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Scientific Investigation Report 2013–5009

National Water-Quality Assessment Program

Estimation of Annual Agricultural Pesticide Use for Counties of the Conterminous United States, 1992–2009

By Gail P. Thelin and Wesley W. Stone

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (3.7 MB)Abstract

A method was developed to calculate annual county level pesticide use for selected herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides applied to agricultural crops grown in the conterminous United States from 1992 through 2009. Pesticide-use data compiled by proprietary surveys of farm operations located within Crop Reporting Districts were used in conjunction with annual harvested-crop acreage reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to calculate use rates per harvested crop acre, or an ‘estimated pesticide use’ (EPest) rate, for each crop by year. Pesticide-use data were not available for all Crop Reporting Districts and years. When data were unavailable for a Crop Reporting District in a particular year, EPest extrapolated rates were calculated from adjoining or nearby Crop Reporting Districts to ensure that pesticide use was estimated for all counties that reported harvested-crop acreage. EPest rates were applied to county harvested-crop acreage differently to obtain EPest-low and EPest-high estimates of pesticide-use for counties and states, with the exception of use estimates for California, which were taken from annual Department of Pesticide Regulation Pesticide Use Reports.

Annual EPest-low and EPest-high use totals were compared with other published pesticide-use reports for selected pesticides, crops, and years. EPest-low and EPest‑high national totals for five of seven herbicides were in close agreement with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Pesticide Use Data estimates, but greater than most NASS national totals. A second set of analyses compared EPest and NASS annual state totals and state-by-crop totals for selected crops. Overall, EPest and NASS use totals were not significantly different for the majority of crop-stateyear combinations evaluated. Furthermore, comparisons of EPest and NASS use estimates for most pesticides had rank correlation coefficients greater than 0.75 and median relative errors of less than 15 percent. Of the 48 pesticide-by-crop combinations with 10 or more state-year combinations, 12 of the EPest-low and 17 of the EPest-high totals showed significant differences (p < 0.05) from NASS use estimates. The differences between EPest and NASS estimates did not follow consistent patterns related to particular crops, years, or states, and most correlation coefficients were greater than 0.75.

EPest values from this study are suitable for making national, regional, and watershed assessments of annual pesticide use from 1992 to 2009. Although estimates are provided by county to facilitate estimation of watershed pesticide use for a wide variety of watersheds, there is a greater degree of uncertainty in individual county-level estimates when compared to Crop Reporting District or state-level estimates because (1) EPest crop-use rates were developed on the basis of pesticide use on harvested acres in multi-county areas (Crop Reporting Districts) and then allocated to county harvested cropland; (2) pesticide-by-crop use rates were not available for all Crop Reporting Districts in the conterminous United States, and extrapolation methods were used to estimate pesticide use for some counties; and (3) it is possible that surveyed pesticide-by-crop use rates do not reflect all agricultural use on all crops grown. The methods developed in this study also are applicable to other agricultural pesticides and years.

First posted April 15, 2013

  • Companion Report
    Stone, W.W., 2013, Estimated annual agricultural pesticide use for counties of the conterminous United States, 1992–2009: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 752, 1-p. pamphlet, 14 tables.

For additional information contact:
Director, California Water Science Center
6000 J Street, Placer Hall
Sacramento, CA 95819

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Thelin, G.P., and Stone, W.W., 2013, Estimation of annual agricultural pesticide use for counties of the conterminous United States, 1992–2009: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5009, 54 p.




Purpose and Scope

Data Sources

Methods for Estimating Pesticide Use


Applications of EPest Use Data

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Appendix 1. Summary of Epest-Low and Epest-High Annual National Totals by Pesticide and Crop Type

Appendix 2. Epest-Low and Epest-High Annual National Totals Derived from Epest Surveyed, Tier 1, Tier 2, and Regional Rate Estimates

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