Insects, weeds and plant diseases are serious threats that can devastate crops. Throughout history, farmers have found ways to reduce these threats to avoid their livelihood – and a lot of food – being destroyed. At the same time, farmers must be very precise in their applications – and do more with less – because they want to preserve their land for the next generation and improve the environment around their farm.
If farmers overuse these tools and hurt their own land, their businesses would suffer and eventually fail. The preservation of the land to feed future generations is of the utmost importance to farmers. This ladders up to the goal of improving human health through access to safe, nutritious food. Farmers are stewards of the environment, considering factors like ground water, runoff and pollution. They continually think about the consequences to avoid pollution. They strive to savor the land’s quality for future farming generations.
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. Farmers employ many different methods for crop protection – from conventional to organic – to enhance yields and avoid crop losses.
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, sustainable farm that they can pass on to the next generation.
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 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, now even with 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. Manmade 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 for 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. They strive to use only the precise amount they need so that they can be more profitable.
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 percent.
Additionally, because of conventional breeding and overall plant health, many crops can withstand plant diseases better than crops could in the past. Other innovations, like GPS in tractors and spray machines, have greatly increased precision by applying only where needed rather than widespread field applications.
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