The Importance of Plant Health

By Abimfoluwa Gideon Olaleye, PhD, AAg, Research Specialist, Forage and Agri-Environment

Plants provide more than 80 per cent of the food for the global population, they consume the Carbon Dioxide (CO2)we produce and in turn, give us oxygen. They are also a primary source of our shelter, clothing and medicine. Plants sequester carbon and along with soil, host billions of important microbes.

In 2019, the agriculture and agri-food industry contributed $68 billion to the gross domestic product of Canada and $8.2 billion to the gross domestic product of Saskatchewan. However, plants also get sick, they can get infected by bacteria, fungi and viruses, be eaten by insects, or be affected by adverse environmental impacts such as prolonged drought, floods, frost and heatwaves.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 40 per cent of food crops, or $220 billion worth of products, is lost to plant pests and diseases annually. Meanwhile, food production must increase significantly to meet the demands of an increasing global population, which is estimated to exceed nine billion people by 2050. With available farmland expected to largely stay the same, fulfilling the increased demand will have to come from increasing crop yields and minimizing or eradicating threats to plant health.

The objective of 2020, the International Year of Plant Health as designated by the United Nations General Assembly, is to; “emphasize prevention and protection and the role everyone can play to ensure and promote plant health.” We can all take steps to protect plant health. The Government of Canada has helpful tips on how you can protect plant health. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture prioritizes plant health and offers diagnostic services through the Crop Protection Laboratory. They, along with other industry partners, are also actively involved in protecting plant health through a variety of programs, such as the pest monitoring and surveillance programs.

Researchers in various plant production and protection fields are rigorously working to develop new solutions for present and future plant pests and diseases. This may be through breeding improved crop varieties, using pest control products, as well as other agronomic management practices to mitigate the impact of plant pests. It is important that our crop producers have access to the range of pest management tools available to protect plant health. With the general public further removed from the farm, there is increased scrutiny on modern agriculture practices. Policy makers, agronomists, extension officers and producers must continue to support and promote the most sustainable pest management products and methods.

Focusing on plant health is important on many levels, as it contributes to:

Environmental sustainability: by minimizing risks of environmental and/or ecosystem damage and contributing to the sustainability of our natural resource base and ecosystem services.

Social sustainability: by working towards an improved quality of life for people around the globe by producing safe, affordable and nutritious food.

Public trust sustainability: by communicating openly about plant health, this ensures that consumers have easy access to information about our farming practices, which in turn helps to build public trust in agriculture.

Economic sustainability: practicing proper crop protection helps sustain the economic viability of food production operations.

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