The Prophylactic use of Pesticides

Many decades ago I went to college at Iowa State University.  One of the issues we talked about in my biology classes was “the prophylactic use of antibiotics.”  Back in the late 1970’s there were professors at this agricultural school who were warning about the practice of adding antibiotics to animal feeds—not to treat diseases, but to kill bacteria that were present in the animals and by doing so increase the livestock growth rates.  They warned that if this practice did not stop, soon there would be antibiotic resistant bacteria that would be difficult to kill if they infected humans or farm animals.  No one heeded the warnings.  Now there are antibiotic resistant bacteria that are causing problems in the health care system.  Occasionally we will hear calls for doctors to not prescribe antibiotics so often, and every once in a while someone will suggest eliminating antibiotics from animal food.

If you watch TV in Iowa you may have seen an ag commercial using the term “yield bump.”  The ad has strong-looking men in big pickup trucks, doing sort of a fist bump because they increase the yield from their crops.  The ad is for a pesticide called “Stratego YLD”.  The idea promoted is that if a farmer uses this broad-spectrum fungicide it will kill certain fungi that live on corn (or whatever crop the pesticide is applied to).  The label mentions leaf blight, gray leaf spot, eyespot, rust, and a host of other conditions.

The commercial clearly advocates a prophylactic approach to applying pesticides.  The producer uses the fungicide to kill the dozen or so fungi that infect the crop at sub lethal levels.  In doing so, they also kill the hundreds or thousands of species of fungi living on the ground in the field as collateral damage.

So you kill all the fungi with Stratego YLD.  You kill the insects and nematodes with seed coatings like VOTiVO.  You kill all of the non-resistant plant life with roundup or some similar herbicide.  What life forms are left?

If these practices continue will bad things happen?  I don’t know.  One could argue that someone should do some scientific studies to see what the results would be.  But the experiment has already started in Iowa.

On two thirds of the landscape.

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About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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