Discuss advantages and disadvantages in using synthetic agrichemicals in forage production

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.


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