What Happens When You Stop Using Crop Protection

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A new study from a European farm organization highlights just how important crop protection tools – like insecticides, herbicides and fungicides – are to farmers.

The report found that if regulations were to limit the crop protection products available in Europe, food supplies will be put at risk and unemployment will rise, costing the economy billions.

The Secretary General of Copa & Cogeca, the group that commissioned the study, said, “Many crop protection products are being steadily phased out, which is pressurizing not only European farmers livelihoods but also the environment, employment and the economy.”

The study found that without crop protection tools, UK farmers would see a 10-20 percent decline in yields of wheat, barley, and sugar beet, potato and oilseed rape. Costs for growing these crops would increase 15 percent a hectare.

That means higher food costs for all of us.

Farmers rely on crop protection tools to keep their fields safe from pests and invasive weeds.

“The smart and responsible use of pesticides on our farm is so important. Without it, our crops are forced to compete with weeds and are destroyed by pests. As a result, yields suffer. Pesticides are an important modern tool to safely and effectively combat these classic farming problems,” Amanda Zaluckyj, who writes the blog The Farmer’s Daughter USA, said.

The hop industry, for example, estimates that without fungicides, 69 percent of hops’ yield and quality would be affected. Without crop protection, green bean yields would fall 50 to 80 percent.  And pesticides even protect chocolate from pests like mirids than can dramatically shrink cocoa yields.

This last one is particularly important to me as chocolate is one of my top five favorite foods.

But it’s not just our favorite foods that are affected by pesticide bans and restrictions; they also harm the environment.

For instance, a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in Europe has led farmers to stop growing oilseed rape.

“Yields are down and the area sown is falling as some farmers are switching to other crops because they do not want to take the risk. This means rapeseed is being dropped from crop rotations which has a negative environmental impact,” Max Schulman, of Copa & Cocega said.

Crop rotation helps replenish soil nutrients, increase organic mater and reduce erosion. Making it harder for farmers to use crop protection tools, in turn, makes it more difficult for them to practice crop rotation.

Farmers use a variety of tools maximize crop yields while also protecting the environment. Let’s keep as many options on the table as possible. 

Elizabeth Held is a director at the White House Writers Group, where she advises food and agriculture clients.