Pesticides are only one of several methods California Almond growers use to maintain the health of the almond plant, the wholesomeness of the food, and in the case of almonds, they even help to ensure food safety. These compounds help to control weeds, plant pathogens and insects, and are used by all growers, including organic almond growers, who use pesticides that meet the organic definition.
At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Pesticide Programs has the responsibility for assessing the risks and benefits from the use of a pesticide, and determining under what conditions a pesticide may be used. In California, the Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) also reviews the risks from pesticides for California conditions.
The almond industry is a leader in the adoption of integrated pest management for use of almond crop protection materials, based on funding research on the safe and effective use of pesticides for over 40 years.
The University of California’s Pest Management Guidelines website is a good source of information on pest management in almonds.
Licensing and Monitoring
To ensure the safe, environmentally sound and effective use of pesticides in California, regulations require that 1) licensed professionals recommend and apply pesticides, or 2) growers and/or their employees who apply pesticides are properly trained and certified. In addition, every California pesticide applicator must register with their local county agricultural commissioner’s office for an annual permit, and some pesticides require a specific permit from the commissioner’s office prior to application. This provides local oversight over pesticide applications in California and is unique in the United States.
In 1990, California DPR instituted a program of “100 percent use reporting.” This means that all growers must report to the county in which they farm every pesticide application they make. The report must include the name of the product, the amount applied, the acreage, and the date and location of the application. The DPR compiles these pesticide use reports on an annual basis, and the results are available online approximately one year after the end of the calendar year.
Pesticide Use Enforcement
County agricultural commissioners’ offices provide both education about and oversight of pesticide applications. Inspectors can go out into the field to observe applications at any time, and issue fines for the failure to follow pesticide labels. DPR oversees licensing and certification of dealers, pest control advisers (PCAs), pest control businesses and applicators. California regulators administer the nation’s largest state pesticide residue monitoring program, among other enforcement duties. Altogether, the use of pesticides by California growers is highly regulated and monitored to ensure the health and welfare of growers, workers, the public, the environment and the consumer.
Maximum Residue Limits (MRLS)
An MRL is the maximum admissible concentration of a pesticide in or on a food. In the United States, these allowable residues are called tolerances. Only foods that meet MRLs may be placed on the market. As part of the pesticide registration process, EPA sets the MRLs (aka tolerances) for foods in the United States. However, MRLs are not well harmonized (or standardized) around the globe. Customers in key export markets expect any residues present on produce, including almonds, to meet the MRLs set in the respective importing country.
The Almond Board of California works to try to reduce the number of MRL discrepancies in key export markets by providing data and background information to USDA, EPA, and individual countries and the Codex Alimentarius process when needed. Codex sets international food safety and quality standards used by many countries. In addition, ABC works with registrants to ensure they understand how exports are key to almond growers, and thus why working to establish international MRLs is critical to the success of the almond industry.
California Almond growers are engaged in programs to protect surface water and groundwater from pesticides and to prevent other farm inputs from entering waterways through irrigation drainage and rainwater runoff. Such efforts include measures to reduce spray drift as well as runoff.
When pesticide use becomes necessary to protect the quality and yield of a crop, care must be taken to keep applications on target without risking harm to nontarget organisms.
Honey bees are pollinating almond orchards at the same time bloom sprays are being made. By following best management practices, growers can restrict applications to trees to times when bees would not be present.
Endangered species are also at risk from harm by pesticides. At present, there are more than 350 species in California that either have been formally listed or have been proposed for endangered or threatened status. Growers should regularly check the county bulletins supplied by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) or their county agricultural commissioner’s office to determine if their preferred choice of pesticide has any limitations on it due to the proximity to an endangered species or its habitat. The list of pesticides with restrictions will grow as both EPA and CDPR undertake review of pesticides with an increased focus on the potential effects on endangered species.