EPA defines a pesticide as any substance or mixture of substances that prevents, destroys or repels a pest

Pesticides are vital tools for growers to control insects, weeds, rodents, fungi and plant diseases in the production of food. Pesticides aid in efficient and sustainable farming practices. The use of pesticides as labeled, allows farmers to produce consistent, high quality food on less land. Scroll down to learn what food might look like without crop protection.

This photo shows damage from nematodes, tiny, worm-like organisms that live in most agricultural soils. 

(photo by Lindsey du Toit, Washington State University)

Did you know?
Over 40,000 species of weeds and insects threaten the health and yield of food crops in the United States

Western cherry fruit fly maggots, which develop inside cherries and other fruit, make the fruit unmarketable. During inspection, if even one maggot is detected, a grower’s entire crop can be rejected. In unsprayed trees, a high percentage of fruit is likely to be attacked.

(photo by E.Beers)


Did you know?

An adequate, reliable food supply could not be guaranteed without effective crop protection products

Some 20 - 40 % of the world's potential crop production is already lost annually due to weeds, pests and diseases. These crop losses would be doubled if existing pesticide uses were abandoned. Many fruits and vegetables would be in short supply and the price of food would rise.
Powdery mildew is caused by a fungus, which is native to eastern North America. Symptoms can occur on fruit, foliage, and shoots of the plant. Even modest infections can predispose fruit to secondary invasion by spoilage microorganisms like Botrytis bunch rot as seen above. Rot symptoms on grapes can include gray fuzzy growth, berry oozing, and drying out.

Apple maggots feed below the skin of the apple. They can spread easily from infected fruit to neighboring trees. To prevent the insect from spreading, it is illegal to transport home-grown fruit in parts of Washington. Learn more by referencing WSDA’s searchable on-line apple maggot quarantine map. Help keep this pest out of Washington's commercial orchards!

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Plants become weeds when they are less desirable than other plants in the area.  Weeds generally produce lots of seeds and their seed can sometimes survive in the soil for a very long time making them difficult to control.  Many weeds grow rapidly and spread rapidly.  Weeds must be controlled so desirable plants can thrive.

The little corn plant in the center of the picture below is competing with weeds for nutrients, water and sunlight. It will be choked out by the weeds growing around it unless they are removed. It would be very costly and difficult to remove a field of these weeds by hand without also disturbing the growth of the corn plants. 

(photo courtesy of Syngenta)

Did you know?
Organic farmers use pesticides too. "Organic" does not mean pesticide-free

The corn borer larva damages corn. Bt (Bacillus thuringensis) is a common bacterium in soil. It contains a protein that paralyses corn borer larvae. Pesticides made from Bt have been used by farmers worldwide for decades and can be applied to organically grown crops.

Organic farmers also use pesticides because they too must control pests to protect their crops. The list of pesticides approved for organic use is not based on safety criteria but whether the product is “natural.”  “Natural” does not mean safe. Many natural products including nicotine, acetic acid and rotenone can be harmful.  All have been used as organic pesticides.

(photo shows damage caused by potato psyllid)