If neonicotinoid pesticides were no longer available to American farmers, results from a recently released study find it could increase the costs by as much as $848 million in major U.S. commodity crops.
The research is part of a larger review of neonics commissioned by the Growing Matters consortium and completed by the research firm AgInfomatics. The analysis relied primarily on GfK Kynetec data, averaged over 2010-2012.
Ag economists and scientists involved in the three-year study investigated real-world insecticide use in corn, cotton, sorghum, soybeans and wheat, exploring the hypothetical question of what would happen if neonicotinoid insecticides were no longer available.
The research confirmed that neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in these commodity crops; about 135 million acres were treated annually with a neonicotinoid insecticide, representing 56% of the 240 million total planted acres of corn, cotton, sorghum, soybeans and wheat.
The most prevalent use for these products is as a seed treatment, the data showed, which accounted for 98% of the total neonicotinoid applications across these crops. Seventeen different pest groups were identified as primary management targets for all neonicotinoid applications, as pest pressure varies by crop and geography, Growing Matters said.
In the absence of neonicotinoids, researchers found that 77% of the previously-treated acres would use alternative insecticides to manage pests in these crops. Partly due to a lack of registered soil-applied alternatives, the remaining acreage would use non-chemical options, including higher-density seeding to offset anticipated stand loss, the study found.
Despite the lower acreage treated, the study suggests that total volume of insecticides used in these crops would increase as more farmers use older chemicals requiring more applications.
Across the major commodity crops evaluated, the study found that each pound of neonicotinoid lost would be replaced by nearly five pounds of these older insecticides.
The research also projected a total net cost increase of $848 million per year without neonics. Factors contributing to this increase included the higher costs of alternative products to replace the lower-cost seed treatments, higher application costs associated with equipment changes and more frequent spraying, increased scouting costs, and increased seeding rates and/or re-planting costs to offset early season pest damage.
The Growing Matters study follows a dissenting view of neonic soybean treatments prepared by the U.S. EPA and released last month. More results of the broader Growing Matters study can be found on the Growing Matters website.
For more information on neonic research, and neonicotinoids in the news, follow the links below:
EPA Says Neonicotinoid Seed Treatments on Soybeans are of Little Benefit
'Bee-safe' Biopesticide Could Be Neonicotinoid Alternative
Seed Treatments Offer Big Benefits, CropLife Report Finds
Bee Health Campaign Suggests Neonicotinoid Treatments Unnecessary