This is the third of a series of articles by Growth Train that relates to the industries and businesses that our participants are a part of – and which have relevance to sustainability and the environment.
Using pesticides in agriculture is a highly debated subject, especially with today’s focus on the environment and climate change. The function of pesticides is to protect the crops and secure yield and quality, but they can also impact health and the environment negatively.
Some argue that farmers should convert to organic farming; fully eradicate and ban the use of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals. Organic farming is about using fertilizers of organic origin, such as compost manure, green manure and bone meal. Organic farming also emphasizes the importance of crop rotation. Organic farming renounces the use of chemicals completely and opposes cutting down forests for cultivation.
Another method used by farmers is sowing disease-resistant crops. These crops are bred to be resistant to pests and diseases and therefore do not need to be sprayed with pesticides. However, the science behind resistant crops is quite new so crops differ in their susceptibility and reliability, as well as yield.
In contrast, several studies have shown that most pesticides used today do not pose a risk to the health of humans or other lifeforms. Moreover, their use does not post a critical threat to the environment.
In today’s agriculture and demand for better yield, it is virtually impossible to avoid pesticides. Without effective alternatives, it is not an option to wholly ban pesticides since their use in agriculture is necessary to maintain the rising need of food.
Denmark is one of the countries that has succeeded in reducing the use of pesticides in agricultural production. Danish farmers have managed to produce more goods with less pesticides, even with tight regulations on the matter. Better farm management, such as crop rotation, plant nutrition and soil fertility, add to the effective farming in Danish agriculture today. But as the negative attitude towards pesticides spread, plenty of new technological tools to incorporate sustainable agriculture and reduce the environmental impact have risen.
One of these tools is precision farming, which is a crop management system that observes, measures and responds to the variability in crops on each field. The system helps farmers to use the precise amount of water, fertilizer and pesticides on a given area, which prevents overuse, helps to manage the resources and increase the yield. Farmers also use drones to produce precise maps for soil analysis thereby optimizing their time and resources.
Water management is another method to manage crops in a more sustainable way. Since food production takes up to 70 percent of the freshwater from rivers and groundwater, water management has been a key in control and optimization of this resource.
All of these agronomic practices are great tools to optimize the use of resources and minimize the use of unnecessary chemicals. This also addresses the consumers, who have gained interest in the ethical debate within food production, such as minimal or no use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The Danish plant protection specialist, Jens Erik Jensen, argues that the use of pesticides has had a crucial role in reaching climate neutrality due to the increased yield and thereby reduced carbon footprint.