8/22/2017

An Integrated Approach To Protecting Our Food Supply

 Breanna Lawyer

Harmful pests can damage crop quality and serve as vectors for disease, meaning consumers face poorer quality, less choice or reliance on imported produce. On the other hand, beneficial insects consume harmful pests and are vital to pollination. Read more about how farmers are controlling destructive pests, while also protecting beneficial insects in a balancing act born of an integrated approach. 

Not all bugs are created equal. Growing up in Indiana on a row crop and hog farm, I never got an extensive look as to why growers had a love/hate relationship with bugs. Then I moved to Southeast Florida as a crop protection sales representative for Dow AgroSciences. I quickly picked up on the importance of beneficial insects and why growers must control harmful pests. So, what makes beneficial insects different from pests?

Beneficial insects
Beneficial insects are bugs that aid in pollination or pest control. Bugs that come to mind as beneficial are lady bugs, bees and spiders. Lady bugs consume aphids, mites and other pest eggs, and bees are vital to pollination. Farmers continuously keep beneficial insect safety in mind when planning which insecticides to use throughout the season, often using softer chemistries to only target harmful pests. It is vital to keep beneficial insect populations in check to prevent an uncontrollable increase in destructive pests.

Farmers use insecticides because they have to—not because they want to.

Pests
Less than three percent of bugs are labeled as pests but this small figure still accounts for major concerns for farmers. In Southeast Florida, the major markets in agriculture are citrus and vegetables. With that being said, protection against pests in these fresh produce sectors are vital. Many citrus growers rely heavily on crop protection to help control and prevent pest damage to valuable fruit.

Many wonder why pest control is important. Two major reasons are that:

  1. insects damage crop quality and profitability
  2. insects serve as vectors for disease

 

The Asian Citrus Psyllid, for example, has proven to be a detrimental pest to the citrus industry around the world, since it is one of two citrus greening vectors. Citrus greening is a devastating disease to citrus trees, so growers use products that help control grove infestation. It is very important to remember that farmers don’t use various insecticides because they want to — they have to. In the last 10 years, the citrus acreage in Florida has been halved due to pest pressure and crop disease. What does this mean for consumers? The potential for heightened food prices and importation from other countries to help fill the gap.

With all this being said, remember that growers face numerous costly solutions to provide food for consumers. Their bottom line is quality and product safety, for consumers and their own families. Bugs, both good and bad, are an everyday influence on decisions made to help protect our food supply.

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