The Washington apple industry contributes over $5 billion annually to the state economy (WaHortExecSum.pdf), dominates the fresh domestic market, and exports 30% ghb of its crop.
Apple producers are under substantial pressure to maintain profitability in the face of escalating global competition, consumer expectations, and regulatory requirements. To remain globally competitive, agriculture must continually adopt new technologies to meet regulatory, market, and consumer demands. Significant regulatory concern over pesticides focuses on organophosphate insecticides (OPs).
A regulatory action coupled with grower adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices has resulted in a 59% reduction in OP use since 1995. However, a National Agricultural Statistics Service survey (NAAS 2006) reported that Washington apple growers applied 483,500 lbs. of OPs in 2005. Two chemicals, azinphosmethyl (AZM = Guthion) and chlorpyrifos, comprise 80% of that total. Most Washington apple growers have based control of the key pest, the codling moth (CM), on AZM. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the phase-out of AZM by 2012. This regulatory action marks a new era for the apple industry, which must control CM while transitioning from AZM to new IPM-based strategies.
Reducing the use of OPs would reduce exposure risks to the environment and the work force. The EPA classifies many recently registered insecticides as reduced risk and OP alternatives. While these alternatives are safer, they are in many cases more costly, less efficacious, and used with different timing and application requirements than OPs they replace.
In reality, transitioning from OPs will increase apple pest control costs and require significantly more sophisticated management. Fortunately, existing research-based knowledge on new technologies is available to help with the transition of IPM programs.
IPM is an ecologically based approach to managing pests in agriculture and urban environments. Washington’s tree fruit industry is recognized internationally as a leader in tree fruit IPM. Research has developed new technologies (softer chemistries, more precise predictive models, improved spray delivery systems) and strategies for incorporating them into commercially relevant programs, and yet many tree fruit producers have not fully embraced new IPM practices.
Some advocacy groups in Washington remain harshly critical of the tree fruit industry for what they perceive to be stubborn reliance on pest control practices that endanger both the environment and work force. Even the EPA’s recent AZM decision has been attacked as an unacceptable delay, and a lawsuit has been brought against the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos. Finally, few Washington citizens are aware of the progress to date or of ongoing research that is leading to even safer and more sustainable IPM programs in the state’s apple production.