Food Dialogues Blog

Who we are, how we work, and why we love what we do.

Keeping the Environment Top of Mind when using Pesticides

To be a successful farmer, you need to be an expert in two areas; business and environmentalism. The use of pesticides plays an important role in both these fields.

In sustaining our family business, we only utilize crop protection applications when it’s necessary for the plant’s well-being, while keeping the environment top of mind. The types of pesticides that farmers use include herbicides for weeds, insecticides for insects and fungicides for diseases.

Within the last few years, grain sorghum farmers began to see a new pest, the sugarcane aphid — if left untreated, the pest can devour an entire crop in 24 hours. In this case, the use of insecticides are the only way to control the sugarcane aphid, if we didn’t use this tool, our whole crop would be devastated.

I grow both conventional and organic crops, and pesticide application varies slightly for each production practice. For our organic cotton, we till the soil, in place of herbicides, for weed control.

Farmers strive to be as precise as possible with their crop protection applications – we use them, but sparingly. We always use only the recommended amounts, following the label closely. And thanks to genetically engineered (GE) crops, we’re now able to apply less than we did before. Drought-resistant, pesticide-resistant, and bug-resistant crops have allowed us to be more productive and conserve our natural resources.

Sometimes there’s this misconception farmers go out there and needlessly spray, but that’s not the case. We utilize precision technology to make sure we’re exact either through ground or aerial applicators, ensuring there’s no overspray through swath control and other methods, preventing overlap of pesticide application.

I’m a consumer, and I’m just as concerned about food safety for my family as the next person. These tools are used to protect our food supply, and our customer’s health is always a priority.

While we want a pesticide to do its job, we go to great lengths to make sure we don’t hurt the natural ecosystem and the beneficial insects who live among our crops. Because of this, we try to be very selective and use sprays that only target harmful insects. We’re trying to create an environment that is beneficial to ladybugs, who help control pests, and honey bees that pollinate our crops.

In reducing our use of herbicides, we plant cover crops off season, such as wheat or rye that enhances our nutrients in the soil, and ultimately helps decrease our weed pressure. We also utilize compost and organic matter on our fields to improve soil health. These different techniques are part of our solution in creating an environment of using many tools in our toolbox.

You can have all the ladybugs out there to eat little pests, but sometimes they just need some extra help.

Jeremy Brown farms with his wife Sarah and three children on their 3,000-acre farm on the South Plains of West Texas, growing cotton, organic cotton, wheat, rye, grain sorghum, peanuts and sesame.

All opinions expressed are the writer’s own. Funded by one or more checkoff programs.