Changing for safety: Insecticide used on fruit trees now banned

Apples at Chazy Orchards (Enterprise photo — Andy Flynn)

New York will join on Saturday the handful of states that prohibit the use of any pesticide containing chlorpyrifos — most commonly used on the trunks of fruit-bearing trees, but that can damage the nervous systems of infants and young children.

Farmers who specialize in fruit orchards, such as apples and peaches, might need to rethink their bug repellents.

“It definitely puts the industry in a little bit of a sticky situation, but it’s not going to cause New York’s apple industry to go under or anything like that,” said Janet van Zoeren, an integrated pest management specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Lake Ontario Fruit Program.

“We were aware that this was going to put the industry in a pinch, for apple and other tree fruit production,” she said. “So the industry’s researchers and chemical companies are aware that there’s a great need for improved series of repellents. Now we’re doing our best to catch up.”

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate — human-made chemicals that poison insects and mammals alike. Organophosphates are the most widely used insecticides today, reports the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation reports that chlorpyrifos can harm the development of the nervous systems of infants and young children, and prenatal exposure to organophosphates can result in diminished cognitive ability, delays in motor development and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

Janice Degni, a field crops specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, said this chemical has not been popular in the county for several decades.

“There were other chemicals that came on the market that were easier and safer to handle that weren’t in the same category of insecticides as chlorpyrifos,” Degni said. “If you’re applying this stuff without protective equipment, through your skin you could have a buildup of the chemical in your system — but anybody using it would be wearing protective equipment.”

This particular chemical is used to manage insects that bore into the trunks of stressed trees, van Zoeren said.

“It can be really hard to come up with a chemistry that will have any effect on insects that are feeding inside of the tree trunk — simply because they’re not coming in contact with whatever you’re spraying,” she said.

Central New York’s orchards face a number of boring insects, including the black stem borer beetle, dogwood borer moth, the giant leopard moth and ambrosia beetles “I would say to growers that they should just really do their best to use all of the husbandry practices they can to not let the trees get stressed in the first place,” van Zoeren said. “Of course, that’s not always possible, but even putting in an irrigation system is something that can really do a lot to prevent the pests from being a problem in the first place.”

Although the ban on chlorpyrifos limits growers’ options, preventive techniques can avoid the need of chemical, she said.

That’s what Grisamore Farms in Locke does.

“We do use some pesticides to cover crops because that helps me with the spraying,” said Joanna Cornell, co-owner of Grisamore Farms. “But we try to limit what we use and we are very careful with what we do use. We try to not spray when the bees are working.”

The Grisamore farmers do regular soil testing and leaf analysis for its orchards to catch any changes in the trees’ nutrition and health.

“The chlorpyrifos ban will reduce farmers’ arsenal by one, but it isn’t going to be a huge issue — it’s not irreplaceable,” van Zoeren said.

“I don’t think anybody would miss it,” Degni said.


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