Global competition, suburban encroachment, tighter regulations, and rising input costs are making farming in California more difficult and, in some cases, less profitable. At the same time, pesticide pollution from farming is causing significant harm to California’s surface and groundwater, air quality, and human health.
But there is a way to reduce pesticide use, protect the environment, and help farmers stay competitive according to a new report, Investing In Clean Agriculture: How California Can Strengthen Agriculture, Reduce Pollution And Save Money, published today by the Pacific Institute.
“Business as usual isn’t working for our state,” declared Dr. Gary H. Wolff, author of the report and Principal Economist and Engineer with the Pacific Institute of Oakland, California. “Our plan will reduce pesticide use, protect public health, preserve the environment, and help California’s farmers stay competitive in a rapidly changing economy. We think this will be a win for consumers, a win for taxpayers, and a win for agriculture.”
A US Geological Survey study of groundwater wells in the San Joaquin-Tulare Basin found at least one pesticide in 59 of 100 samples. But current efforts to reduce pesticide pollution are caught up in the courts. The rebate approach creates a voluntary incentive to reduce pesticide use while leaving it up to farmers to figure out the best way forward.
“The Pacific Institute’s innovative proposal will reward farmers who are willing to learn about farming practices that protect water quality,” noted Leland Swenson of the Community Alliance With Family Farmers. “It is a voluntary and incentive-based way for farmers to respond to water quality regulations and keep pesticides out of drinking water.”
The report describes how farmers can be rewarded for learning voluntarily about sustainable agricultural practices. A modest increase in the statewide “mill” fee, now levied on pesticides, is returned to farmers who take a short course on sustainable agriculture techniques and storm runoff management. This helps farmers stay competitive while reducing pesticide use – which will protect human health, preserve the environment, and eventually save taxpayers money by reducing medical costs.
“Everybody wins if we can reduce our dependence on pesticides,” said Jonathan Kaplan of NRDC. “As the head of California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation just stated, ‘Integrated Pest Management is good for our economy as well as our environment’.”
Investing In Clean Agriculture: How California Can Strengthen Agriculture, Reduce Pollution And Save Money estimates that the voluntary program and fee increase could bring $60 million per year into the agricultural sector while also bringing the most cutting edge research on sustainable farming techniques to those in the field.