As the world’s population booms, the demand for a sustainable food supply increases. Farmers are routinely being asked to produce more food, in less space, in a shorter amount of time. Additionally, food supplies need to be transportable and storable, while still retaining their nutrients and carrying a low cost. These increasing requirements have led to a partnership between farmers, chemists, and scientists as they search for solutions that will provide viable sources of food for the world.
The Demand for Meat
A combination of rising population and greater demand for meat have affected the amount of food available globally. Particularly in Asian countries, the demand for food has shifted from primarily vegetable and grains to include an increasing amount of meat. China, for example, has increased its meat consumption over 200% since the late 1990s. Around the globe, more individuals are eating meat, dairy and eggs, resulting in a rising number of livestock farms needed to meet the demand. The reality, however, is that while the demand is growing, the amount of available farmland is shrinking, forcing farmers to produce more livestock with less resources.
The Demand for Crops
The increased global demand for meat has also translated into a higher demand for crops that are used as animal feed, particularly corn, sorghum, and oats. In the US, more than 90 million acres of land are dedicated to corn production. Finding methods to increase yields of these feed grain crops, without sacrificing quality, is one of the agriculture industry’s most difficult problems. Due to the need to transport feed crops over longer distances, they must be viable for longer periods of time, without losing any nutritional value.
The Role of Agro-Chemicals
Agro-chemicals cover a broad spectrum of products, including pesticides, fertilizers, and preservatives. These products are used in every aspect of food production, improving both the quality and quantity of food supplies and thereby benefiting populations all over the world.
Studies have shown that agro-chemicals, in the form of fertilizers, can affect crop yields by as much as 40 – 60%; this is a significant amount of food and animal feed that the world depends on to eat. These gains would not be possible without the addition of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus), and K (potassium)—the three macronutrients in fertilizer—to crop fields. In the US Midwest, scientists are also finding that better farming techniques and genetic modifications have improved and increased yields without increasing the amount of nitrogen required. This is a significant development that few have realized.
Protecting food supplies from pests such as insects, rodents, and weeds increases yields and eliminates waste due to these intrusions. Proper use of these agro-chemicals saves money that would be lost due to crop loss. Preventing loss is an important use of agro-chemicals.
Used by agricultural workers to assist in raising farm animals, these products are applied either topically or internally. Disease prevention, better health, and greater longevity are the results of agro-chemical use in animals.
The Impact of Agro-Chemicals
With the development of new, improved agro-chemicals, farmers have seen increases in the production of crops as well as animals raised for meat. The increased yields have allowed for greater gains in food supplies and a reduced impact on the environment. Further study into developing new agro-chemicals can give tomorrow’s farmers additional tools in their arsenals.
Many farmers and casual observers wonder why manure is not an adequate form of fertilizer for crops. While it is an effective form of fertilizer in many instances, it simply cannot compete with agro-chemicals in meeting the growing food demands of the world’s population.
Challenges for the Agro-Chemical Industry
The continued development of new and improved varieties of agro-chemicals faces several challenges. Without widespread testing and trials, it is difficult to experiment with altered forms of agro-chemicals. Farmers and scientists can be reluctant to use un-tested chemicals on food supplies without understanding the broader, long-term effects on crops, soil, and humans. Testing can be cost-prohibitive and difficult, making wide-spread acceptance of new varieties challenging. Future agro-chemicals must balance environmental concerns over the long-term, while maintaining their effectiveness in preventing disease and pest infestations.
The Future of Agro-Chemicals
Today’s farmers would not be equipped to handle the food demands of the world without the development of agro-chemicals. Despite the legitimate concerns posed by many, the fact remains that the world depends on agro-chemicals for a sustainable, consistent food supply. New developments to lessen the environmental impact of agro-chemicals and increase yields even further will help nations around the world feed their growing populations. In short, agro-chemicals are here to stay.