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When Jim Hazen went to Olympia this legislative session to represent the tree fruit growers of Washington State, he had the solution even before the issues of cholinesterase monitoring, air monitoring for pesticides, or pesticide spray notification came up.

Hazen, executive director of the Washington State Horticultural Association, is the manager of a new project to help orchardists transition to new technologies for insect pest management, a project that is particularly timely since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that the old standby Guthion (azinphos-methyl) will be phased out by 2012.

The three-year project, costing $1.9 million dollars, was developed by Dr. Jay Brunner, director of Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee.

The tools for controlling pests without organophosphates are available, but growers need help in implementing the new and more complex pest management programs, Brunner said. In apples, the basis is mating disruption for the key pest codling moth, along with softer pesticides to supplement that technique and to manage secondary pests.

“It changes the operational factors for the orchard because the timing of application of products could be different,” Brunner said. “The strategies of using multiple products, rather than just one product, are going to be different.”

Regulatory controls

While helping orchardists switch to new pest programs, the project would eliminate the need for the regulatory controls that some antipesticide lobbyists would like to see, and resources the state might have spent on such measures can be put to better use, Hazen said.

“We believe this is a solution to address their concerns instead of creating more regulatory controls. For me, it’s been a very good preemptive tool to have. Right from the get-go, we had a tool we could point to. We had a solution. I think it’s important we’re able to show legislators and other stakeholders that we take this issue very seriously.”

As well as addressing concerns about the safety of pesticides, the project should help growers maintain access to overseas markets, such as Taiwan, where codling moth is a quarantine issue.

The project will be modeled after the successful areawide programs for codling moth that Brunner was involved with in the 1990s. Brunner said experiences with those projects, which encouraged use of mating disruption, demonstrated that once a technology is shown to have value, growers will quickly adopt it.

The new project will begin with a survey of current insecticide use so that changes can be documented and realistic targets can be set for transitioning away from organophosphates.

A project coordinator will be hired, and a group of growers already using nonorganophosphate programs will help to identify the pros and cons and what is needed to sustain such programs in the future.

WSU will provide educational workshops and materials, and carry out an action plan for the transition to nonorganophosphate programs. Meanwhile, the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission will continue to fund research into new ways to combat pests.

Funding

Hazen is hoping that part of the funding for the effort might come from the state’s Ag Pilot Project, which earmarks funding to projects designed to keep the state’s agriculture competitive and viable. He would like to see the rest as a line item in the state’s operating budget.

“One of our selling points is we’re not asking for a permanent, ongoing program,” he said. “We see this program serving its purpose and then ending.”

Hazen said the Washington tree fruit industry has already been shifting away from the traditional pesticides to softer programs. “We’re a world leader in IPM (integrated pest management) and a world leader in using mating disruption. But at the same time, the pressures from codling moth are increasing, so there’s a real need, as azinphos-methyl is eliminated, that the industry has a coordinated approach to deal with those increased pressures so we don’t lose access to important markets.”