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Modern Agriculture

Background Green Revolution Agricultural Ecosystems Pesticides Soils

History of Pesticides
3000 YBP 900 AD 1182 China fields burned to control locusts (no Clean Air Act) Arsenic used to kill pests (not just your in-laws) China citizens required to collect and kill locusts


US -natural derivatives -arsenic

post WWII -chemicals WWII -many deaths due to malaria -about equal to battle casualties -push to eliminate the disease.

DDT invented 1939 Nobel prize, Paul Mller, Swiss chemist Dichlordiphenyltrichloroethane

Pesticide Benefits
Save lives
e.g. malaria in India 1950 -100 million cases per year massive aerial spraying DDT a lot of people a lot fewer deaths

Increase Food Supply

e.g. Texas cotton 7200 >>>>>>> 7800 lbs cotton/ acre increase = $130 / acre X 1,000 acres = $130,000 lot of cotton lot of Allegheny College T-shirts e.g. North Dakota Barley weed control -46 >>>>>> 50 bushels +$51 / acre Why need to increase food supply? population increase
land fertility in many countries degraded loss of agricultural productivity

Increase profits Rapid response; ease of application

-increase agricultural pressure in producing areas

Pest Problems
1. Natural vs. agricultural ecosystem natural diversity of species natural pests small, individual places to live -scattered agricultural monoculture large uniform places to live shoppers world 2. Many species introduced no natural enemies e.g. gypsy moth Boston, 1869 Cotton silkworm x gypsy moth fragile silk x hardy spinner spread extensivley 1869 Boston 1930 Connecticut 1980s Alabama, Texas, Wisconsin, PA


Rachel Carson - 1962

Silent Spring 1962 -noted biologist -biological problems associated with pesticides

- decline in population of songbirds, fish-eating birds

-eagles -ospreys -DDT egg shell production


Pesticide Use

Pesticide use first peaked in 1982 when cropland used for crops was recordhigh. This peak can be attributed to increased planted acreage, a greater proportion of acres treated with pesticides, and higher application rates. Herbicides accounted for most of the increase. Total pesticides declined between 1982 and 1990 as commodity prices fell and large amounts of land were taken out of production by Federal programs.

Pesticide Problems
Can leave agricultural fields and enter other ecosystems

Can exist for a long time


Pests develop resistance to pesticides

Carried into nearby ecosystems
move into groundwater - original pesticide - pesticide degradation products found throughout Mississippi River Mississippi River used for drinking into Gulf of Mexico productive fishing grounds DDT -found in Antarctic penguins -in your body


Pesticide residue remains on most fruits and vegetables

Fat-soluble compounds remain in organism are not excreted As food moves up the food chain, the compounds are increasingly concentrated Reach levels toxic to higher organisms Even if not toxic to organisms low on food chain

Pesticides and Food Production

US Food Production Million tons % increase 1962 1970 1980 320 340 350 6 3 Pesticides

Million lbs 600 1000 1500

% increase 67 50

Pesticide Resistance leads to Pesticide Treadmill

Increase tolerance, increase in resistance What does this mean? Need this amount of pesticide to Kill 50% to Kill 90% to Kill 99% to Kill 99.9% x 10x 100x 1000x

- hardiest ones live - next generations very resistant - increase dosage or find new pesticide -time-consuming -costly

Fertilizer Use

N, P important plant nutrients Add nutrients Increase Plant Growth (why arent native levels of soil N and P sufficient for high plant growth?)

Nitrogen loss

Not all fertilizers is taken up by plants Not all fertilizer is retained by soil So, where does it go??
Runoff to aquatic systems

Gulf Hypoxia Dead Zone

N, P added to water
Increase algae growth Algae die Bacteria consume dead algae What happens to oxygen levels in water? What happens to fish?

Increasing international food needs


Soil Erosion
Erosion Problems
Loss of valuable soil Impacts on stream organisms loss of habitat damage to fish gills

Stream near French Creek

Soil Degredation
Soils are source of all food

Mantra used to be feed the plant But, importance of healthy soils to total productivity (nutrients, water, support) leads us to feed the soil

Time of Soil Formation

Soil = rocks + water + plants/organisms + TIME Typical soil = 500 years per inch

Current Meadville soils = 13,000 years old

Natural v Agricultural Ecosystem

Modern Agriculture Soil: Approach Till compaction Problems Erode Natural Everything Constant cover Fluffy soil Alternative Approach Cover crops No-till Reduced till Compaction Nutrients: Approach Fertilize Problems Add to excess N, P runoff ($) groundwater pollution eutrophication Water: Approach Irrigate Problems contaminate groundwater H2O shortage Siltation Approach Chemical attack Problems Resistance biomagnification pesticides health loss of good species Cover soil Drip irrigation Below surface irrigation Cover Soil our protection Grass strips Pests: Diversity Natural controls No monoculture rotate crops natural controls accept some loss local spray spray when needed Recycle Spot additions Natural fertilizer Crop rotation N fixers

Organic Foods

No pesticides
Natural pesticide control

Reduced fertilizer use

Use natural means = N-fixing plants

More costly, but

Compare Price v. Cost