These days, even people not directly involved in the agriculture sector understand that chemicals such as pesticides are important. Pesticides maximize the amount of food produced for human consumption, prevent the spread of insect-borne disease, and help preserve the earth by allowing farmers to gain a greater yield from a smaller section of farmland, keeping them from converting other neighboring areas into additional farmland.
However, herbicides are just as important. By killing select plants without harming the main crop of a given area, herbicides eliminate any competition that crop may have for resources. As with pesticides, this means more food for the people of the world, and no need to displace nearby animals by turning their habitats into farms.
Read on for some exploration of the history of herbicides, and the benefits they offer not only to those in the agricultural industry, but society as a whole.
Agriculture is one of the oldest industries in the history of humankind. Prior to its development, the hunter-gatherer model was the primary manner in which societies were organized. But when agriculture was developed, tribes could settle down, build greater structures, and create real cultures of their own.
Because agriculture played such a foundational role in human society, it’s something of a surprise to learn that herbicides are essentially a 20th-century invention. The first breakthroughs in this field were in fact the byproducts of chemical experiments during World War II. Researchers ended up creating 2, 4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2, 4-D), a chemical that could kill unwanted weeds without doing any damage to the major crops.
In 1946, 2, 4-D first hit the market. Within an incredibly short period of time, it had a major positive effect on the world, dramatically increasing the output of farmers. Since then, other chemicals and processes have been invented and discovered, allowing farmers to grow the crops they wish to and eliminate the plants that rob them of their resources.
Why Herbicides Are Important
If you work in agriculture, it’s probably easy to imagine the long-term benefits of using herbicides. How successful you are hinges on how much food you can produce. If your land is full of weeds and other plants that crowd out your crops and deplete their share of resources, you need to be able to handle this problem effectively and affordably. Herbicides make this easy, boosting your production (and profit) without requiring you to make great investments of money, effort, time, or additional lands.
If you merely consume the food produced by farms, however, you also benefit from the use of herbicides. First of all, while we may have limited control over the immediate effects of the climate or weather, we can use innovations like these to limit the harm that inclement events, such as a drought, might do to us. Before herbicides, droughts were absolute catastrophes for many reasons; a key reason, though, was that they severely reduced the amount of food a farm could produce.
However, we should not downplay the adverse effect that a drought can have, even today. That said, thanks to herbicides, that effect is not as devastating as it once was. In the past, weeds would use up much of the limited water available to crops during a drought, resulting in massive food shortages. However, when weeds can be controlled, even during times of limited rainfall, many crops can still grow reliably, as they do not need to compete for resources.
From an economic perspective, herbicides are also good for society as a whole. According to researchers, their use earns farmers in the United States an additional $16 billion per year. When herbicides were put to use in Argentina, the country’s economy benefited from a $30 billion boost. Even if you’re not a farmer, this is good news: that money is funneled back into the country’s economy, and because we live in an increasingly globalized world, your country and its economy will benefit as well.
Agriculture is an interesting line of work. On the one hand, it’s almost as old as human civilization. On the other hand, it keeps changing due to fairly recent innovations such as herbicides. Luckily, those changes have been positive, as we are better able and equipped to feed the world. Keeping people fed has always been the goal of agriculture, and now, we can think beyond the limits of our small tribe.
In agricultural industries, pesticides are essential to maximizing the yield of farmers’ crops. For those outside of this line of work, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the benefits that pesticides offer. Yes, you may already know that using pesticides ensure that more food is grown for human consumption, and that certain illnesses have fewer opportunities to spread.
However, that is not the only reason pesticides are useful. Given the recent, dramatic changes our planet has gone through, experts are striving to convince all of us to “go green” in whatever way possible. For many of us, that means driving less frequently, investing in energy-efficient appliances, and making other lifestyle changes to reduce our carbon footprints.
For farmers, though, climate change offers yet another reason to make use of pesticides. For example, anyone who makes a living working in agriculture knows that they have to produce a certain amount of food each season. By using pesticides, farmers prevent pests from ruining significant portions of their crops. As a result of this efficiency, they don’t have to convert more neighboring lands into farmland. This leads to a variety of social benefits.
Pesticides Enable the Advancement of Civilization
Agriculture is among the greatest innovations in the history of humankind. Prior to developing the ability to grow food reliably and regularly, hunter-gatherer societies were prevalent. With the introduction of agriculture, however, communities could establish permanent communities. This led to the development of medicine, art, extended family units, and a vast number of other advances that we now take for granted.
Pesticides made agriculture even more effective at strengthening a society. Most obviously, they kept animals and insects from eating crops. This allows farmers to create more food for the human population, which, quite simply, helps a civilization to flourish.
