One of the most publicized and controversial issues in crop production is the use of agrichemicals. To many in the public arena, the use of synthetic or manufactured chemicals on crops presents a frightening image of immediate and long term health problems. Concerns about chemical residues on food products has lead to a whole new marketing approach in which crop products are advertised as 'residue free'. Separating fact from fallacy in this area is difficult. Even so called experts in the fields of agriculture, human nutrition, and medicine don't always draw the same conclusions about the use of agrichemicals in food production.

Spraying Herbicide

What are synthetic or manufactured agrichemicals? In its broadest sense the term refers to any chemical manufactured by humans that is used in the production of crops or livestock. More specifically the term agrichemicals includes herbicides (chemicals that are toxic to weeds), pesticides (chemicals that are toxic to insects), fungicides (chemicals that are toxic to fungi - a group of organisms that cause diseases in plants and animals), rodenticides (chemicals toxic to rodents), and antibiotics administered to livestock. With such a wide range of chemicals and uses it is difficult, if not inappropriate to broadly condemn or praise the use of all agrichemicals. Furthermore, it is far beyond the scope of this curriculum to address the many details of the hundreds of compounds that are in the category of agrichemicals.

Perhaps the most useful and concise way to discuss the issue of agrichemicals in the context of this curriculum is to point out major advantages and disadvantages in the use of these products in forage production.


Advantages of Using Agrichemicals (Benefits) Disadvantages of Using Agrichemicals (Risks)
Higher Crop Yields Contamination of crop products with harmful chemical residues
Higher Crop Quality Contamination of soils and groundwater
Ability of a small population of agricultural producers to provide food for the much larger nonagricultural population Development of crop pest populations that are resistant to agrichemical treatment
Lower labor costs resulting in more affordable food Health risks to those who apply agrichemicals


As indicated parenthetically in the table above, some prefer using the terms benefits and risks instead of advantages/disadvantages. The use of the terms benefits and risks serves as a reminder that virtually any human activity that produces benefits involves some risks. Clearly some risks are greater than others, but humans sometimes take great risks to obtain great rewards. Some would argue the benefit of a plentiful food supply is worth the risk posed by the use of agrichemicals. Others argue the reverse, that the risk to human health is so great that agrichemicals should not be used. Current trends suggest that relatively large amounts of manufactured agrichemicals will continue to be used in the near future. If public pressure against the use of these materials continues, this trend may change, but for now society remains divided over the use of agrichemicals in food production.