New CAST Issue Paper: The Contributions of Pesticides to Pest Management in Meeting the Global Need for Food Production by 2050

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“You Can’t Eat What Doesn’t Grow”

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Considering the inevitability of a growing population, cost-efficient food production must increase; with effective policies, proper regulation, and safety training, pesticide use will continue to play an important role in that food production.

All agree that the world needs a safe, plentiful supply of food, and most acknowledge that global demand will grow along with the expanding population. This peer-reviewed report looks at how pesticides fit into this equation. After a data-driven examination of past developments and current uses, the authors conclude that a safe, thoughtful integration of pesticides is essential if we hope to attain an abundant food supply for a hungry world.

The term “pesticides” has been around for centuries, and it describes many different chemicals. The term has also—at times—been maligned and misunderstood. The authors of this publication use extensive data and provide clear examples to explain that pesticide use in agriculture has

  •     increased crop yield and quality,
  •     lessened the workload of pest management, and
  •     improved the prospects for long-term sustainable food production.

This paper gives a brief background about the use of pesticides and then a thorough look at why they have become popular and widely used. Intelligent use of pesticides has led to crop management that is more efficient, sustainable, and productive. For example, the authors produce evidence that fungicide use has helped stem the curse of soybean rust, aided with the prevention of fusarium head blight in wheat, and increased farmer income.

Along with better pest management, pesticides have helped with the development of improved agronomic practices such as no till, low till, higher plant densities, increased yields, and efficient use of water and nutrients. The authors point out that in comparison to hand weeding, herbicide use is less expensive and more effective. “By substituting for cultivation, herbicide use leads to lower fuel use, less carbon emissions, less soil erosion, and less water use.”

Of course there are controversies and challenges. The authors indicate that concerns exist regarding water, soil, and atmospheric resources, as well as the need for safety during application and food processing. Regulations, testing, worker training, and other safeguards are factors that mitigate unwanted effects.

More than 800 million people in the world are food insecure, and the amount of crop yield lost each year to pests could run upwards of 30%. But many experts are optimistic about developments involving safe, efficient production methods occurring around the globe. When pesticides are effectively applied and integrated into a comprehensive approach, the world is better able to provide food for the 9 billion humans on earth in 2050.

Task Force Authors:
Stephen C. Weller (Chair), Purdue University
Albert K. Culbreath, University of Georgia
Leonard Gianessi, CropLife Foundation
Larry D. Godfrey, University of California—Davis

CAST Issue Paper 55 and its companion Ag quickCAST are available online at the CAST website, http://www.cast-science.org, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. All CAST Issue Papers, Commentaries, and Ag quickCASTs are FREE.

CAST is an international consortium of scientific and professional societies, companies, and nonprofit organizations. It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.

Contacts for this Issue Paper:
Dr. Stephen C. Weller—Phone: 765-494-1333; E-mail: weller(at)purdue(dot)edu
Ms. Linda M. Chimenti—Phone: 515-292-2125, ext. 231; E-mail: lchimenti(at)cast-science(dot)org

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