Protecting your crops from disease, pests and weeds has to be done if you want to be able to keep your farm profitable. Deciding how to do this, however, will require that you carefully consider regulations, consumer trends and your individual situation.
South Africa has, like most places, reached a middle ground between using synthetic agrochemicals and Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
In order to successfully export crops, farmers need to be aware of the regulations that exist in the countries or trade zones to which they are exporting. It is important that you only use registered chemicals in order to comply.
A great deal of South Africa’s produce gets exported to Europe and so it is necessary for farmers to adhere to the measures for crop protection put in place by the EU.
Major South African supermarkets will also only accept produce that complies with these regulations. It is possible for farmers to contact retailers such as Woolworths in order to get more information about the accepted pesticides and herbicide.
There are plenty commercial farmers in South Africa who experience a great deal of success through the use of methods that are an alternative way to protect crops.
Several farmers have begun to farm in hydroponics or aquaponics. Using this method to farm negates the needs for herbicides or pesticides. However, this type of farming can be extremely expensive to establish.
In the Cape, a farmer farming Rooibos has had a great deal of success through the use of crop rotation and buffer zones. The buffer zones are areas of natural veld that attract insects that feed on the pests that would be harmful to the rooibos. The veld also provides a more attractive alternative to pests that would be harmful to the crops.
After five years of planting rooibos crops, the same land is planted with oats for three years. Rotating crops allows for a break in the cycle of disease that can come with repeatedly planting rooibos and will also put back nutrients into the soil.
Although this is just one example, there are plenty of farmers across South Africa using similar alternative farming techniques in order to keep the pests at bay.
The costs of using these methods need to be considered, as agrochemicals can often provide a cheaper alternative. Using a combined approach is a favourable option for many farmers.
Sometimes using alternative techniques is the only possible option, but, there are some issues of safety that need to be considered when the topic of agrochemicals is being considered.
Prof Riana Bornman from the department of urology at the University of Pretoria recently warned famers of their use of chemicals as these chemicals may have endocrine-disruptive behaviour.
It is difficult to know as studies are in their infancy, however, an endocrine disruptor is a human-made chemical that interferes with hormones in people and is particularly worrying for the effects that it could have on foetuses.
What is completely necessary for you to keep in mind when using pesticides or herbicides is that anything you use should not kill any beneficial insects.
An App being developed by the Sustainable Agriculture Network will help farmers to determine which chemicals are safe to use. South Africa is on the list of the first few countries in which it will be available.
Careful and considered use of any chemical on your farm is of the utmost importance. As is finding the pest and weed control that is best for your farm and your crops.
By Anthea Taylor, Assistant Editor at Dynamis