Why the spread of organic farms may prompt growers to use more pesticide, not less

By Karen Kaplan | LA Times |

LOS ANGELES TIMES - To help California fight climate change, air quality regulators would like to see 20% of the state’s farmland go organic by 2045. That means converting about 65,000 acres of conventional fields to organic practices every year.

“We expect an increase in organic in the future,” said study leader Ashley Larsen, a professor of agricultural and landscape ecology at UC Santa Barbara. “How do we make sure this is not causing unintended harm?”

The statistical analysis alone doesn’t prove that the addition of organic fields is responsible for the change in pesticide use, but Larsen said the circumstantial evidence for a causal relationship is compelling. The conventional fields that acquired an organic neighbor used to have the same pattern of pesticide use as their fellow other conventional fields, and they started to diverge only after the nearby field switched to organic.

“This is pretty strong evidence, in our minds,” she said.

Milt McGiffen, a cooperative extension specialist with the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UC Riverside, was less sure. He said growers make a point of planting organic crops in places where they know pest control won’t be a big problem since they can’t use conventional pesticides.

“Mostly why you have a group of organic farms together is because that’s where you have the fewest pests, not the other way around,” said McGiffen, who wasn’t involved in the study.

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