USFRA's View on Pesticides, Fertilizers & Herbicides

Insects, weeds and plant diseases are serious threats that can devastate crops. Throughout history, farmers have found ways to manage these threats or see their livelihood – and a lot of food – destroyed.

Each year farmers face tough management decisions, especially when it comes to the best route to raise a good crop while managing environmental impact and costs. They face this reality from the time the seed goes into the soil through harvest. USFRA supports farmers who employ many different methods for crop protection – from conventional to organic – to enhance yields and avoid crop losses. In addition, USFRA’s Industry Partners include companies that produce some of these products.

Farmers closely monitor pests, weeds and plant diseases by walking fields, digging into the soil and looking at the plant’s overall health. Insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and seed treatments are all tools to help manage these challenges and provide healthy choices. Furthermore, all farmers want to protect their land and keep their soil healthy because, without good soil, their businesses would be in jeopardy. Precise management of these tools – based on science, education and a commitment to the environment – is essential to a healthy farm.

Proper use of these tools should not be underestimated. For example, if U.S. farmers did not use pesticides supplies of corn, wheat, and soybeans would decrease 73 percent, trigger price instability, slow U.S. food aid programs to poor countries, and increase worldwide hunger. During the 2012 drought, without proper pesticide use, the insect population would swell, like during the Dust Bowl, and destroy even more crops.

A key component to raising good crops is available nutrients in the soil, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, lime (calcium) and potassium, and farmers closely monitor soil health. Through extensive research, farmers have a better understanding of how to best replenish soil nutrients and increase yields, even now to micronutrients like zinc and manganese. Additionally, there has been extensive university research regarding timing of fertilizer applications for optimum plant uptake and reduced leaching.

Farmers use fertilizers to grow high-yielding crops and to take care of the soil, rather than stripping the land of its natural resources. Often man-made fertilizers or manure applications are used to increase nitrogen fertility in the soil, which is a key component for growing corn. To avoid over-applying and efficiently using their resources, nutrient levels are tested.

Farmers use all components – herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers – with respect to the environment. They carefully follow labels and consider weather patterns that may impact the efficacy or leaching of an application. Further, farmers are incentivized to properly manage these tools because of the cost. Most strive to reduce the “inputs” they use to be more profitable. According to a University of Illinois Extension ag economist, to raise a corn crop in 2011, the average cost per acre was estimated at $832/acre. That number includes land costs, labor, crop protection, fertilizer and seed.

Due to genetic advancements developed within the plant – like biotech traits – many of these tools are used more efficiently. In many cases, crop protection and fertility applications are used so precisely that application amounts are often reduced. Because of Bt developments in corn, a study assessing the global economic and environmental impacts of biotech crops for the first nine years (1996-2004) of adoption showed that the technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 172 million kg and has reduced environmental footprints associated with pesticide use by 14%


Additionally, because of conventional breeding and overall plant health, many crops can withstand plant diseases better than crops in the past. Other innovations, like Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in tractors and spray machines, have greatly increased precision by applying only where needed rather than widespread field applications. Most farmers involved have learned ways to reduce nitrogen use by 50 lbs. per acre or more by using this technology.

Wholly or partially funded by one or more Checkoff programs.