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Modern agriculture's innovations in crop protection

A Glimpse Inside the Crop Protection Toolbox

Crop protection has come a long way since Egyptian farmers first used the scarecrow, some 5,000 years ago.

Every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as much as 40 percent of the world’s potential harvests are lost to damaging insects, weeds, and plant diseases.

Farmers today have an incredible array of tools to protect their crops from these threats. Some of them have been used for centuries. Others have developed more recently. The key to the effectiveness of these tools is how farmers use them in concert with one another.

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A Century of Crop Protection

Throughout the history of agriculture, each new wave of crop protection innovation allowed farmers to be more efficient. Tillage reduced the need for hand weeding. Chemicals reduced the need for tillage. Genetically modified seeds reduced the need for insecticides1. Data analytics, combined with precision planting and spraying techniques, has made farmers even more efficient, helping them farm with less of an impact on our environment.

Farmers have always taken a “toolbox” approach to crop protection. Today’s toolbox offers farmers more choices than ever before. Using multiple options together increases the effectiveness of each. It can also allow farmers to use less pesticide.

This wasn’t always the case. Although farmers have borrowed practices and tools from every era in the history of crop protection, earlier methods were often physically demanding, time-consuming and less effective.

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This wasn’t always the case. Although farmers have borrowed practices and tools from every era in the history of crop protection, earlier methods were often physically demanding, time-consuming and less effective.


Over the past century, the crop protection toolbox has grown larger and more effective, while evolving to allow farmers to produce more with less of an impact on the environment.

5-10 Years Ago

Without data analytics and precision equipment, farmers are less able to select the correct crop protection products to use. Without drones or satellite imagery services, they must scout their crops with the naked eye and on foot, taking considerably longer to do so.

In 2004, U.S. consumers spent 9.5 percent of their income on food.

30 Years Ago

Without the ability to plant genetically modified seeds, farmers rely heavily on chemical insecticides when fighting insects.

In 1984, U.S. consumers spent 11.9 percent of their income on food.

60 Years Ago

Without the ability to use state-of-the-art chemicals, farmers use labor-intensive methods such as hand weeding and tillage.

In 1954, U.S. consumers spent 19 percent of their income on food.

90 Years Ago

Before hybrid seeds became widely available, seeds bred for disease and/or pest resistance were rare, if available at all. The primary tools available during this period were physical: tillage, crop rotation, and hand weeding.

In 1929 (first year data was available), U.S. consumers spent 23.4 percent of their income on food.

120 Years Ago

No advanced hybrids2 are available. No synthetic chemicals are available. No precision technology or data analytics are available. Plow options were extremely expensive, and required maintaining draft animals for power. At this period in history, farming was astonishingly difficult, requiring long hours and intense physical effort.

At this time, most farms were subsistence-based and diversified. Farmers grew a variety of crops and tended livestock, with a focus on feeding their families. Crop surpluses were rare, while poverty and plant disease were rampant.

Farmers have a wide array of options available to them when making the best choices for their operations. These include not just crop protection methods, but also digital tools, precision technology, and historical data. Farming has evolved over time to develop the ability to have less impact on the environment, which helps to give back.

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