Carbamates and Pyrethroids and Organophosphates, Oh My!
For most, these names probably sound like some obscure chemical nomenclature, but for commercial farmers, these are easily recognized as vital components to a successful — and pest free — harvest. That’s because the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports these as the top three most commonly used insecticides. These, along with other insecticides are applied to tens of millions of agricultural crops each year. Even more shocking is that the US Department of Agriculture reports that insecticide application only makes up 12% of the total pesticides used. Notwithstanding the health risks that pesticides present to humans and the environmental burden, commercial farmers are also faced with the increasing costs and ever-changing regulatory landscape of pesticide use. Naturally, agricultural operators would be elated if they were able to eliminate the need for pesticides. Although this perfect world scenario is unlikely to ever be the case, there are practices that can lead to an improved efficiency of pesticide use, resulting in reduced costs and use.
Understanding Best Practices for Pesticide Application
Each year, the US uses around one billion pounds of pesticides. While considered by most as a necessary evil of commercial agriculture, it is easy to imagine that this number could be reduced if every farmer ensured that their application methods were optimized for their specific situation. For example, something as simple as the type of equipment or even the type of nozzle used on sprayers may not seem like they would make a difference in how efficiently pesticides are applied, but when this is extrapolated out to millions of acres, the amount of wasted material can become a significant figure.
In addition to ensuring that the application equipment and settings that you’re using are optimal for the specific pesticide(s) that you’re applying, it is equally important to routinely check the calibration of your equipment, a step that is often overlooked, especially when things appear to be operating smoothly. Uncalibrated equipment can quickly lead to costly and potentially detrimental results. Remember, calibration is a two-way street. If you find yourself thinking, “I’m not worried about calibrating my equipment, worst case is that I apply a little extra”, you should remind yourself that uncalibrated equipment can also apply less product than intended, resulting in potential crop loss.
Help Nature Help You
When we are considering insecticides specifically, it is easy to garner the mindset that “any bug is a bad bug”, but this isn’t always the case! According to the National Pesticide Information Center, roughly 5% of insects pose an actual threat to crops. Unfortunately, many insecticides are formulated to take a blanket coverage approach, in other words, eliminate all insects, instead of only the problematic pests.
The practice of utilizing beneficial insects to help control the pest population is one that is growing in popularity. Insects like the parasitoid wasp, ladybugs, lacewings, and several species of spiders maintain a voracious appetite for the same pests that cause headaches for farmers. By strategically selecting and limiting certain full-coverage insecticides, agricultural operators can help create an ecosystem that is not only more natural, but one that is better balanced and sustainable — all aspects that can ultimately reduce costs and improve margins.
Taking Preventative Measures
While many farmers may feel that the hard part of their job is complete once a crop has been harvested, this is far from the case. Preventative maintenance of fields can set the tone for the next harvest and oftentimes, this includes pest management. For example, almond farmers have long battled the navel orangeworm and in the process, have discovered the art of mummy nut removal. This practice occurs at the end of the season, after everything has been harvested. After a completed season, almond trees typically have leftover nuts that were not collected during the harvest. If left on the trees over winter, these mummy nuts, as referred to in the industry, are viewed as a five-star hotel by navel orangeworm larvae. Based on on-site observations and formal research, the removal of mummy nuts is exceptionally efficient in preventing navel orangeworm infestations the following year. Preventative measures like these are not specific only to almond operations, so it is worth discussing with your local ag-extension office what pre- or post-harvest pest prevention measures you can implement for your operation. In many cases, these methods can be found in what is referred to as an integrated pest management program (IPM).
Monitoring Your Crops
As you may have noticed, a large portion of successful pest control falls into taking preventative measures before pesticides are needed. One of the best practices for catching pests before they become a problem is routinely monitoring your crops for early warning signs. Of course, for farmers with hundreds or even thousands of acres, routine data collection and analytics would almost certainly require a full-time staff, which would be costly. Fortunately, real-time monitoring for pests (and other agriculturally significant variables) of your crops is now a reality thanks to the clever minds behind FarmSense. FarmSense, an Ag-tech startup founded by Drs. Keogh, Singh, & Hickle is responsible for the development of a revolutionary, real-time insect monitoring system. Their award-winning FlightSensor™ device was developed with commercial farmers and large-scale agricultural operations in mind. Utilizing a patented optical detection sensor, this device gives farmers the ability to automate real-time insect identification, classification, and counting. Equally impressive, multiple FarmSense monitors can be spread throughout your fields and programmed to sync and share data with each other via mesh network. Data that is collected by the FlightSensor™ is wirelessly broadcast to a digital dashboard, where you, the farmer, can monitor insect conditions and know exactly when pests are pressuring your crops.
The FarmSense dashboard provides operators with a visual timeline of all data collected as well as heatmaps to better identify hot spots for pests. If you’re not the type of person who wants to continually watch a dashboard awaiting the next insect invasion, FarmSense has implemented a notification option that will send an alert once a user-defined “insect penetration” threshold is met.
Preemptive monitoring systems like FarmSense’s FlightSensor™ are quickly changing the pace at which farmers need to reach for heavy-duty pesticides. This device and its technology has been recognized by several agriculture and technology award programs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Award, the Vodafone Wireless Innovation Award, and the National Science Foundation Award. Tools like the FlightSensor™ are making great strides in reducing global pesticide use and increasing crop yield. By having a set of eyes on your crops at all times, you’ll spend less time — and money — battling proliferating pest populations and more time enjoying what you do best, farming! For more information or to request a demo of the FlightSensor™, contact FarmSense.