Eco-Friendly Crop Protection

It’s likely that when you think of pesticides, your first thought is not about environmental sustainability. While farmers and crop managers do not douse their crops with pesticide chemicals, methodologies to reduce the amount of chemical residue that can remain on foods and in the environment remain a concern of the agricultural industry.

The industry aims to use a variety of techniques to fight off pests, keep crops viable and uphold environmental stewardship practices. This is a part of their Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs — a combination of techniques employed by farmers to ensure secured crop productivity and simultaneous environmentally sustainable pest reduction for conventional and organic crops. You may have read our article on biopesticides, which highlighted how the environment naturally protects itself and how this can be used to farmers’ advantage. But there is even more information we’d like to share with you.

So what exactly are these techniques we are talking about? Keep reading to learn more about eco-friendly tactics to protect our food:

Flowers and Bugs That Love Them

Roses are red and violets can kill pests? Well, kind of. For years, farmers have known that planting certain flowers and plants can help roll out the welcome mat for “good” bugs. These bugs are welcomed because they eat many unwelcome pests that could harm generations of crops if left unchecked. Many insects such as ground beetles, dragon flies, some spiders and lady bugs eat a variety of detrimental pests such as slugs, snails, mites and aphids on a daily basis.

To take this knowledge a step further, researchers at the United Kingdom-based Center for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) have been conducting a study with in-field wild flower strips that have an even more varied set of flowers in them. The flower strips are planted to attract a diverse community of predator and patristic insects. This complex community of insects best fits into modern farming systems.  Dr. Ben Woodcock at CEH notes, “Rather than just promoting predominantly ground-active predators, we need to support those in the canopy or those that target internal pests living in stems or seed pods.”

The use of these in-field strips also complements precision agricultural techniques such as the use of GPS-tracking, which can monitor the strips’ locations and growth patterns, while keeping them from being sprayed with any harmful pesticides.

While these means of protecting crops won’t likely eliminate the necessity of pesticides entirely, they can help famers use fewer pesticides. This saves resources and limits environmental impacts of pesticide use.

Updated Pesticide Formulations

A recent review article has gathered historical information on widely used pesticide applications and looked at how many formulations of pesticides have been altered to reduce the toxic impacts of conventional formulas. These new formulations have a water base as opposed to a petroleum or organic solvent base. While the bases are inactive ingredients for the pesticide, they are needed in order for the active ingredients to be applied effectively to crops. Thus, the use of innovative formulations for these agricultural products is key to advancing their environmental attributes.

The above noted review article summarizes that with the use of water-based pesticides, farmers are able to “increase the bio-efficacy of the [pesticide] products through incorporating latest technologies including size reduction [amount of product used], increased coverage of applied surface area, reduced wastage and dose rates.” These advances in formulation technologies allow for adjustments in precision agriculture practices while still benefiting the environment, saving resources in their production and yielding effective crop control.

Maybe It Is Easy Being Green

Producers of pesticide products are regulated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) federal guidelines, established via extensive ecological risk assessments. While the use of pesticides is necessary for the successful production of both organic and conventional crops, producers and users of these products remain mindful of potential environmental impacts and act accordingly to safely apply these products to crops. However, it is good to see that innovative methods to further reduce ecological impacts are being researched and put into play — good for the Earth and good for our veggie platters.