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Agricultural Pesticides

(University of Florida - IFAS)

The federal government has regulated pesticides since the early 1900s.

The use of synthetic pesticides in agriculture is the most widespread method for pest control. "...Farmers spend approximately $4.1 billion on pesticides annually. They justify this high cost by a direct dollar return of from $3 to $5 for every $1 spent on pesticides." (1991 edition of the Handbook of Pest Management in Agriculture.)

Environmental and human health problems related to the use of synthetic pesticides have created an increasing pressure against their use. In recent years, non-chemical alternatives for pest control have been developed and modern pesticides have become safer and more specific. Technical developments of the application equipment have also improved to enable their proper application. However, their proper professional use has not always been transferred satisfactorily to field practice.

Alternative approaches to pest control are used more and more and the concept of integrated pest management where synthetic pesticides are only applied as a last resort is now considered common practice in professional agriculture. The non-chemical alternatives include cultural practices, choice of resistant varieties, creation of an environment favorable for natural enemies of pests, and use of biological products and agents, including beneficial insects.

Likewise, synthetic pesticides have undergone a development process to match today's requirements. They have become less toxic for humans, though not necessarily for the environment, they have become more specific to act as a useful contribution within an IPM concept and they have become more powerful. While 40 years ago pesticides were applied in kilograms or liters of active ingredient per hectare, modern pesticides only require grams or milliliters to achieve the same or better result.

On the other hand, the new pesticides require a more sophisticated technology for a safe, even and efficient application. Modern application equipment (including backpack sprayers) allow a fairly safe and efficient application of pesticides of all kinds. "The design of equipment has impact mostly on the operator and environmental safety preventing unnecessary contamination, accidents, loss and spills and allowing an even distribution of the product." Modern electronics have improved the accuracy of dosing, distribution, and application. The use of global positioning systems (GPS) allows precise tracking of the application. Spray nozzle technology greatly affects spray coverage, which is second in importance only to the selection of the pesticide in determining the success of an application.

Originally, the purpose of pesticide laws and regulations was to protect consumers from fraudulent claims about product performance. The focus now has shifted to the protection of health and the environment, including:

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