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The Future Role of Pesticides in US Agriculture
Public support for research has traditionally been justified by the public-good argument for research that does not lead to commercial innovations. Research that does not generate marketable products that will repay the research is of high priority for public support. It can be research that leads to ecological and evolutionary biological information, to new cultural practices, or to biological control techniques for pest management. Studies in biochemistry, physiology, genomics, and genetics may also contribute to enrichment of these disciplines such that embodied pest control innovations that are marketable may eventually be developed.
Today public-sector researchers face concerns about their continued participation in this enterprise. Federal funding of pesticide research has historically had a very narrow base, evidenced by the pattern of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) funding (table 1-2). Table 1-2 provides a summary of the funding of 85 chemical-pesticide research projects in the USDA ARS in 1999. Most ARS chemical-pesticide research is directed to field studies and efficacy (including postharvest, laboratory efficacy research, and pest-management predictive models). Of the $20,764, 416 that funds the 85 projects, 57% is in that category. The three categories of field studies and efficacy (11), environmental fate (7), and residue analysis (15) are funded at $18.4 million, about 89% of the total for the 85 projects. The more basic chemical-pesticide research (categories 1-7) received about $5.3 million, about 25% of the total; categories 8-15 make up the remaining $15.5 million. Environmental-fate research receives 77% of the funding in the basic categories; field studies-efficacy receives 76% of the funds supporting the more applied research. It is important to note that little ARS funding is directed toward basic research (for example, toxicology or mode-of-action research) that supports development of new chemical pesticides.
Agencies other than USDA contribute to public sector support of pesticide research, albeit at a lower level. Table 1-3 shows National Science Foundation (NSF) awards for the divisions of environmental biology and chemistry for 1995–1999. The table reveals that only 11% of the funded studies involved agriculture, and less than 4 % involved agricultural pests or pesticides.
Advances in science that provide alternatives to chemical controls and that lead to greater understanding of how chemical controls work have changed the atmosphere in which public research decisions are made. Also, as a consequence of those advances, public agencies sensitive to how the scientific basis of criteria for determining pesticide use can change are redefining pesticide use and acceptable amounts of residues in food products. The increasing availability of alternatives to chemical pest controls appears to be emerging as a consideration in their decision-making.