California County Proclaims Local Emergency to Allow Tomato Farms to Use Pesticides

California County Proclaims Local Emergency to Allow Tomato Farms to Use Pesticides
Tomatoes are seen for sale at a Ralph's Supermarket in Irvine, Calif., Nov. 28, 2016. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)
Jill McLaughlin

Officials of Stanislaus County in Northern California approved an emergency proclamation May 14 to allow local tomato farmers to use a banned pesticide to protect crops from the arrival of pests this year.

The proclamation allows growers to apply a pesticide banned this year by California to battle an infestation of the beet leafhopper, a tomato-plant-killing bug.

The agricultural-based county relies on tomatoes as one of its top 10 commodities, which brought in about $54 million in 2022, according to the county’s latest crop report.

Local growers and pest control experts notified the central California county they had detected the pests in local tomato crops. Data from the California Department of Agriculture also confirmed the pests’ presence within the county.

The pale green beet leafhopper, a torpedo-shaped insect with a long body spreads what is known as the beet curly top virus to tomato and other plants, causing them to die.

County officials say the bug is an “extreme threat.”

“The imminent migration of the [beet leafhopper] insect into Stanislaus County is an extreme threat to tomato crops, and the emergency use of neonicotinoid pesticides, as authorized by the Agricultural Commissioner, is necessary to mitigate the threat,” county staff wrote in a staff report to the county’s board of supervisors.

A measure passed by the California Legislature last year, which went into effect Jan. 1 limited the use of certain pesticides, including neonicotinoid, on some crops to protect honeybees.

County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse, as the director of the county’s emergency services, proclaimed the emergency May 9.

The county’s agricultural commissioner can authorize the use of the banned pesticide on tomato crops using the state’s exemption for pests.

Any crop owners who apply the pesticides must get a written recommendation from a licensed pest control advisor and keep the written documentation for at least two years after the substance is applied, according to the county.

The emergency will remain in effect until July 13.

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.