Controlling crop pests is a key element of agriculture worldwide, but the environmental impact of insecticides is a growing concern. Farmers have historically relied on the broad-spectrum chlorpyrifos, which is facing a potential ban in the U.S. A new article in Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, details how scientists are working to develop safer alternatives to chlorpyrifos.
Chlorpyrifos has been used for decades to kill arthropods on an array of crops, with upwards of five million kilograms used in the U.S. in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Despite its effectiveness, there is evidence that the compounds in chlorpyrifos can cause health problems in humans, writes Senior Editor Britt E. Erickson. Both California and the European Union have recently banned the use of chlorpyrifos, and a full U.S. ban may be on the horizon. While there are other commercial pesticides that can take the place of chlorpyrifos for certain pests or crops, scientists are working to develop long-term pest control solutions that are safe for both consumers and the environment.
One possible solution is using biodegradable hydrogel beads laced with sugar water and a small amount of insecticide to deter ants from damaging citrus and grape orchards. Researchers are testing different types of insecticides in the beads with the goal of using a minimal amount for maximal effectiveness. Cotton production is impacted by the sticky residue left by aphids, leading scientists to test a series of insecticides that would target aphids and other "piercing" insects without harming pollinators and other beneficial insects. Other solutions include treating soil with insecticide before the crops begin to sprout, as well as targeting the roots of plants to minimize exposure in agricultural workers. Environmental groups are keeping a close eye on the emerging successors to chlorpyrifos, but researchers and growers alike are optimistic that they've found safer solutions to pest management.
The article, "Life After Chlorpyrifos," is freely available here.
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