Op-Ed: Controlling pests, a fundamental aspect of agriculture
Think, for a moment, about the tasks you do at home. Alternatively, think about the tasks you do at work. Surely, for each of these tasks, you have one or more tools to complete them. The same happens with the tasks that we carry out in agriculture.
Let me talk to you today about controlling pests (insects, diseases, and weeds) through an Integrated Pest Management program.
Integrated pest management is a strategy that focuses on the long-term prevention of pests — and their damage — through a combination of techniques such as monitoring, crop rotation, biological control, habitat management, modification of irrigation and tilling methods, cultivating genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and resistant crop varieties.
These techniques can be classified into five categories: cultural, ethological, biological, organic, or agrochemical. However, although they all have a different function — depending on the task ahead — they all have a similar objective: to control and manage pest populations, focusing on having less impact on human health, and protecting the environment around us.
How then do we decide which technique to use? We start by monitoring the presence of pests in crops and then make decisions about which control is appropriate to apply. Monitoring consists of field visits, at least twice a week, to determine the presence of pests in the crops.
Pests have different food preferences, habitats, life cycles, flight abilities, and other characteristics that distinguish them. Knowing in detail what pest we are dealing with is very important in selecting the best control method.
As an example, did you know that certain colors attract certain insects? With this knowledge, we implement ethological control techniques, which seek to attract and trap these insects outside the crop fields, preventing them from entering, consuming them and reproducing in them.
An example of this is yellow or blue colored glue traps. On the other hand, you’ve probably heard that certain insects and other animals communicate by releasing biochemicals known as pheromones.
For this reason, another ethological control technique consists of using bucket and veil pheromone traps, which work by attracting and capturing the adult male. Thus, it cannot mate with the adult female, preventing them from reproducing.
Now, we are frequently asked about the use of agrochemicals for pest control. Agrochemicals (insecticides, herbicides, bactericides, and fungicides) are an additional tool in integrated pest management.
Their selection of use goes through the same monitoring and decision—making process as the other control techniques. Chemical pest control tools go through a strict evaluation and authorization process — sometimes even licensing — before being available to farmers and agronomists.
We also take into consideration that some controls can have a strong impact on the environment and human health, a factor that we take into account when making a decision.
Another practice that we have at our disposal, specifically for the control of insect pests, is to create refuge areas. These are designated areas of a field where plants that attract insects are grown, giving them a safe place to eat and breed outside of the crop fields we want to protect.
These have a dual benefit, since they serve as a refuge for pollinating agents, such as bees and butterflies, as well as for parasitoids and predators, such as the Trichogramma wasp and the Chrysoperla.
Integrated pest management, combined with recent innovations in agricultural technology, give farmers and agronomists the opportunity to use fewer natural resources, protect the environment, and produce enough to feed, clothe and fuel the world’s growing population. And that has always been our commitment at Bayer Crop Science. For more than two decades, the company has been a corporate citizen committed to the southern Puerto Rico region, actively contributing to its economic and community development, while adhering to sustainable and environmentally friendly procedures.