Jump to main content.

1996-1997 Pesticide Market Estimates: Overview

[Skip Navigation]
Table of ContentsIntroductionOverviewTable HighlightsTables & ChartsGlossary


Pesticides of various types are used in most sectors of the U.S. Economy. In general terms, a pesticide is any agent used to kill or control undesired insects, weeds, rodents, fungi, bacteria or other organisms. Thus, the term "pesticide" includes insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, fungicides, nematicides, and acaracides as well as disinfectants, fumigants, wood preservatives and plant growth regulators.

Pesticides play a vital role in controlling agricultural, industrial, home/garden, and public health pests. Many crops, commodities, and services in the U.S. could not be supplied in an economic fashion without control of pests, with chemicals or by other means. As a result, goods and services can be supplied at lower costs and/or with better quality. These economic benefits from pesticide use are not achieved without potential risks to human health and the environment due to the toxicity of pesticide chemicals. For this reason, the chemicals are regulated under the pesticide laws to avoid unacceptable risks.

Pesticide Types

A total of about 890 active ingredients (a.i.) are registered as pesticides. A majority of these are "conventional" pesticides, i.e., ones developed and produced exclusively or primarily for use as pesticides. The other chemicals registered as pesticides are ones produced mostly for other purposes. Notable examples are sulfur and petroleum, which are produced mainly for other purposes, but are also used as pesticides. Also, there are industrial wood preservatives and biocides, which are not generally included as conventional pesticides. All of these types of pesticides are regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). FIFRA requires the registration (and periodic reregistration) of pesticides for sale or use in the United States. Under FFDCA, pesticides used on food or feed products must have an approved tolerance, or maximum residue level. EPA is responsible for regulating pesticides in cooperation with other Federal Agencies (such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)) and the States.

Overall Quantities of Pesticides Used

In the U.S. in a typical year, about 4.5 billion pounds of chemicals are used as pesticides (measured on the basis of active ingredient). For 1997, the quantities used are estimated, by type of pesticide, as follows (see Table 4 for more details):

Type Billions of lbs. Percent
Conventional Pesticides
Other pesticide chemicals (sulfur, petroleum, etc.)
Wood preservatives
Specialty biocides

Conventional pesticides and "other pesticide chemicals" (e.g., sulfur, petroleum, etc.) account for about one-fourth of the total pesticide active ingredient used in the U.S. (1.23 billion pounds or 27 percent of the total). A majority of these pesticides are used in agriculture to produce food and fiber (77 percent or 944 million pounds of active ingredient in 1997), with the remainder used in industry/government applications and by homeowners. With usage of 1.23 billion pounds (for conventional pesticides plus other pesticide chemicals), the U.S. accounts for about one-fourth of such usage world wide. Chlorine/hypochlorites are the leading type of pesticides in the U.S., with half of the U.S. total usage. Wood preservatives and specialty biocides make up the reminder of the U.S. total of 4.63 billion pounds in 1997. The above quantities equal 4.6 pounds per capita in the U.S. for conventional pesticides plus sulfur, etc., and 17.0 pounds per capita for the total of all types. (Based on Table 1, Table 3, Table 4, and Table 7.)

Expenditures for Pesticides

The pesticide industry is quite significant in dollar terms. Annual expenditures by users of pesticides totaled $11.9 billion in 1997 (conventional pesticides plus sulfur, etc.). Of this, 70 percent was for use in agriculture (a total of $8.3 billion - an average of nearly $4,400 per farm in the U.S. - 1.9 million farms). The U.S. total of $11.9 billion equals $44 per capita. The average U.S. household spent about $20 for pesticides applied by the homeowner. (This does not include expenditures for pesticides applied to homes and gardens by others for hire.) The U.S. accounts for nearly one- third of pesticide user expenditures world wide. (Based on Table 1, Table 2, and Table 7.)

Numbers of Pesticide Producers and Users

The U.S. pesticide sector includes the following numbers of firms and individuals (approximate numbers): major pesticide manufacturers (18); other manufacturers (100); formulators (2,200); distributors/establishments (17,000); farms using pesticides (0.94 million, compared with 1.66 million farms with cropland, and 1.91 million total farms - 1997 Census); commercial pest control firms (35-40,000); certified commercial applicators (375,000); and households using pesticides (74 million out of 100 million total). (Based on Table 7.)

Trends in Conventional Pesticide Usage

Agriculture: Usage of conventional pesticides on farms increased from about 400 million pounds in the mid-1960s to a peak of nearly 850 million pounds around 1980, primarily due to the widespread adoption of herbicides in crop production. Since that time, usage has been somewhat lower and has ranged from a low of 658 million pounds in 1987 to a high of 806 million pounds in 1996 (active ingredient). Pesticide usage in agriculture can vary considerably from year to year depending on weather, pest outbreaks, crop acreage, and economic factors such as crop prices.

Crop acreage is a major and direct factor affecting quantities of pesticides used in agriculture. For example, conventional pesticide usage in agriculture increased by 35 million pounds in 1996 (to 806 million pounds, 4.5 percent over 1995) as the acreage of major crops grown (corn, sorghum, soybeans, and cereal grains) increased by more than 20 million acres (or about 10 percent). There were no compensating reductions in acreage of other crops or other factors. The level of agricultural usage in 1996 (806 million pounds active ingredient) was somewhat above the recent high of 786 million pounds which occurred in 1994 (due largely to impacts of flooding and unseasonable weather during the 1993/94 period). (Based on Table 10 and Table 14a.)

Other Sectors: In the non-agricultural sectors, conventional pesticide usage reached a peak of about 300 million pounds in 1979 and since has declined rather consistently to a level of just over 200 million pounds in recent years. Most of this decline is due to less usage in the industrial/commercial/governmental sector (referred to as the professional market) which totaled 129 million pounds in 1997. Usage of conventional pesticides by homeowners is estimated at 76 million pounds for 1997. (Based on Table 10 and Table 14a.)

PreviousTop of PageNext

Publications | Glossary | A-Z Index | Jobs

Local Navigation

Jump to main content.