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Pesticide use in U.S. growing, herbicides most heavily used

Staff writer ▼ | April 7, 2016
Pesticide use in the U.S. on the 21 crops rose rapidly from 196 million pounds of active ingredient in 1960 to 632 million pounds in 1981.
Food production   Total pesticide expenditures in U.S. reached $12 billion
This is largely because of the increased share of planted acres treated with herbicides to control weeds.

In addition, the total planted acreage of corn, wheat, and, in particular, soybeans increased from the early 1960s to early 1980s, which further increased herbicide use.

Most acres planted with major crops, particularly corn and soybeans, were already being treated with herbicides by 1980, so total pesticide use has since trended slightly downward driven by other factors, to 516 million pounds in 2008.

Insecticides accounted for 58 percent of pounds applied in 1960, but only 6 percent in 2008. On the other hand, herbicides accounted for 18 percent of the pounds applied in 1960 but 76 percent by 2008. The growth of herbicide use is also illustrated by the percent of acres treated.

Approximately 5-10 percent of corn, wheat, and cotton acres were treated with herbicides in 1952. By 1980, herbicide use had reached 90-99 percent of U.S. corn, cotton, and soybean acres planted.

Notably, the four most heavily used active ingredients in 2008 (glyphosate, atrazine, acetochlor, and metolachlor) were all herbicides. Fungicides’ share of pesticide use has remained at 7 percent or less since 1971, down from 11-13 percent in the early 1960s.

Other pesticides — which include soil fumigants, desiccants, harvest aids, and plant growth regulators — generally accounted for 5-11 percent of total pesticide use from 1960 to 1992, increased to 17 percent of use in 2002, and then declined to 13 percent in 2008.

Total pesticide expenditures in U.S. agriculture reached close to $12 billion in 2008, a 5-fold increase in real terms since 1960, but well below the $15.4-billion peak reached in 1998.