Excessive use of fertilizers & pesticides

Written by charlene williams
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Excessive use of fertilizers & pesticides
Fertilisers and pesticides can be beneficial to farming when used correctly. (Corn Field image by Karin Lau from Fotolia.com)

When used carefully, fertilisers and pesticides can be helpful in a variety of applications, including agriculture, forestry and residential use. Since the 1980s, however, the use of fertilisers and pesticides has increased significantly, especially among homeowners. While these products can be beneficial, the excessive and often unnecessary use of fertilisers and pesticides also has a harmful downside.

Definition of Pesticide

A pesticide is a substance used to kill, reduce or repel pests such as insects or weeds. Types of pesticides include insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.

Definition of Fertilizer

A fertiliser is any substance containing essential plant nutrients used to promote plant growth. Fertiliser can be organic or synthetic.

Problems Caused by Excessive Usage

Water pollution is one of the worst side effects of excessive fertiliser and pesticide usage. When heavy rain or flooding occurs, toxic chemicals from pesticides as well as salts and nitrates from fertilisers can run into streams and lakes. These substances also can seep deep within groundwater and eventually enter wells used for drinking water. Nitrate (formed when nitrogen leaches from fertilisers and manure) is potentially toxic to both animals and humans when it enters drinking water sources. Fertiliser in ponds and lakes can stimulate the excess growth of algae, which consumes oxygen in the water, thereby suffocating fish and plants. Insecticides and fungicides in water and soil kill beneficial microorganisms and insects that form the basis of the food chain for many animals. Some pesticides are toxic to fish and amphibians as well. In addition, herbicides can devastate wildlife habitats by destroying the plants that many birds, insects and other animals depend on for food and shelter.

Excessive use of fertilizers & pesticides
Fertilisers and pesticides can end up in streams and lakes. (ecluse image by marc morvant from Fotolia.com)

Fertiliser and Soil Tests

According to the University of Missouri Extension, having your soil tested at least once every three years is one of the best ways to prevent applying excessive or unnecessary fertiliser. By showing you the current levels of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and other nutrients present in your soil, a soil survey helps you determine what nutrients are lacking so you can choose the correct type and amount of fertiliser needed. Soil tests usually can be obtained through a county extension office or Master Gardener association.

Proper Use of Pesticides

Whenever possible, organic pesticides should be used or pesticide use should be avoided altogether. If a pesticide is necessary, however, the first step is to determine exactly what type of pest (insect or weed) needs to be eliminated. Then a pesticide targeted specifically for that pest, rather than a broad-spectrum product, should be used. To avoid run-off, pesticides should not be applied near storm drains or within 100 feet of streams, lakes or wetlands. They also should not be applied on windy days, when pesticide dust can accidentally drift onto water surfaces or other vegetation. Label instructions should be followed carefully, and the least amount of product possible should be used. According to the University of Michigan, users should select a pesticide with a half-life of no more than 21 days. The half-life refers to the amount of time it takes for the pesticide to break down to 1/2 of its previous concentration. This information should be listed on the product label.

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