Pesticides Prevent Disease
There’s also the matter of disease prevention. In many parts of the world, mosquitoes and other pests can spread illnesses like malaria. This is a particular danger when they’re drawn to crops. However, when farmers use pesticides, disease-causing pests are much less of a problem.
Already, it’s clear that these products play a major role in keeping people healthy. However, they’re also very useful when it comes to preventing hunger.
Pesticides Improve Crop Yields and Prevent Hunger
Farms are unlike any other manufacturing plants in the world. If the factory where your television was built fails to produce enough units to hit its projected goals, the consequences are fairly minimal - maybe the company suffers some quarterly losses.
On the other hand, if farms don’t produce enough food, people go hungry. As such, farmers know they need to take all the steps necessary to maximize the yield of their crops.
Before pesticides, this often meant using additional land. If pests were regularly depleting farmers’ harvests, they couldn’t simply accept their losses. People still needed food on the table. Because of this, those who worked in agricultural industries were often forced to cut down trees, displace animal communities, and destroy natural habitats in order to convert neighboring lands into more farmland. They simply had no other options.
Pesticides Allow the Preservation of Wild Ecosystems
Pesticides, thankfully, changed that. When farmers began using these products and strategies, they found that pesticides reliably kept insect and animal populations from consuming food that was meant for human use. As a result, instead of needing to expand their operations, they could work within the existing boundaries of their farms, leaving more of the natural world intact.
Again, most consumers already understand that pesticides are often used in order to produce more food and prevent health problems. However, that’s far from the only benefit they offer to society. Keeping people fed is important, but so is preserving the planet.
That’s one of the many reasons pesticides continue to play such a major role in agriculture. Already, they serve to help farmers more effectively feed the world. By reducing the need to expand the borders of farms, pesticides also help to ensure that the world itself stays healthy and wild ecosystems remain intact.
Future Pesticide-Related Innovations
Of course, innovations never cease in agricultural industries. From the days of early farming societies right up until today, humankind has consistently found new ways to crop yields. It’s safe to say that this will also be the case with pesticides. As we learn more about how to protect our food from insects and animals, we’ll also learn more about how to protect our planet.
It probably goes without saying, but that’s good for everyone.
Pesticides have become part of everyday life. While many focus on the usage of these chemicals in the agricultural industry, their use has implications that cross almost every aspect of human life. Many of those who oppose the use of pesticides fail to consider the ramifications of pest populations left unchecked.
The individual bitten by a mosquito carrying the West Nile virus may die as a result of contracting the disease. Contaminated crops may be unsuitable for human consumption, causing the farmer to lose revenue. Animals with fleas may become sick. Termites may cause damage that results in thousands of dollars in damage to structures.
For most of the population, these situations are avoided, thanks to the regular use of pesticides. Understanding the impact of pesticides on every area of life is important when debating the use of these agrochemicals in the future.
Pesticides Improve Crop Production
One of the most commonly-debated uses for pesticides is in the agriculture industry. Farmers use pesticides to control pests that affect their fields, improving crop yield and quality. With comprehensive, environmentally-safe farming techniques, farmers can manage large commercial farms more efficiently and effectively. With proportionately less farmland than previously in history, today’s farmers are producing more food, and they are able to meet the rising demands of a growing global population.
Using targeted pesticides, farmers are able to manage the particular needs a crop may have without harming the surrounding area. Using long-term sustainability plans and technologically-advanced biochemical pesticides, the use of these agrochemicals is safer and more effective than ever.
Pesticides Support Biodiversity and Protect Wildlife Habitats
The elimination of pests that reduce crop yield helps farmers maximize profits and capitalize on available farmland. With high levels of production on high-yield farms, there is decreased need for additional farmland.
By utilizing existing farms, natural habitats and preserves are spared from development. This allows for wildlife and native plants to thrive, protecting the earth’s biodiversity. Capitalizing on the advancements of today’s pesticides, these critical wildlife preserves, forests, wetlands, and plains can be left for future generations to appreciate.
Pesticides Protect Property
Learning your home has been damaged or destroyed by pests can be devastating. Insecticides are used to protect homes from carpenter ants, termites, and other insects that can damage a structure. They prevent infestation of cockroaches, spiders, mites, and other invasive bugs that can destroy homes from the inside out.
In addition, pesticides protect valuable keepsakes such as historical documents, treasured garments, keepsake plants, and more. The work of pesticides within homes and other buildings to protect both structures and the contents within saves homeowners, business owners, and other building managers money and heartbreak from loss.
