Herbicides Pesticides and Fungicides

To reach the goal of high production of crops of good quality, weeds (unwanted plants), pests (unwanted animals), as well as fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases must be kept in check. A monoculture crop is vulnerable to attacks, since one (or a pair) of the pests that enter a field will have a high concentration of food with no transport stretches in between. Potential predators may be absent, since they may need a litter layer on the ground for reproduction, which does not exist in the field, etc. Repeated monocultures may build up specialized pests, such as plant parasitic nematodes. Crop rotations (switching crops from year to year according to a predetermined pattern) can successfully deal with many pests and diseases, and careful soil cultivation can reduce weed problems. Intercropping (growing two or more crops together, such as barley/clover) may also help.

However, most fields will benefit from occasional chemical (or biological) pesticide/herbicide treatment. These types of agrochemicals have a somewhat dubious reputation among laymen and perhaps also ecologists (DDT, Agent Orange, mercury, etc.). Three things should be kept in mind, though. First, the substances and formulations used today are thoroughly tested before approval, and their side effects and the fate of their decomposition products are well known. Second, chemical warfare is common in natural systems - all successful plant species present today have at least some chemical defense against microorganisms and pests. Third, which alternatives do we have? A failed crop in a well-fertilized field will lead to high risks for nutrient losses to the environment. A failed crop in poorer conditions may lead to starvation for the farmer and her family.

Alternative methods, such as increased cultivation, hand weeding, or biological pest reduction by introduction of predators all have their advantages and disadvantages, but there is no 'silver bullet' available. In summary, an integrated approach with a combination of methods is the solution, and modern agriculture has moved and is moving in this direction. Of course, for commercial reasons it can be profitable to cultivate, for example, 'organic' crops (without fertilizer or pesticides) to obtain a higher price, but from an ecological or environmental viewpoint this approach is not necessarily better.

Agriculture can thus be classified according to the use of agrochemicals, for example, biodynamic, organic, integrated, and industrialized farming. Biodynamic farming forbids the use of conventional agrochemicals and replaces them with exotic homemade concoctions, and organic farming a priori forbids conventional agrochemi-cals. None of these farming systems is firmly based on scientific evidence; instead they are based on a green view of nature that leads to the banning of certain chemicals.

Integrated and industrial farming can also be called 'conventional', where economic, legal, and environmental constraints limit the end goal, maximum productivity, and profitability. The main difference between the latter two is that integrated is more environmentally concerned (reduced pesticide use, use of biological pest reduction methods, etc.), and industrialized is more leaning to maximum production with whatever means available, with a minimum of environmental concerns. It should be noted that 'conventional' and particularly 'industrialized' are somewhat derogatory terms, mainly used by those negative to these approaches.

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