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A clever and mixed approach is needed

Sustainable crop protection as a solution

Human medicine shows the way. The times of "more helps more" are long gone, if they ever existed at all. It is no different with crop protection. Today, it is not unusual for many farmers to combine state-of-the-art active substances and traditional but optimised methods of weed and pest control - even on individual fields. This trend is being promoted by public demands, biological realities and economical insights.

The renaissance of mechanical methods

Farmers are increasingly turning towards mechanical methods for weed control, not least because of the public debate on modern pest and weed control and the loss of active substances. The mechanical options are harrows and hoes. Harrows are more universal, because they can be adjusted to very small working widths, whereas hoes are the method of choice in crops with wide row spacings: Incidentally, this illustrates the origin of the German expression "hoe crops” for row crops. Yet nobody trots off with a hoe over their shoulder today. Today, it’s precision implements behind the tractor that remove the undesired plants from the crops.
The renaissance of mechanical crop protection is associated not only with the public debate on chemical agents but also with negative developments in the past. For example, narrow crop rotations and repeated applications of the same chemicals have promoted herbicide resistance. The experts at the Julius Kühn Institute draw a clear picture of the problem: "Herbicides were always considered to be the most effective and, in most cases, also the most inexpensive and reliable form of weed control. The increasing cases of resistance have economic consequences for the individual farmer who has to step up application rates and still suffers yield drops due to insufficient weed control."

Key technology sensors

In the future, it will be important to go beyond mere weed control and work preventively with the (remaining) chemical agents. This calls for an intelligent approach to crop protection. In addition to the mentioned mechanical methods, an intelligent approach will include more biological approaches in addition to existing chemical solutions. A combined approach is a good example of how organic and conventional farmers can learn from each other - without ideological trenches, but with benefits for practice. Promoting beneficials is one thing, the holistic view on abiotic and biotic factors is another and more extensive principle.

The "technological bracket” for this comprehensive approach to sustainable crop protection is digitalisation and robotics.

According to Prof Dr. Arno Ruckelshausen from the university of Osnabrück, field robots with sensors offer particular advantages in crop protection. It is possible to "treat only the weeds or even leave specific weeds in the field because they are beneficial to the crops or do not compete with them", explains Prof Ruckelshausen at the specialist portal "www.die-Pflanzenschuetzer.de". For the scientist, the central point is: What are the processes that benefit farmers and the environment." Prof Ruckelshausen predicts that in the foreseeable future, only those farming operations which "observe the necessary ecological aspects" will be economically successful.

Preventing instead of curing

The question of responsibility is implicit in the scientist's statement. And “responsibility” will be the focus of the world's leading trade fair for agricultural machinery: "Global Farming Local Responsibility" is the guiding theme of AGRITECHNICA 2019 from November 10 to 16, 2019 in Hanover. Site-specific technologies bring this pledge to life. In numerous specialist forums, and of course at the exhibitors' stands, the global community of cropping professionals have the opportunity to explore new technologies and find out whether and how these suit their specific situations. 

Like in human medicine, the most promising path for sustainable crop protection is prevention. For arable and grassland farmers this means that all measures and treatments and even the entire cropping scheme should follow the same principle as for using medication – or rather chemicals – “as little as possible and as much as necessary”. This basic rule of "integrated crop protection" has proven its worth: preventing instead of curing

Summary:

  • Modern crop protection combines measures and cropping systems
  • The public debate requires farming to rethink 
  • Renaissance of mechanical methods
  • Sensors and robotics are key technologies
  • Integrated approach at the planning stage

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