- Sustainable, regenerative agricultural production practices are in demand.
- Some of the most impactful regenerative farming practices rely on using herbicides effectively.
- The legacy herbicide atrazine is an ongoing champion of the regenerative movement.
Farmers are a keystone in a sustainable agricultural ecosystem. Their financial health must be protected as they adapt farming systems to regenerate and steward natural resources. Crop protection technologies provide a sturdy base for their ongoing work to advance sustainable farming, without sacrificing their financial well-being.
“We’re on the cusp of a new era in agriculture,” says Val Dolcini, Syngenta head of business sustainability and government affairs.
Energy production, transportation and agricultural production are the top carbon-emitting industries. Each has economic and environmental incentives to reduce its carbon footprint. Agriculture is uniquely positioned to tackle the problem from two sides. Transitioning from conventional practices to a regenerative farming system can result in less carbon being emitted and more carbon being pulled from the atmosphere and banked in the soil.
Consumers Want Change
Consumers are increasingly considering their own carbon footprint and those of the companies they do business with. Every day, most people worldwide use the goods produced from the energy, transportation and agriculture industries. Examining the impact of food on the carbon footprint is low-hanging fruit for carbon-conscious consumers.
Shifting from driving a car to taking public transportation or installing home solar panels are decisions and actions that take substantial time and effort to achieve. On the other hand, buying food that is produced using sustainable, carbon-fixing farming practices provides consumers with instant satisfaction that they’re doing their part.
Food companies recognize the growing demand and have begun sourcing more regeneratively produced agricultural products — even paying premiums for verified practices. According to Dolcini, this provides bonus financial motivation for producers to continue adopting and advancing sustainable production practices. The diverse and powerful crop protection tools available to the modern producer play a significant part in making those moves possible.
Adopting a Sustainable Standard
Cover crops, no-till, strip-till and other minimum-tillage systems are typically the first sustainable practices farmers adopt. According to the Sustainable Outcomes in Agriculture Standard (SOA), each of these systems contribute to soil health, water quality, greenhouse gas reduction and improvement of biodiversity and habitat. Syngenta developed the Standard to help growers assess and advance the regenerative farming practices they use and is available via the Cropwise Sustainability App in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
“Implementing these practices without herbicides that offer excellent broad-spectrum control at the soil and foliar level would be very difficult,” says Mark White, Syngenta herbicide regulatory team lead.
When tillage is reduced or eliminated altogether, herbicides are needed more than ever to control weeds and protect yields. Herbicides are a valuable partner when using cover crops, too. Cover crops help build aggregate soil structure — among other significant agronomic benefits — which can help adapt soils more quickly to no-till systems and potentially reduce transition yield losses. If a grower can’t effectively terminate a cover crop, though, it can quickly become a detriment to the cash crop and farm profits.
Power of Herbicides
There are many effective and diverse herbicides in the Syngenta portfolio to assist farmers no matter their chosen farming system. Atrazine, however, has long endured as one of the most valuable, effective and affordable tools used in reduced-tillage systems. It’s provided more than 60 years of reliable pre- and post-emergence control of a broad spectrum of broadleaf and grassy weeds. Atrazine is a flexible product that can be used in almost any cropping tillage system, which is why, according to White, it has had such a significant impact in the regenerative farming movement.
Farmers have always been stewards of the land. They’ve laid a great foundation to meet the sustainability priorities we see today, and Syngenta is well positioned to help through our products, technologies, research, initiatives and programs.
Studies have shown the use of atrazine helped drive the rate of adoption of conservation tillage practices in field corn, sweet corn, sugar cane and sorghum. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the herbicide is used on more than half the planted acres of each crop in the U.S.
“The flexibility and effectiveness of atrazine set it apart,” White says. “It’s one of our oldest legacy products and is still one of the most used herbicides in the United States and around the world.”
Despite decades of consistent use, very little atrazine weed resistance has developed as compared to other herbicides. Herbicide-resistant weeds pose a significant threat to no-till systems. When herbicides don’t work, tillage may be the easy way out. It will kill the weeds, but it also significantly sets back years of soil building work.
More diverse crop rotations and using atrazine can help avoid resistant weed problems and keep tillage equipment parked. Another mark in the good news category is that atrazine is not only effective, but also affordable. It would cost $30-$50 per acre to replace atrazine with the combination of herbicides needed to do the same job, according to White.
Reduce, Reuse, Regenerate
Regenerative farming practices have built momentum in recent decades. Unlike early adopters of these practices, today’s farmers have access to experienced peers, research and improving technology. They also have a better understanding of how regenerative farming builds soil in a way that protects the environment and helps buffer against weather extremes.
Reducing tillage and keeping a living root in the soil as much as possible with cover crops and strategic crop rotations transform soils, greatly improving function. Healthy soils are high in organic matter — made up of carbon pulled from the atmosphere — and rife with pore space held open by soil aggregates.
High-functioning soils with high organic matter store more water and take it in quickly. According to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, every 1% increase in organic matter will help soils hold up to 20,000 gallons more water per acre. Also, no-till management can increase the speed at which water enters the soil profile, with cover crops having the potential to dramatically increase infiltration rates.
Soils with high water infiltration rates and high water-holding capacity reduce runoff, minimizing erosion and protecting water quality. According to Ohio State University Extension, sediment is the top agricultural pollutant. Runoff from no-till and cover-crop-protected fields is most often clear and clean. High water infiltration rates and high water-holding capacities also allow farmers to take full advantage of intense — and too often sparse — rainfall.
Past crop and cover crop residue shield the soil from the sun, protecting the collected water from evaporation. Together, these factors make more moisture available to growing crops for longer, allowing them to better withstand periods of drought.
Macro and microorganisms thrive within organic matter and living roots. They cycle nutrients from cover crops and crop residue to be used by the current crop. An active soil and the use of cover crops with nitrogen-fixing legumes can reduce application rates of synthetic fertilizers. The benefits to environment and farmer alike go on and on.
Sustainable Agricultural Technology
“Sustainability is a big circle,” White says. No-till and cover crops sequester carbon, prevent erosion and provide many other benefits. Getting economic yields in these systems is contingent on good agronomic practices, including weed control. Access to cost-effective herbicides for controlling weeds and terminating cover crops increases profit margins ― and profitable farmers remain in business and continue to use and advance sustainable farming practices.
“Farmers have always been stewards of the land,” Dolcini says. “They’ve laid a great foundation to meet the sustainability priorities we see today, and Syngenta is well positioned to help through our products, technologies, research, initiatives and programs.”
Syngenta has a goal of delivering two sustainable agricultural technology breakthroughs per year through 2025. A roughly $2 billion investment will help achieve those goals. In addition, Syngenta is committed to enhancing biodiversity and soil health on more than 7 million acres worldwide by providing technologies, services and training to farmers.
click to tweet