By Adam Pauley, NFU Intern

For the past several weeks on the Climate Column, we’ve noted that climate change is contributing to rising pest pressures. Frost-sensitive pests are living longer, and rising temperatures are opening new areas to infestation. Farmers are responding to this growing problem by adjusting their pest management strategies. However, some common ways of managing pests can negatively impact soil health and the quality of neighboring bodies of water.

Many producers’ first response to pests is to increase frequency and quantity of pesticide applications, generally by mechanical sprayer. While this may provide immediate relief, it is expensive both to purchase more inputs as well as to make additional passes over the field. Additionally, indiscriminate and over-application of pesticides often backfires. More frequent and generous spraying contributes to pesticide resistance, as resistant pests are the only species members that survive and propagate, making the pesticide gradually less effective. Furthermore, pesticides often eradicate beneficial species along with pests, including natural predators. In the absence predators and effective pesticides, pest populations are able to thrive.

Increased spraying can also create or exacerbate other environmental problems. For instance, larger quantities of pesticides are more likely to affect water quality by leaching or runoff. Similarly, inefficient and incorrect pesticide application can lead to drift, which can decrease air quality and harm humans, wildlife, and neighboring crops.

Fortunately, many of these problems can be avoided by following instructions on pesticide label and by managing the type, quantity, frequency, location, and timing of applications. Additionally, there are a number of pest management practices that can be used instead of or in conjunction with pesticides that decrease environmental and economic risks. Check out previous Climate Column posts on crop rotation, intercropping, and integrated pest management for a few alternatives.

Have you experienced any changes in pests or weeds in recent years? How have you managed these changes? Please share your thoughts or experiences in the comments below.

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