Pest Management in Agriculture

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Pests are considered to be one of the major factors of high economic importance in agriculture. Every year there is a huge amount of wastage of produce that can be attributed to pests. They have a significant role to play in the yields and profit of any crop-producing enterprise.  Hence pest management is veru important during crop production. 

What are Pests?

Pests have been defined as any entity which disturbs or disrupts the normal growth of a plant or reduces the yield of the plant. They are known to have disastrous effects on crop growth and yield. 

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Since there are various types of pest, there are also different techniques of pest control in agriculture. 

The different types of pest management strategies can curb pest problems.
These strategies for pest menace are dependent on the sizes of these pests.
Some examples of pests include weed, insect and human activities. It is easy to curb the growth of weed and human activities. Insects are more virulent and obstinate in their attack. 

Pests interfere with the yield of agricultural ventures in crop production or rearing of animals. They adversely affect a farm’s productivity, which is why farmers over the years have come up with different methods of controlling or combating it.

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Micro pests are ones that are very small in size and it is predominantly difficult to notice their physical presence. Most of the time, their presence is evident when they bring on damage to the crops or animals.

Macro Pests are the ones that are relatively larger in size and you can see their physical presence even before their activity on a farm. Rodents are the best example of macro pests. 

What is Pest Control

Pests, irrespective of the size, can cause monumental damage to agricultural produce. In recent years there has been a lot of changes and improvement of pest control methods in agriculture. Farmers can adopt a number of other pest control methods to achieve higher agricultural productivity. 

If pest populations threaten plant health,  the action threshold may have been exceeded. In such a scenario, the implementation of suppression tactics using various IPM programs either alone or in combinationneeds to be done

Having reiterated the importance of pest control, you must note that the method of integrated pest management ( IPM programs ) depends largely on:

a The type of pest which needs to be controlled.

b The type of farming- whether it is animal rearing or crop production

c The scale of agricultural production.

d The effect on the product.

e The effectiveness of the adopted method.

f Cultural practices.

Methods of Pest Control in Agriculture

There are four prime methods of pest control in agriculture, depending on the nature and the size of the pests.

1 Mechanical Pest Control

Mechanical Pest Control is the oldest method of controlling the pest. It is a pest control mechanism whose aim is to get rid of the target pest by killing them or by creating barriers that prevent them from attacking the agricultural produce. This technique is more suitable for macro pests, resistant varieties and small scale agricultural production. 

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Mechanical control methods include

a Handpicking – This method involves practically picking and getting rid of pests.

b Setting traps – It is the most effective method for macro pests.

c Building fences –  It is effective in preventing the unwanted presence of the macro pest.

d Creating scarecrows – Erecting scarecrows to help prevent birds from eating up the crop.

e Using high-pressure water sprays – A lot of pests cannot survive the pressure from equipment like the Water Wand. 

f Trap cropping – This method is used to trap the pest by using a plant that distracts the attention of pests from the crops on the farmland. The use of pesticides is the best method to get rid of the trapped pests and prevent them from going back to the crops.

g Using electronic bug killers – This is a recent advancement in the mechanical practices of controlling the pest. Once the pest gets to the equipment, it will be electrocuted and will drop dead.

The mechanical method of pest control is very eco friendly as well as a harmless way of keeping pests away. However, this pest control method becomes ineffective when your farm size is large or when there is a high population of these pests on the farm. 

2 Cultural Pest Control

Cultural pest control is an ancient as well as the traditional method of pest control to increase the farm’s yield.

This method is designed at interrupting the pest’s life cycle. Here are some of the practices of the cultural pest control method are as follows:

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a Crop rotation – The plantation of a different crop on the soil will help get rid of the pest. This can be understood by the following example: if the host crop of the pest is maize, then the pest will be eradicated automatically once the farmer plants something entirely different.

b Weeding or tillage – Weeding or tilling the ground at regular intervals exposes a lot of the pests to other predators.

c Maintaining a clean environment – Since pests thrive in a dirty environment, the best way to get rid of them is to make it difficult for them to breed.

d Inter-cropping – Intercropping Is a practice where different crops are planted on a piece of land. This makes it difficult for the pest to survive.

e Crop spacing – Properly spaced crops prevents the pests from travelling from one crop to the other.

Cultural Pest Control is an example of a natural and eco-friendly way of controlling the pest. However, the main flaw with this technique is that it can only act as a preventive measure. In case of an outbreak, it cannot be a solution.

3 Biological Pest Control

In the past, biological pest control methods only involved the process of engaging the predators of the pest to reduce the population of such pests. In recent times with continuous research and development, more new biological means have been discovered.

Biological control aims at conserving the ecosystem by protecting agricultural produce as well as conserving the natural enemy. This technique employs biological agents to control their numbers or eliminate their negative impact on agricultural productivity. The approach to pest management is changing over the years. With the intention of bringing about an ecological balance.

Biological agents could belong to any of the classes of living things. They could be microorganisms or they could even be multicellular organisms.

Biological Pest Control can be in any of these forms.

Engagement of a predator of the pest to eliminate the target pest like the introduction of a cat to reduce the population of mice.

Introduction of a parasite to infect the pest. This would help in controlling the pest populations.

The process involves genetically re-engineering the pest to make them sterile altering their natural life cycle. This means that this is not a long term solution.

4 Chemical Pest Control

The disadvantage of this method is that no doubt it can eliminate the pest. it can also affect the host in a negative manner. Additionally, the effect of the chemical wears off over a period of time, as the pest develops resistance and passes it as a genetic trait. This leads to the use of a higher concentration of chemicals leading to adverse effects on both crops and pests.

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Pest control uses the following types of chemicals

Fungicides help to destroy fungi.

Insecticides are used to get rid of micro pests like insects, including larvae and eggs.

Nematicides kill the plant’s parasites like nematodes.

Rodenticides help to eliminate rodents like rats or mice. 

Not all household chemicals are as harsh, and they are quite capable of eliminating pests such as soapy water, beer, nicotine spray and alcohol spray.

Importance and Benefits of Pesticides

Pesticides are important as they enable farmers to produce safe, quality foods at reasonable prices. They assist farmers to grow more food on less land by protecting crops from all kinds of pests. The use of pesticides also raises productivity per hectare.

Production of staple crops has more than tripled since 1960, just with the extensive use of pesticides. For example, rice which feeds almost half the population – has more than doubled in production. The amount of wheat has increased by more than 160 percent.

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If the pesticides are not used, farmers lose more than half of all the crops to pests. Around 30 to 40 per cent of the world’s potential crop production is lost because of pests and weeds. Without crop protection, these losses could easily double. Without crop protection, these losses will double up easily.

Including organic farmers, all farmers use pesticides. These pesticides could be from synthetic or natural sources. The only difference being, organic farmers, only use pesticides from natural sources. But both natural and synthetic pesticides have various levels of toxicity.

Benefits of Pesticides

It is interesting to know that food crops must compete with 3,000 species of worms. Additionally, they are competing with 30,000 species of weeds, and 10,000 species of plant-eating insects. The threats don’t stop once crops leave the field. Bugs and rodents can cause damage to the crops that are stored. The usage of pesticides can prolong the life of crops. It can also prevent post-harvest losses.
About 925 million people around the world and the USA, one in every seven, are going hungry. To reduce hunger, we need to increase food productivity. It is here that pesticides come into the picture and can help farmers do that.

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