Plant protection

Crop protection means secure yields

Approximately 10 000 years ago, since mankind shifted to a sedentary way of life and took up plant cultivation, it also had to start a difficult battle against pest species and diseases that attacked cultivated plants. Today we call these species pests or agrophages. We know from written records that already several thousand years ago, the Sumerians, Chinese and later the Greeks, Romans and other peoples tried to combat crop pests and diseases with sulphur compounds, mercury, oils, ash, plant extracts, etc.

The development of conservation methods took on particular importance in the 17th and 19th centuries when, in order to feed more and more people, the area under new crops, from other continents, was increased, creating the perfect conditions for the development of many agrophages. Their mass manifestations repeatedly led to dramatic periods of famine (e.g. the outbreak of potato blight in Ireland, England and Belgium) or periodic reduction in the area of certain crops (powdery mildew and phylloxera of vines throughout Europe). As early as the 19th century, compounds of copper, sulphur, arsenic, mercury and nitrated hydrocarbons were introduced more widely for plant protection. Attempts were also made, repeatedly with great success, to introduce natural enemies of some pests in the wake of imported species. The rapid growth of the human population in the 1930s led to an intensive search by the chemical industry for new active substances for plant protection products. This search resulted in the introduction of many new plant protection products as early as the 1940s and 1950s. At the same time, the widespread introduction of chemical plant protection products to general use created the impression of easy control of organisms harmful to plants and crop protection. However, already in the 1960s, the negative effects of chemical plant protection products were observed, such as:

  1. pressure on the environment and reduced biodiversity of agrocenoses, including reduced number of beneficial species (parasites, predators, pollinators),
  2. development of resistant breeds of pests, pathogens and weeds,
  3. the presence of residues of plant protection products in agricultural crops in quantities that pose a health risk to consumers,
  4. environmental pollution.

These phenomena have necessitated a move away from the practice of excessive and schematic chemical control and basing plant protection on the principles of integrated action. Nowadays, plant protection is an element of crop production that aims to prevent yield losses caused by agrophages and to protect crops during their storage period. Plant protection differs from other measures taken by the farmer in that it does not increase yields, but guarantees their stabilisation. This means that in the absence of a pest organism, no protective action is required, whereas in the case of a significant pest organism outbreak, failure to do so can lead to a complete loss of yield.

Chemical, agrotechnical, mechanical, physical, biological, breeding and quarantine methods are used in crop protection. The skilful combination of several methods in protection makes up integrated protection programmes. Phytopathologists, entomologists, herbalists, as well as specialists from many scientific disciplines, including biologists, chemists, engineers and others, are now working for plant protection. The correct use of plant protection measures is monitored under the plant protection laws by employees of the State Plant Protection and Seed Inspectorate.

The survival, growth and spread of crop pests are influenced by changing climatic conditions, which also shape host plant resistance. Following the introduction of new crop species or changes in cultivation technologies, new agrophages can be expected to colonise them or existing agrophages can be expected to increase in severity on these crops. Increased frequency of weather extremes causing stress and weakening of plants can increase the severity of crop diseases and pests.

Changes are being observed in the range of occurrence of crop pests and diseases. The earlier occurrence of cereal pests such as horsetail is becoming a problem in Poland, increasing the risk of yield losses and necessitating additional chemical treatments. The increase in the area of maize cultivated, which is a consequence of the introduction of new varieties and the warming of the climate, has caused a significant spread of the European corn borer in Poland, especially in the northern direction, as well as the western corn rootworm, which has been introduced to Poland. Research has shown that the occurrence of higher temperatures during the growing season causes changes in the development cycle of the black cherry aphid, which, by forming anholocyclic forms, raids winter crops in autumn and transmits cereal virus diseases.

The need to look for solutions to ensure that crops are protected from plant pests at an adequate level to maintain the economic viability of agricultural production – while limiting the negative effects – led to the development of the foundations of integrated pest management.

Illegal plant protection products can also be found. These are usually counterfeit products of unknown composition. The information on their label cannot be trusted, which carries huge risks, such as:

  • the preparation may not work
  • losing crops if the preparation damages the plants
  • losing EU subsidies
  • losing your audience
  • incurring numerous penalties
  • damaging your health and contaminating the environment

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An overview of the principles of handling plant protection products is available on the following pages: