Economic and policy issues of U.S. agricultural pesticide use trends


  • †The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or any other State or Federal Agency.

Correspondence to: Craig Osteen, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Mail Stop 1800, Washington, DC 20250-0002, USA. E-mail:



This paper discusses U.S. agricultural pesticide use trends from 1964 to 2010 based on estimates developed from USDA surveys, and the influence of economic factors, agricultural policy, and pesticide regulation on aggregate quantities and mix of pesticides used.


Synthetic organic pesticide use grew dramatically from the 1960s to the early 1980s, as farmers treated more and more acreage. Use then stabilized, with herbicides applied to about 95% of corn, cotton, and soybean acres, annually. Subsequently, major factors affecting trends were: (1) changes in crop acreage and other economic factors, (2) use of new pesticides that reduced per-acre application rates and/or met more rigorous health and environmental standards, and (3) adoption of genetically engineered insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant crops.


The use of pesticides and other control practices responded to economic factors such as input and output markets and agricultural policies. Changing societal values toward pesticide risks and benefits profoundly affected pesticide policy, influencing the pesticides available for use, but only indirectly affecting aggregate quantities used. While the current pesticide regulatory process might have economic inefficiencies, it might be consistent with policy preferences held by much of the public—to reduce pesticide hazards rather than minimize regulatory costs. Published 2013. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.