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The Future Role of Pesticides in US Agriculture
prices of many products that use their innovations. To some extent, the ability of a private firm to develop new products will depend on the availability and cost of new knowledge.
The life of patents is finite, and the price and profitability of pesticides and other substances decline after patents have expired. Policies and regulations that will restrict and constrain the use of substances after patent expiration might be valuable to industry, especially to firms that wish to introduce new products as substitutes for older products. This set of incentives should be considered in evaluations of environmental regulations and other legal instruments used to phase out old chemicals in favor of new ones. In many cases, environmental side effects will be used to justify phasing out of new materials. We have knowledge and experience about the side effects of existing chemicals, but their replacements could present some unknown risks.
Increasingly, refined measurement equipment and improved ability to analyze the composition of environments have led to more accurate identification of low-dose toxic materials in various environments. That can increase concerns with food safety and environmental side effects of chemical use, so more public education is needed. Improved ability to trace chemicals back to the source of their emission might result in stricter environmental regulation, especially because quantitative links between toxic concentration and risks to human health are in many cases ill-defined. The growing severity of environmental regulations might provide some justification for altering pest-control strategies by introducing new precision pesticide-application technology or for canceling some pest controls and setring the stage for introduction of new strategies.
Increased differentiation in management of environments and products is an emerging trend. The computer revolution has increased the ability to collect data and monitor the behavior of consumers, farmers, and ecosystems. The resulting information has the potential to yield more refined management strategies that adjust actions for specific spatial and temporal conditions. For example, the agricultural management system that is information-intensive enables producers to adjust inputs during the growing season in response to changes in the weather (NRC 1997b). Some major agribusiness firms have recognized the value of production-management services and are shifting their emphasis from providing inputs, such as seeds and chemicals, to selling production-management services. Similarly, agribusiness and food-marketing firms are providing farmers with detailed product specifications and, in some cases, production guidelines as part of contracts with farmers. Thus, agriculture is moving toward a more integrated system in which the information-intensive agribusiness has taken control of decisions traditionally made by the farmer.