Evaluating pesticide risk
An online pesticide tool will be tested on apples and wine grapes in 2010.
Dr. Thomas Green serves on the board of the IPM Institute.
A new, online tool designed to help growers evaluate pesticide options will be beta-tested this year in several cropping systems, ranking pesticide products by risk that is based on site-specific data.
The Pesticide Risk Mitigation Engine project, known as PRiME, was funded by a grant of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, along with support from General Mills, Unilever (parent of food brands like Lipton’s, Knorr, and Hellman’s), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region V. Project partners include Oregon State University, University of Illinois, Natural Resources Defense Council, Integrated Pest Management Institute of North America, Pesticide Research Institute, and a few others.
Dr. Thomas Green gave a demonstration of how the tool is envisioned to work during a session on sustainability at the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting in Wenatchee. Green serves on the board of directors of the Madison, Wisconsin-based IPM Institute, which is a nonprofit organization formed in 1998 to foster recognition and rewards in the marketplace for goods and service providers who practice IPM.
Agricultural producers have done a lot to reduce pesticide use in the last 30 years, said Green. “But once you’ve picked the low-hanging fruit by eliminating calendar-based pesticide applications and are using brain power to apply the right pesticide at the right time and place, it becomes more difficult and more expensive to eliminate additional uses of pesticides,” he said.
“Really, what we’re concerned about is the risk and impacts and how to mitigate them. It’s a real challenge, with all of the pesticides available today, to make those decisions and get into a level of detail and then weigh the options.”
The project is a tool to make that decision process easier, Green explained.
Online technology like Google Earth, soil data from USDA’s conservation service, and weather information will be used to create a management unit profile by users that is site-specific. Google Earth imagery allows the user to include landscape features as part of the management unit profile and map in things like buffer strips and sensitive sites, as well as identify in-field mitigation practices.
The project partners wanted a tool that was site-specific and used actual data from the field and laboratory as much as possible, Green said. For example, if you’re using a fish-sensitive pesticide, but you’re not near a fish-bearing stream, such a decision shouldn’t count against your sustainable efforts, he said.
Also, how the pesticide is used should be considered, he noted. Spraying chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) on the trunk during the dormant season is different than spraying it on the foliage and developing fruit.
To participate, users will first need to create a login and password to access their data storage and then create their management unit.
After the management unit is created online, the user selects a product or active ingredient and specifies use pattern information—application rate, method, and timing. The program then provides a pesticide risk calculation (high, medium, or low rating) based on the site-specific conditions, pesticide properties, and field impact data, where available. More than 15 categories of impact are considered in the risk rating:
• Soil, water, and air quality
• Avian and aquatic life
• Beneficial organisms
• Worker and bystander health and safety
• Human dietary
• Small mammals
The program can display a summary showing the total number of applications falling in the different risk categories over a given year and will also suggest mitigation options or strategies if the risk level of a particular pesticide is moderate to high.
“The tool really zeros in on where our high risks are and what we should be concerned about,” Green said, adding that growers can use it to compare different chemicals for their potential risk or see what happens to risk if the rate or application method is changed.
Feedback collected from users who participate in the beta-testing of the program this year on apples, wine grapes, tomatoes, and potatoes will help guide any fine-tuning of the risk indices and user interface.
For more information on PRiME, visit www.ipminstitute.org/prime.