For most of us, pests are those creatures that get into our homes and gardens and bring dirt and disease. ‘Weeds’ are those annoying plants that push themselves up between the flowers in our flower beds and get in the way of our plants.
Beyond our homes and gardens, there are many more pests and weeds that affect agriculture and the production of food, which ultimately affects how we live. The importance of weed and pest management in agriculture is part of our lives, even if we don’t quite know it.
If weeds and pests occur naturally, why is it necessary to control them? To understand the importance of weed and pest management, particularly in agriculture, it is necessary to understand the effect that these outside elements may have on crops and other plants.
The question of what weeds do to affect any kind of agricultural crops and how to manage them is important for all of us, even if we don’t realize the relevance. Quite simply: weeds can kill crops or they can reduce the yield of a certain food, which will ultimately affect all of us.
On a basic level, weeds are just plants and, like any other plant, they need sunlight and water to grow. This means that they compete with the crops for space, sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil. They also grow vigorously and abundantly. If their growth is not managed, they can outgrow the crops, which will mean money lost, a smaller harvest and the disruption of food supplies.
It is not only in the production of crops that the management of weeds is important. If plants and grasses that are not palatable for cows and other animals are allowed to thrive, they will have less to eat and their numbers will decrease. As the invader grasses take overgrazing, the cows, sheep and goats will not be sustained and this will affect their numbers and, ultimately, our food supplies.
To bring it closer to home, weeds may interfere in life in small, unpredictable ways. Visualize, for example, how weeds can grow up on the corner of the road and even block your view. Grasses that can scratch, or even cut, your feet in spaces like parks need to be weeded out. In these urban settings, weeds also need to be controlled.
A pest is anything that disturbs the normal growth of a plant, or affects the overall yield of a crop. In agriculture, pests include insects, worms, birds and rodents. Some worms and birds eat at the plants and affect the overall amount of that crop that can be harvested. Some insects bring diseases to the plants, such as black spot and root rot. Rodents compete with the crops for space, as they dig their burrows in and around the fields.
Pests can be controlled either chemically or naturally. The chemical methods involve pesticides, which can affect the environment beyond the specific pests and the immediate crops. For example, if a pesticide is used to control rats, there is a secondary threat to the owls who eat them. Controlling just one element of an environment can affect the whole ecosystem, without us knowing it.
To keep the whole environment balanced and healthy, we can look at alternative approaches to weed and pest management for sustainable growth.
More natural methods of pest control include using biological pesticides, that affect the life cycle of the pests, but are not harmful to the environment. It is also possible to physically disrupt the cycle of the pests, but this is labor-intensive in many instances.
One approach to managing pests is to introduce into the crop creatures that predate on the more harmful pests, thereby reducing their numbers and threat. Of course, there may be ways in which these creatures affect the health of the surrounding plant and animal life, that we don’t even know about.
Good, proactive pest management is essential to keep all aspects of agriculture and the environment as healthy as possible.
The importance of weed and pest management for the growth and production of crops cannot be over-emphasized. Keeping weeds from throttling crops, or competing for nutrients in the soil, and keeping pests from eating and destroying the plants is of primary concern for farmers, consumers and researchers alike. To achieve this, we need to be conscious of weed and pest management for sustainable agriculture.