Global crop production is threatened by various abiotic causes, such as climate change, soil erosion, soil salinity, drought, and the lack of arable land. All of these can have a hazardous effect on the total crop production and the availability of viable food.
Another problem that impacts crop production and determines the total yield are plant pests. There are various plant pests which, according to the type of pathogen, are categorized into the following groups:
- Insect pests
Although some pests are not extremely harmful to plants, they all cause at least some, thus reducing the crop quality and total yield. Therefore, accurate and proper pest protection is crucial for yield preservation. It's assumed by many that crop protection is the most efficient practice in cash crops (53–68%), while in food crops it prevents 43–50% of potential yield loss.
Crop protection is the science of plant pest management. It was developed in order to prevent and control crop losses due to pests in the field (pre-harvest losses) and during storage (post-harvest losses). Along with production types, a few protection methods are known to be effective, such as:
- Natural; natural pest predators (ladybug, praying mantis)
- Cultural; tracking of weather, monitoring fields and crops
- Physical; disinfection of the soil, seed, and seedlings
- Mechanical; pruning and removing of diseased plants from the field/orchard
- Biological; various beneficial fungi, bacteria, and parasitic wasps used as pest predators
- Chemical; chemical based fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides
As the part preventative measures used, physical, cultural, and biological measures are used mostly in organic and integrated crop production, where they serve as the foundation of crop protection along with sustainability.
The Most Beneficial Time for Crop Protection
Once the pest occurs on the plant, it's very difficult to manage it completely and making yield losses inevitable. Hence, farmers must implement crop protection measures in order to minimize losses to an acceptable level.
Control measures can be applied before the pest attack at the time of favorable conditions. Control measures can also be applied immediately after the pest attack or at the economic threshold. This is the time when the pest population on the crop can cause significant economic damage.
The recommended farm practice is to take preventative measures instead of curative. Preventative measures make up half the work needed in order to provide for healthy and quality crops.
Preventative measures include the following agrotechnical and hygienic measures:
- Choosing of a resistant variety
- Planting of healthy plant material
- Proper tillage practices
- Cleaning of infected farm tools
- Using of proper plant spacing
The Efficacy of Pest Control
Crop losses due to pests can be substantial but may be prevented or reduced using crop protection measures. Losses vary between growth seasons and weather conditions due to variation in pest incidence and severity.
The efficacy of pest control often increases with the loss potential. Weeds are the most widespread plant pests. If there is an absence of control measures being taken, there is a chance of high levels of loss. The majority of pesticides on the market are herbicides, hence weed efficacy control is 70.6%. The efficacy control of pathogens and insect pests reach only 33.8 and 42.4% respectively.
What Should Farmers Consider in Crop Protection?
Plant pests have the potential to significantly reduce or even destroy a crop yield. Farmers, therefore, need to protect their crops in a timely manner and with proper protection measures, according to the crop production type a farmer practices.
Plant protection is a delicate farm practice. To manage successful crop production, every farmer needs to consider the following factors in pesticide application:
- Weather conditions; pesticide application should be avoided during times of strong wind and rain conditions
- When to apply; best practice is to apply pesticides early in the morning or in the evening when bee flight has concluded
- How to apply; application of chemical pesticides require farmers to have knowledge of crop protection so that he does not contaminate his and his neighbor's crops.
Weeds, diseases, and insect pests are all around us and are inevitable in every crop production. The path to quality and high crop yield starts in the field. Therefore, crop protection is a necessary farm practice in crop production management.
Text sources: libcatalog.cimmyt.org