Pesticides Improve Transportation Methods
Roadsides, intersections and airways are all safer with the use of pesticides. Tall weeds and brush are eliminated along roadways, near train tracks, and around street signs with the help of herbicides. Removing obstructions makes travel safer by increasing visibility, improving water run-off, and reducing the potential for automobile accidents.
Airlines use herbicides to prevent mold from forming in fuel filters, helping to maintain safe air travel. Railway companies use pesticides to preserve railway ties from insect feeding and decay, preventing broken tracks and train derailments. In these ways, a simple trip to the corner store is made safer with the use of agrochemicals.
Pesticides Make Recreation More Accessible
Anglers and sportsmen benefit from the use of pesticides to support fishing and boating on lakes and rivers. Herbicides can eliminate weed cover that smaller fish hide in, allowing bigger fish to find (and eat) the smaller fish in larger quantities. As a result, a healthy fish population thrives, giving fishers more opportunity to tell fish tales.
Pesticide use near lakes and ponds makes boating and swimming more accessible with the removal of invasive weeds and excessive growth. Herbicides and pesticides are used to maintain sports turf fields, park areas for picnicking and recreation, and more.
Pesticides Pro mote Good Health
Recent outbreaks of the Zika virus have strengthened public awareness of the importance of pesticide use in a community. The use of pesticides to control insect populations and repel insects is essential in promoting good health.
With the use of disinfectants, hospitals can prevent the spread of disease and infection. Housing developments employ rodenticides to control rodent populations, minimizing and eliminating the spread of rodent-based diseases such as hantavirus. Utility companies monitor and control bacteria in public drinking water by using chlorine to sanitize water supplies. Without the use of these pesticides, living conditions would be vastly different for much of the world.
The broad role that pesticides play in today’s society can be overlooked by the casual 27 observer. It is common today to question the use of pesticides; however, few pause to consider the ramifications of eliminating these powerful agrochemicals and the benefits they bring the world. Partnering with agrochemical corporations to develop more effective products in the future will support a healthy life for all.
The worldwide agricultural industry is facing unprecedented challenges, including growing populations, increasing consumer demands, and a shortage of available farmland. To increase crop yields in the face of these issues, farmers around the globe depend on agrochemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides.
Farmers in different nations face unique political, cultural, and environmental climates that affect their ability to thrive and influence what tools they use to help them do so. In developing countries, for example, farmers can rely on agrochemicals to help them overcome numerous problems, including the following:
Not Enough Usable Land
For obvious reasons, land is one of the most important components in a successful farming venture. However, in underdeveloped nations various land tenure systems have made it difficult for farmers to acquire new acreage. Land that is passed through inheritance, for example, becomes increasingly fragmented with each generation, and communal tenure systems discourage new owners from using their land for agricultural purposes. As a result, there is an increased pressure on farmers to produce more food on less available space.
Compounding the problem of land tenure is the loss of current agricultural land. According to recent studies, as many as 3 million hectares of land are lost worldwide each year due to soil erosion caused by wind or water. Additionally, people annually convert 4 million hectares of land for other uses, such as housing, roads, and other urban necessities. When coupled with a rising population, this loss of available land can be devastating to food supplies.
Farmers who must make do with limited space can still produce enough to thrive if they take advantage of modern pesticides and herbicides. For example, Indian Labour Statistics reveal that agrochemical use played a large part in the country’s ability to quadruple the production of grain on the same 169 hectares over a 50-year period.
Lack of Financing
In developing nations, many farmers lack access to lending institutions, and those that are able to find sources of funding have little to offer as collateral for loans because they are extremely poor. They are therefore unable to secure funding for needed equipment, which could help them increase their yields.
However, if these farmers use agrochemicals to reduce their crop losses from disease, pests, and weeds, then they can increase their profits and prove their creditworthiness to lenders. This extra income will enable them to finance improvements that can lead to even larger yields and eventual financial stability.
Particularly striking in developing nations is the considerable lack of education among farmers about technological advances. New farming tools, methods, and products are being developed, but many farmers lack the ability to participate in the training or have little understanding of why it is important. Additionally, many farmers are content to use the tools and techniques of yesterday, even if newer, improved versions are available.
Farming communities that embrace advancements like pesticides and herbicides can rise out of extreme poverty and afford amenities like electricity, schools, and health centers, which can lead to increased levels of education about modern farming techniques. In addition, people tend to remain in rural communities that provide these services (as opposed to leaving to find work in cities), thus increasing the available workforce and further improving crop production.
