — although its use has declined in recent years, according to agriculture officials.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Wednesday announced plans to to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide sold commercially as Lorsban, among other brand names.

“We’re saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ We can’t wait for the federal government, which has been very slow and has kind of flip-flopped,” Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said in an interview.

The decision is a significant rebuke to President Donald Trump. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Trump has been defending the chemical against court challenges after the Obama administration took steps to prohibit its use.

Chlorpyrifos, developed by Dow Chemical in the 1960s as an alternative to DDT, has been banned for residential use nationwide since 2001. The product has been linked to neurological problems among farmworkers and their children.

“A lot of people live close to fields. Schools are close to fields,” said Blumenfeld, who worked for the federal EPA under the Obama administration. “This actually reduces the IQ of Californians.”

SLO County chlorpyrifos use

California officials have tightened regulations for chlorpyrifos, and its usage has fallen statewide.

Farmers throughout the state applied about 900,000 pounds of chlorpyrifos in 2016 — the latest year statewide data is available — down from nearly 2 million pounds in 2005, according to the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Chlorpyrifos-based pesticide use has declined greatly in San Luis Obispo County since 2006, due primarily to Central Coast Water Quality Control Board restrictions, The Tribune reported in September.

The agency began requiring additional monitoring and reporting for commercial growers after chlorpyrifos levels exceeded those safe for aquatic life in Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo and Oso Flaco creeks, according to a water board statement.

Although the chlorpyrifos levels were toxic to aquatic insects, they weren’t high enough to affect humans, the statement said.

An almond orchard blooms near Winters in the western Sacramento Valley. Almonds are one of about 60 California commodities grown with the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which the state is banning. Sacramento Bee file photo

San Luis Obispo County Department of Agriculture pesticide use data obtained by The Tribune in September showed some growers have continued to use chlorpyrifos during the last two years to control pests from Cayucos to Nipomo.

In 2017, chlorpyrifos products were used to treat 311.5 acres of crops. That number dropped to 55.5 acres in 2018, according to Martin Settevendemie, county agricultural commissioner.

This year, 15 acres have been treated with chlorpyrifos-based pesticides to date, Settevendemie said.

“It’s very much going down over time,” he said.

San Luis Obispo County growers have used the pesticide primarily in citrus groves, although they also applied chlorpyrifos to peas, strawberries and wine grapes.

Growers have begun looking for alternatives to the substance for some time, and the ban will likely have a minimal effect on San Luis Obispo County agriculture, Settevendemie said.

The ban won’t actually be finalized for up to two years. Farmers can still use chlorpyrifos during the interim period but won’t be able to employ aerial spraying and must accept other restrictions.

Newsom’s budget revision plan, to be unveiled in full Thursday, will include $5.7 million to study alternative pest-management methods and provide further assistance to farmers as they transition away from chlorpyrifos.

“We’re listening to agriculture,” Blumenfeld said. The Newsom administration has made a point of reaching out to the farming community, particularly on water issues.

Growers resist ban

Chlorpyrifos-based pesticides help control ants and red scale insects, pests that look like round, hard dots, Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, told The Tribune in September.

The California Farm Bureau Federation, which has argued that chlorpyrifos should be kept legal, said the state’s decision will put agriculture in a bind.

“Once again, farmers find themselves caught in the middle of a fight among activist groups, federal and state agencies,” president Jamie Johansson said in a prepared statement. “Food may become more expensive, and California-grown food less plentiful.”

When the ban is final, California will become the second state to prohibit the chemical’s use. Hawaii has banned chlorpyrifos, and New York’s legislature passed a bill banning it.

On the national level, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March gave the Trump administration until mid-July to decide whether to ban the chemical or not.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

Lindsey Holden writes about housing and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She also covers communities in northern San Luis Obispo County. Lindsey became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. She’s a native Californian raised in the Midwest and is a proud graduate of two Chicago schools: DePaul University and Northwestern University.