Productivity of crops grown for human consumption is at risk due to the incidence of pests, especially weeds, pathogens and animal pests. Crop losses due to these harmful organisms can be substantial and may be prevented, or reduced, by crop protection measures. An overview is given on different types of crop losses as well as on various methods of pest control developed during the last century.
Estimates on potential and actual losses despite the current crop protection practices are given for wheat, rice, maize, potatoes, soybeans, and cotton for the period 2001–03 on a regional basis (19 regions) as well as for the global total. Among crops, the total global potential loss due to pests varied from about 50% in wheat to more than 80% in cotton production. The responses are estimated as losses of 26–29% for soybean, wheat and cotton, and 31, 37 and 40% for maize, rice and potatoes, respectively. Overall, weeds produced the highest potential loss (34%), with animal pests and pathogens being less important (losses of 18 and 16%). The efficacy of crop protection was higher in cash crops than in food crops. Weed control can be managed mechanically or chemically, therefore worldwide efficacy was considerably higher than for the control of animal pests or diseases, which rely heavily on synthetic chemicals. Regional differences in efficacy are outlined. Despite a clear increase in pesticide use, crop losses have not significantly decreased during the last 40 years. However, pesticide use has enabled farmers to modify production systems and to increase crop productivity without sustaining the higher losses likely to occur from an increased susceptibility to the damaging effect of pests.
The concept of integrated pest/crop management includes a threshold concept for the application of pest control measures and reduction in the amount/frequency of pesticides applied to an economically and ecologically acceptable level. Often minor crop losses are economically acceptable; however, an increase in crop productivity without adequate crop protection does not make sense, because an increase in attainable yields is often associated with an increased vulnerability to damage inflicted by pests.