Most countries regulate the use of agrochemicals, but developing nations face additional challenges due to the extra restrictions they face. For most developing nations, agrochemicals are difficult to acquire due to transportation challenges and cost. The life expectancy of the materials also makes it difficult for farmers to store large quantities of it, and farmers face rapidly changing climates that require different types of agrochemicals.
Industrial farmers must balance the use of agrochemicals with environmental concerns and consumer push for safe, healthy foods. Luckily, agrochemical companies are working to provide products that meet the needs of farmers in a changing world, ensuring that food is available for all. By combining new technologies with advanced science, they help farmers grow larger quantities of food in smaller areas. For farmers uncertain about how to meet the rising demands of consumers, agrochemicals can offer welcome relief.
Farmers have been waging a battle against pests since the beginning of time. Early accounts of pesticide use give credence to the idea that man has been locked in a perpetual fight with nature. As man looks to the future of farming and the development of agrochemical products to aid in the quest to eradicate pests from the fields, a startling discovery has been made: pests have adapted to most pesticides. Pests have evolved over time, rendering the use of many pesticides ineffective and leading to the development of a different method of pest removal.
Evidence for Adaptation
Fossilized weeds have preserved the evidence: specific genotypes have changed to avoid traditional pest control practices. Weed populations demonstrate the effect of these changes in the timing of reproduction and seed size, adaptation designed to resist the effect of winnowing. A process in which famers eliminated weed seeds from grain seeds, winnowing was part of the planting process. Farmers would save a small amount of seed to use for the following year’s crop. The weeds, however, found a way to infiltrate that process by producing seedlings that looked like crop seeds. Even farmers using hand winnowing were unable to remove all of the look-alike seeds.
Insect and microorganism adaptation is more challenging to trace. However, there is evidence that crop breeding produced strains of crops resistant to pest attacks. In turn, the pests continued to evolve in an effort to survive. Traces of fungal genotypes have been found on fossilized food supplies, demonstrating the continued existence of crop pests. Recent examples of pest adaptation may provide an indication of how pests survived in previous generations: a corn pest adapted to the yearly crop rotation by encasing its eggs in a durable casing that survived until the following year’s planting. A similar pest that feeds on corn has managed its adaptation by laying its eggs in the soybean fields that will be planted with corn in the following year.
As man developed pesticides to manage pests, the pests continued to adapt. In a matter of growing cycles, pesticides were no longer effective in their control of pests, forcing farmers to increase usage rates and ultimately seek stronger and more effective methods. Historically, biological pest control methods could adapt with the pests, creating a race of sorts, with each group attempting to surpass the other. The development of synthetic pesticides, however, has taken pesticides out of the race. Synthetics are not able to adapt with the pests, forcing man to continually generate new pesticides that will keep pace with the adaptation. Evidence shows that pests develop a resistance to control measures within three years, creating an endless cycle of need for stronger control agents.
There are two phases to pesticide adaptation. The first phase involves increasing the dose and frequency of application. An unintended side effect of this phase, however, is an increased level of pest resistance, as well as greater damage to the environment. The second phase involves the development of new pesticides.
Records show that an astonishing 500 insects and 150 pathogens have developed resistance to at least one form of pesticide. This continual adaptation has forced pesticide companies to move to phase two of pesticide adaptation. Agrochemical companies are at the forefront of pesticide adaptation. With improved technologies and advanced science, these companies are developing new pesticides that limit environmental impact and have a long-term effect on pests.
History has shown that in the absence of new pesticides, pests that have developed resistance can have a lasting and detrimental effect on crops. The cotton industry in Nicaragua, for example, collapsed due to the aggressive pests that plagued the fields. Some individuals believe that the aggressive treatment of pests will result in a more aggressive pest. However, the development of powerful, synthetic pesticides may negate that theory. Many of today’s pesticides are more toxic than their predecessors and more selective in the pests that they affect. Due to the use of stronger pesticides, it is unlikely that pests will be able to adapt quickly.
New pesticides are also more singular in focus. Traditional pesticides targeted a wide range of pests. Today’s synthetics may zero in on a particular pest, and they are more efficient in eradicating it.
The Future of Pesticides
As agrochemical companies continue to develop pesticides, they are using new and improved methods of increasing viability in their products. Pesticide-resistant management is a new field within the agrochemical industry that deals primarily with the development of products that resist adaptation by pests. Researchers carefully monitor resistance strains and work to develop strains of pests that can be used as control groups or as target opportunities for new classes of pesticides.
Farmers are facing new challenges in meeting the demands of the world’s growing population. As the demand for food increases and the number of available growing areas decreases, farmers must be vigilant in preserving crops and mitigating losses as a result of disease and pests. Agrochemicals will continue to play a key role in this fight.