The Environmental Impact of Farming

Environmental Impact of Pesticides – Scarlett

The use of harmful pesticides and herbicides, while reaching their desirable effects, can also harm and contaminate plants that were not the target species, and can threaten endangered plant species. There are many different types of pesticides; insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides, and more, and they all work quite well at their jobs. Perhaps even a bit too much? Pesticides and herbicides can often harm or even kill other plants, even the crop itself. The toxic substances used can become airborne, and spread to the surrounding areas. They can spread disease to other plants, and can be especially dangerous for endangered plant species. Some pesticides can even harm the bees, reducing the amount of pollinated plants. Many farmers don’t know the long term and widespread effects of their pesticides, and that is a problem that needs to be corrected.

The adverse effects on these plants can be traced back to many causes, the most prominent of which are, of course, pesticides themselves. Pesticide sprays can directly harm non-target plants, but can also spread and drift in the air. Some herbicides will volatilise (disperse into a vapor) when applied to the target plants. These vapors are found to be toxic enough to severely damage other plants when spread. The use of pesticides can also damage the fertility of soil. When soil is heavily treated with pesticides, it can cause the beneficial microorganisms in the soil to die out. Most plants depend of a variety of microorganisms in their soil to properly turn the atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates. Many common herbicides inhibit the plants from completing this needed process, and therefore damaging the plants. Some pesticides are strongly believed to be part of the recent decline of the bee population, as some pesticides can outright kill the needed insects. This also leads to a loss of pollinators, dangering the dependant plants

The effects of this very real problem is the harming of plants, some of which we even consume! The use of pesticides can inhibit the process of nitrogen fixation, the loss of which can lead to reduced crop yields. The more we use pesticides the more crops we must grow, leading to more wastefulness and the further harming of our environment. Spraying pesticides can also lead to many problems. The use of phenoxy herbicides can harm nearby trees and other vegetation if the herbicides drift or volatilise. Plants, when exposed to herbicide glyphosate, can be found with lower seed quality and can increase their susceptibility to disease. The use of pesticides are a severe threat to endangered plant species, and glyphosate alone has been found to be responsible for threatening 74 endangered plant species. The use of pesticides have severe consequences, they pollute the air, endangering species, and even reducing the yield of crop. There needs to be a change in how we farm.

Many solutions have been attempted to solve this problem, some of which are already beginning to work. This includes the use of IPM (Integrated Pest Management), a system which relies on the principles of using “common sense”. A person using this method would simply have to follow a few key steps, by first identifying and monitoring the pests, then, using more environmentally healthy prevention methods, and finally, if needed, controlling the pests with force (small doses of pesticides). Another solution posed is the use of genetic modifications, the principle of which is to make the modified plant resistant to herbicides and plant related viruses. By altering the plant’s genetic makeup, it could render the plant immune to an herbicide, allowing the farmer to use pesticides freely. I believe that to solve this problem we must implement a combination of the two. We need to use less pesticides, and allow for a healthier output of the farming industry. Yet at the same time, pesticides are becoming unavoidable in modern agriculture, the pest population can be overwhelming, we need to also make the crop, and surrounding plant life, immune to the toxic substances. Pesticides can be dangerous for humans too, and if farmers are forced to use them, it is important to make sure that the food we consume is healthy. Genetic modifications are a highly controversial topic, but I believe that they may be the more effective solution, if at least the most radical, if done correctly. Many crops, like corn and cotton, have already become modified, and are resistant to many herbicides and insect pests. We need to change our methods. Pesticides have long lasting effects, nothing simply fades away. We need to take the first step, find more solutions, spread knowledge, and work for a better world.

Sources

Environmental impact of pesticides, Wikipedia, 23 December 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_pesticides

This source was helpful because it contained many different problems, helpful links, and even posed some general solutions with which I could research more deeply.

Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: their benefits and hazards, NCBI, 2009 March, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984095/

This source was helpful because it provided in-depth information about the pros and cons of using pesticides, and their effects.

Genetically modified crops, Wikipedia, 6 January 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_crops

This source was helpful because it explained genetically modified crops, their many uses, and some of the already modified crops that are being used in a helpful table.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles, US Environmental Protection Agency, 5/9/2012, http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/factsheets/ipm.htm

This source was helpful because it explains the principles of IPM, and includes some generally helpful information.

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