The Future

Pesticide Alternatives | Organic Farming

We use more pesticides today than ever before. But while pesticides can help us protect our crops from competition or disease, they can also contaminate our air, soil, and water. Pesticides put pressure on our struggling pollinators and come with social costs, such as a negative impact on human health.

As we learn more about the environmental consequences of pesticides, government regulation has become stricter.2 Moreover, the potential health effects of pesticide residue have scared more and more of us into buying products we think are pesticide-free.3 Even if policies are in place to ensure legal maximum residue levels, which have been deemed scientifically safe for consumption,4 the movement towards avoiding pesticides has been gaining momentum.

Yet, pests are still a major problem in food production. And, I’m not certain I would necessarily want to see a caterpillar in my salad (even if it’s a good source of protein).

Here are 3 agricultural alternatives that can keep crops pest-free without conventional pesticides:

1. Biocontrol (aka: biological control)

It’s not as scary as it sounds—think of bio in terms of biology, and control as in maintenance. Essentially, biocontrol is using a pest’s natural enemy (like a specific insect or bacterial strain) to fend off the pests.5 Extensive research is conducted to ensure that these natural enemies don’t inflict unintended damage to the native vegetation or other insects, only targeting the specific pests eating away at crops. 

But biocontrol is not a modern invention. In fact, it was first reportedly used in ancient China around 304 C.E., in which citrus fruits were protected by ants from other insects!6 Today, other organisms are also being used, like microscopic worms (aka: nematodes).

Find out why we still use pesticides

2. Polyculture (companion planting)

Think of poly in terms of many, and culture in terms of growth (like crop growth in agriculture). Essentially, it means planting multiple types of crops in the same field rather than just one specific type.7 Within polyculture, there is a concept called ‘companion planting’. It’s just as it sounds: you plant partner-plants together with crops as a means to support the crop.8

From a pest-control lens, it’s ideal to plant plants that naturally repel specific pests of your crop. For example, if you plant tomatoes with cabbage, the tomatoes naturally repel diamond-backed moth larvae that eat cabbage. Or, basil with tomato can fend of flies and mosquitoes.8

Read more about how polycultures can improve food security 

3. Natural Barriers & Predators

You know how feudal lords used to create a moat around their castle to create additional barriers of defence? Natural barriers against pests are somewhat similar, except it’s more about planting rather than just digging.

For example, UK farmers plant tussock grass to cut across the middle of their agricultural field, giving a home to beetles and spiders that would protect the nearby crops from aphid pests. To read more about beetle banks, click here.

Each of these alternatives have a different scalability in agricultural production. But hopefully you can implement some of these alternatives in your own backyard or urban farm!

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