September 6, 2023

Sustainable Pest Management is Here. What’s Next?

By now, you have probably heard about the Sustainable Pest Management (SPM) Roadmap, but in case you’ve been busy, here is a recap: The SPM roadmap was released in January 2023 and lays out a framework to eliminate and/or significantly reduce the use of pesticides in California by 2050 and extends ongoing efforts to decrease pesticide use throughout the state.  

The roadmap leverages a great deal of stakeholder buy-in and calls on the state of California to “develop a plan, funding mechanisms, and programs to prioritize pesticides for reduction, and to support the practice change necessary to transition away from the use of high-risk pesticides” by 2025. 

Considering the trajectory of regulatory and public interests for pesticides in California, this type of call to action may not be a shock to all. However, given the time and investments required to find or develop effective replacement products and technologies, it is critical that opportunities and actions to address pest control needs are identified and advanced, and soon.  

What does this mean for growers? 

Many growers have seen similar outcomes when California became one of the first states to ban the use of chlorpyrifos in 2019. A transition away from any widely used pesticide will require significant extension and training efforts, including Pest Control Advisor (PCA) involvement. With any new product or technology, knowledge gaps and unique application requirements will carry a steep learning curve and trial and error process. Major Keystone Actions of the SPM Roadmap will include prevention and pest exclusion, investing in SPM knowledge, and improving DPR’s product registration review process, among other items. We can also expect to see more alignment with PCAs and market development for SPM-grown products.  

Pardon my IPM 

The roadmap indicates that SPM goes a step further than Integrated Pest Management (IPM) by “intentionally looking at the interconnectedness of pest pressures, ecosystem health, and human well-being.” Growers are already familiar with the concepts of IPM, which shares many philosophical, ecological, and practical characteristics with sustainable agriculture. However, a major emphasis of the SPM Roadmap still relies on finding effective alternative products to Priority Pesticides. There are potentially missed opportunities to invest in advancing plant breeding work, field-deployed technologies, and expanding on existing IPM strategies.  

Critical Cruces 

In terms of the Priority Pesticides that will be eliminated in the transition to SPM, the selection process will be conducted by DPR under advisement of a multistakeholder Sustainable Pest Management Priorities Advisory Committee. Availability of effective alternatives will be included in these considerations. With that said, the catalog of pest and disease pressures is not static, and the tenacity of climate change certainly will impose unexpected and increased pest and disease pressure.   

The process to identify, validate, and register potential alternative products, technologies, and strategies will not be quick. However, as all growers know, a ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. Despite the uncertainties of what is to come, our industry will remain resilient and do what we can to anticipate and take initiative. As we continue to navigate these waters, our team at Western Growers will be gathering critical, timely information about tools that are most critical for growers and key pest and disease pressures. We encourage our growers to take note of significant needs, gaps, and anticipated concerns as we move forward in this process so we can more effectively serve and advocate for and better support our farmers to continue to be the most valuable stewards of our planet.