Farm Bureau says study shows pesticide restriction would spike lettuce costs

California’s farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses produce more than 400 commodities as America’s leading food providers. But a new economic study on lettuce production indicates that California’s farm output would shrink and food prices would rise without commonly used pesticides.

A preliminary report by ERA Economics, a Davis-based consultancy specializing in the economics of agriculture and water resources in California, found that limiting access to pesticides would have rippling economic impacts on farm input suppliers, farm labor and processing, transportation and manufacturing industries.

Implementing state policies to ban specific pesticides for California’s $2 billion annual lettuce crop would increase farmers’ production costs by more than 12 percent. The study indicates that lettuce prices at grocery stories could jump by up to 8.2 percent.

The economic analysis was supported by the California Bountiful Foundation, a nonprofit research clearinghouse affiliated with the California Farm Bureau that compiles scientific data on agriculture, science and the environment. In addition, Californians for Smart Pesticide Policy provided funding for the study.

The full report may be found at www.californiabountifulfoundation.com/research/ .

The study focuses on potential curtailment in use of pyrethroids and neonicotinoids, which are products used in integrated pest management programs for California crops. It includes a conceptual overview and preliminary assessment of potential impacts if both were banned for use on lettuce.

ERA Economics’ analysis found that growing costs for lettuce farmers would increase by $230 to $290 per acre if they have to resort to alternative crop protection materials. Crop yield, varying by region, would drop 5 to 10 percent.

California produces three-fourths of the nation’s lettuce, with one-half of the state’s total production in Monterey County and one-fifth in Imperial County.

“We need all the tools available to fight pests to safeguard the foods you eat and to keep prices down,” said California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson. “This study highlights the impacts to our food system and the increased costs if the tools we need are banned based on political speculation rather than real science and economic data. These studies need to inform our policies, not the other way around.”

Dr. Amrith Gunasekara, director of science and research for the California Bountiful Foundation, said pyrethroids and neonicotinoids offer farmers the ability to control a wide range of pests while preserving yields and preventing damage to lettuce leaves. He noted that pesticides that have been considered for bans include synthetic products based on pyrethrin, a natural chemical pesticide produced by the chrysanthemum flower.

“Yes, they are chemicals,” Dr. Gunasekara said. “But like all the chemicals we use around our house for cleaning and other purposes, we know how to use them and have been using them for decades to provide consumers with the highest quality food in the world that is also affordable.”

As a basis for its analysis, ERA Economics focused on the European Union’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies aimed at reducing pesticide use. A European Commission policy directive proposes actions to reduce chemical pesticides 50 percent by 2030.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service analysis estimates that the EU strategy could have a negative global economic impact of $96 billion to $1.1 trillion.

The ERA Economics study was a preliminary assessment to illustrate the types and magnitude of impacts for a single California crop, lettuce. While the analysis can be refined to illustrate the range of impacts to the lettuce industry, it can also be expanded to include other crop types in the future.

The California Farm Bureau works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 32,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 5.6 million Farm Bureau members.