Farmers need to produce more food to feed a growing population, but this cannot be at the cost of damaging the environment. The best way to minimise the environmental footprint of farming is through sustainable intensification. This is an approach to farming supported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation that uses the least amount of land managed by integrating best practices. This leads to less deforestation and frees up more land for nature reserves to maintain biodiversity, amongst other benefits.
Weed control is essential for producing high yielding crops and herbicides must continue to play a key role. Not only are they cost-effective and practical in view of time pressures and labour shortages, but they enable the adoption of farming practices that protect the soil.
2015 was the United Nation's Year of the Soil. The objective was to raise awareness about the profound importance of the soil, a thin, fragile and essential layer; and to encourage its sustainable management. Herbicides have allowed farmers to be much less reliant on ploughing and other soil cultivations to control weeds.
Reduced tillage means that more crop residues (e.g. straw) are incorporated into soil organic matter by micro-organisms, locking-up carbon and creating healthy, well-structured soil. Reverting to ploughing, as it sometimes necessary today to control herbicide resistant weeds, results in the oxidation of organic matter and the release of large quantities of CO2. Nitrous oxide and methane are also emitted from soils in poor condition, e.g. with compacted layers preventing water filtration, caused by ploughing. The advantages of healthy soils are summarised in the box (right).
Conservation tillage systems all have some degree of reduced soil disturbance and the ultimate is no-till farming (direct drilling). These minimal tillage systems reduce labour and fuel inputs, encourage healthy soils and fight climate change.
Effective herbicides with good environmental profiles need to be used judiciously, integrated with other methods of weed control, including rotations and other non-chemical methods, ideally in conservation tillage systems. Precision farming technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics and big data are now being employed on farms around the world and these will contribute to the increased efficiency of farming, while protecting the environment.
Crucially, the introduction of new herbicides with novel modes of action is essential to stopping the over reliance on select groups of herbicides that have led to herbicide resistant weeds.
As regulators address consumer concerns on food and environmental safety and withdraw older herbicides, the dwindling choice of herbicide options open to farmers and growers puts even more pressure on the remaining modes of action. Over-use of almost any single herbicide or class of herbicide chemistry runs the risk of the active ingredients or their metabolites breaching the environmental risk protection conditions attached to their authorisation.
Our mission at MoA Technology is to discover a pipeline of new weed control products from both natural and synthetics sources, with new modes of action, that provide farmers with a choice of products that are safe, sustainable and will ensure global food security.
Read more about the MoA Technology approach to discovering safe and effective herbicide active ingredients with novel modes of action here: