Pesticides and their varying synthetic forms changed the face of agriculture and crop protection in the twentieth century, and continue to do so today – even for organically grown fruit and vegetables. The difference now, however, is we have mobile technologies dedicated solely to pest management coming to the fore.
The food industry is buzzing after an official report revealed pesticide residue was found on 80 per cent of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, and 50 per cent of organic produce in Canadian grocery stores.
The results released by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency may not come as a surprise to many of us, but it still raises serious environmental, social and economic questions. For example, is the idea of a toxin-free world really a ‘fantasy,’ as Rebecca Kneen, co-president of the Certified Organic Associations of B.C., recently suggested?
Pesticides hit the scene as early as the 1940s and have steadily become ‘locked in’ to various cropping routines since then. They are used to eliminate individual organisms, including plants, insects, nematodes, fungi, bacteria, and rodents, which are known to decrease yields, reduce product quality, and spoil or destroy harvests.
The side-effects of pesticide-use includes contamination of soil, residue on crops and in the groundwater, as well as air-pollution and a loss of biodiversity.
Kneen negates the idea of a toxin-free world because of this historical use of pesticides and its subsequent damage to our ecosystem. However, as discouraging as the CFIA’s results may be, it clearly highlights the fact that more needs to be done to lower today’s current reliance on pesticides.
Building knowledge on pesticide use is extremely necessary, as well as innovation and integrated approaches in pest control policies. One such tool to help with this is the University of Wisconsin’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) toolkit app. Freely available to users of smartphones and tablets, the app includes global and local videos, pictures and articles on pest management. It enables users to send emails and connect with other growers in the area, bringing communication and information management to the farms spanning across Wisconsin.
Another app, this time developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program, aims to help farmers and other pesticide applicators keep electronic records more easily, and reliably. Again, records created within the app can be emailed and shared with other users, increasing communication and collaboration amongst crop growers.
Integrated and novel approaches such as these are central in developing more sustainable cropping systems, and to help move us away from the idea of a toxin-free world being only a ‘fantasy.’