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75% Drop in Pesticide Use at Agriculture Research Service Facility
(Beyond Pesticides, October 15, 2003)
One of the Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) largest field research facilities has cut pesticide use by 75% over the past decade by using sustainable agriculture techniques on its farming operations. The research facility, known as the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center (BARC), is about 7,000 acres and borders the 12,800-acre Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, heightening the need for a safe environment.

The need for pesticide use decreased when sustainable practices were put in place. At BARC, many techniques were used including weed-smothering cover crops, increased use of beneficial insects, and producing compost from plant residue and manure. The compost facility is surrounded by a 20-foot-wide grass buffer strip, as are 80 percent of BARC fields, filtering out any possible pollutants from reaching bodies of water.

These practices help to protect the native wildlife in the area, including bald eagles, osprey, tree frogs and beaver. Researchers at BARC and Patuxent work together to study pollutants and to create a sustainable environment to protect this sensitive ecosystem. The October issue of Agricultural Research Magazine, discusses current and past research that has led to a cut in pesticide use. Cliff Rice, a BARC Environmental Quality Laboratory (EQL) chemist, along with researchers from Patuxent, is studying the effects of pesticides on ospreys. He has been working collaboratively with the wildlife research facility on pesticide contamination issues in order to develop farming practices with a minimum of harm to the environment.

In addition, EQL scientists have published two papers regarding the link between agricultural pesticides on the disappearance of frogs. One study, "Aqueous-Phase Disappearance of Atrazine, Metolachlor, and Chlorpyrifos in Laboratory Aquaria and Outdoor Macrocosms," published this year in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, exposed tree frogs in an aquarium environment to three pesticides - atrazine, metolachlor, and chlorpyrifos - which are commonly found in rain runoff from agricultural fields. "We saw a pattern of exposure that was similar to what we've seen in actual wetlands-high initial exposures caused by spring rains right after herbicides and insecticides are applied," Rice says. The study found that these pesticides may indeed be responsible for the disappearance of frogs. An earlier paper, "Pesticides and Amphibian Population Declines in California, USA," published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in 2001, showed similar results with wind-blown pesticides. "We didn't prove that pesticides cause this decline, just that it is a possibility. But we did demonstrate that the concentrations and frequency of pesticide detections in amphibian tissue follow north-south and west-east patterns consistent with intensified agriculture upwind of the areas with the most serious amphibian declines. And we showed that the pesticides are present in the frog tissue and that the frogs have been exposed to pesticides," stated researcher Laura McConnell, an ARS chemist and EQL authority on the atmospheric deposition of pesticides.

For more information on sustainable agriculture, contact Beyond Pesticides.