A Glimpse Inside the Crop Protection Tool Box
Crop protection has come a long way since Egyptian farmers first used the scarecrow, some 5,000 years ago.
Every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as much as 40 percent of the world’s potential harvests are lost to damaging insects, weeds and plant diseases.
Farmers today have an incredible array of tools to protect their crops from these threats. Some of them have been used for centuries. Others were developed recently. The key to the effectiveness of these tools is how farmers use them in concert with one another.
Today’s farmers combine data science, precision technology, and state-of-the-art pesticides with soil-building practices like cover crops and crop rotation. This leads to more effective crop protection, while reducing the amount of chemicals necessary. The end result is a healthier crop, healthier soils and a healthier planet.
Click on each tool icon below to learn more
Advanced data analytics
Data collection and analysis methods that allow farmers to use variable amounts of crop protection chemicals and methods, according to factors such as climate, field location, soil type and seed.
Precision spraying and guidance technologies
Advanced spraying and GPS tools prevent overuse of chemicals and reduce number of spraying passes required per field.
Hi-tech scouting tools
Unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites have recently become commercially viable scouting options, helping farmers observe large fields for signs of damage from weeds, insects and disease.
Advanced hybrid seeds
Traditional hybrids, bred for variety of factors, such as yield, drought resistance, disease resistance, or more locally-oriented conditions.
Genetically modified seeds
Genetically modified to fight pathogens (e.g., Bt corn) or tolerate herbicides (e.g., glyphosate tolerant crops)
Year-to-year changing of crops planted. Helps prevent diseases, insects and weeds from achieving comfortable habitat.
Crops planted between primary crops, for purpose of keeping soil covered. Help prevent erosion, retain moisture and build soil structure.
Turning the soil for planting, helps interrupt the life cycle of pests, including weeds, insects and disease.
Planting different crops side-by-side, to maximize pest control and resource efficiency.
Pulling weeds by hand, to prevent them from stealing sunlight, water and nutrients.
One of first crop protection tools, scares invasive bird species away from crops.
A Century of Crop Protection
Throughout the history of agriculture, each new wave of crop protection innovation allowed farmers to be more efficient. Tillage reduced the need for hand weeding. Chemicals reduced the need for tillage. Genetically modified seeds reduced the need for insecticides. Data analytics, combined with precision planting and spraying techniques, has made farmers even more efficient, helping them farm with less of an impact on our environment.
Farmers have always taken a “tool box” approach to crop protection. Today’s tool box offers farmers more choices than ever before. Using multiple options together increases the effectiveness of each. It also allows farmers to use less pesticide.
This wasn’t always the case. Although farmers have borrowed practices and tools from every era in the history of crop protection, earlier methods were often physically demanding, time-consuming and less effective.
Over the past century, the crop protection tool box has grown larger and more effective, while evolving to allow farmers to produce more with less of an impact on the environment.
Without data analytics and precision equipment, farmers are forced to rely on one-size-fits-all approach to crop protection, applying the same amount of chemical to all the crop, rather than tailoring their applications specifically. Without drones or satellite imagery services, they must scout their crops with the naked eye and on foot, taking considerably longer to do so.
In 2004, U.S. consumers spent 9.5% of their income on food.
Without the ability to plant genetically modified seeds, farmers rely heavily on chemicals when fighting insects and disease.
In 1984, U.S. consumers spent 11.9% of their income on food.
Without the ability to use state-of-the-art chemicals, farmers use labor-intensive methods such as hand weeding and tillage.
In 1954, U.S. consumers spent 19% of their income on food.
Before hybrid seeds became widely available, seeds bred for disease and/or pest resistance were rare, if available at all. The primary tools available during this period were physical: tillage, crop rotation and hand weeding.
In 1929 (first year data was available), U.S. consumers spent 23.4% of their income on food.
No advance hybrids are available. No synthetic chemicals are available. No precision technology or data analytics are available. Plow options were extremely expensive, and required maintaining draft animals for power. At this period in history, farming was astonishingly difficult, requiring long hours and intense physical effort.
At this time, most farms were subsistence based and diversified. Farmers grew a variety of crops and tended livestock, with a focus on feeding their families. Crop surpluses were rare, while poverty and disease were rampant.
Now, take a moment to imagine how far we’ve come and how much we’ve learned about crop protection methods.
What might be the next innovation to make it into the crop protection tool box? Virtual or augmented reality? The internet of things? We’ll have to wait and see.