25 June 2021

Crop Protection Technologies Aid in Fight Against Climate Change

Hannes Bumann

Farmer
Landjugendverband Schleswig – Holstein e.V.
Rendsburg, Germany

By Hannes Bumann

Farmers worldwide have always had to protect their crops from insects, diseases and weeds. If unchecked, these challenges can decimate harvests, reducing crop yields and food safety and quality.

Research shows that global warming is making these threats worse. Insect pests, for example, are increasing in number with more food sources and weather that makes migration easier. An increase in temperature of just 2 degrees Celsius can increase pest-related yield losses from wheat, rice and maize by 46, 19 and 31 percent, respectively. Such losses could have catastrophic impacts on food security, compounding challenges brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

To prevent such a crisis, we must harvest the tools of plant science. Not only can these technologies help agriculture combat climate change, but they can also even help reverse it by improving soil health to better sequester carbon. As a 25-year-old farmer working on a multigenerational, 150-year-old farm, I believe it is the responsibility of farmers to take advantage of these tools.

Policymakers must also promote carbon sequestration to help agriculture be regenerative, not just sustainable. Soil contains three times the amount of carbon than the atmosphere, making it essential in mitigating climate change. The healthier the soil, the more resilient it is to extreme weather, droughts, floods, pests and diseases. This leads to higher yields and fewer inputs. Healthy soil also captures carbon, helping to mitigate climate change and improve air, water and wildlife habitats.

My family’s farm has experienced more and more severe weather events over the years. We are using both annual and long-term practices to rebuild soil organic matter and improve soil health. For example, we use cover crops to protect the soil as much as we can to prevent runoff. Cover crops also help retain organic matter in the soil, which leads to better water retention and prevents erosion.

We have also implemented precision farming techniques to maintain soil health. We sample our soil every three to five years, producing a map that shows how soil quality and fertility differs within our fields. We then use fertilizer and pesticides to make sure we deliver the right inputs based on what the soil map tells us. That way we don’t over- or under-apply inputs while making sure we get the best yield possible. We also record yields via a monitor on our harvester so we can see how they differ throughout fields.

To tackle pests, my family farm uses integrated pest management, using pesticides only as needed. Without these products, we would probably lose 40 to 50 percent of our yields. Fungicides are especially helpful as fungal infections are usually weather-based and can develop very fast. It’s important that we have access to as many crop protection tools as possible, including both chemical and biological options, so we can effectively address pests as they arise. This means using the right products in the right amounts at the right times.

To reduce risk of climatic stresses, we plant our crops in a strategic rotation with seed varieties that are drought-resistant or specific to our needs otherwise. For example, we plant a fast-growing crop in autumn so we can harvest it before winter. We also prioritize varieties that don’t grow too tall so they’re less impacted by winds.

Plant science is continuously developing better tools to help farmers weather climate change, such as drought-tolerant, nitrogen-efficient and salt-tolerant crops. For example, field trials show that nitrogen-efficient rice, canola and sugarcane cut the amount of required fertilizer in half.

I am proud to be the next generation working on my family farm and I want to keep it around for many generations to come. That means producing crops sustainably, using regenerative practices that promote soil health and carbon sequestration. It is important for farmers and policymakers to be aware of the possibilities associated with carbon sequestration so farming can be part of the solution to climate change.

Hannes Bumann is a farmer in northwestern Germany working on a master’s degree on crop production and environmental science at the University of Rostock.

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