Farm Economics

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The main indicators for measuring economic sustainability from a producer’s point of view (livelihood) include revenue, costs, and income.

Biocontrol agents (BCA) and other plant protection inputs are production factors that are accounted for under (variable) costs.

Unfortunately, mis– and overuse of synthetic inputs has created a situation where the  farm depletes the productive capacity of its natural and human resources, which is not economically viable.

Ecological, social, and economic integrity; each of the three is necessary but only all three together, in harmony and balance, are sustainable.

The economic bottom line places a premium on the present (relative to the future). This is why investment in the (mid to long term) environmental sustainability is not adequately valued.

Only based on this integrity can sustainable farm management maintain and improve competitiveness (sales, inputs, personnel, finance) in order to generate financial surplus and safeguard farm operations in the long term.

BCA, for instance, help to protect ecological integrity and can replace synthetic pesticides that threaten human and environmental health. Besides, they are also pretty effective, securing financial surplus.

It is the goal of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) including BCA to prevent losses due to pests and diseases while minimizing input costs.

To that end, we discuss in the following some strategies how this can be achieved.

Regarding BCA, ASEAN SAS has conducted various field trials and demonstrations in different food and cash crops, including:

  • Control of plant diseases in rice and vegetables using Trichoderma (Cambodia).
  • Control of flea beetle using Bacillus thuringiensis var. tenebrionis and entomopathogenic nematodes in cabbage (Thailand, Brunei Darussalam).
  • Control of fruit fly (Bactrocera species) in fruit trees by mass trapping using attractants (Indonesia).
  • Control of stem borers in rice using sex pheromones (Indonesia).
  • Control of coffee berry borer by mass trapping with attractants (Indonesia).

 

 


 

Bitter gourds at a trichoderma field trial in cooperation with the Provincial Department of Agriculture Siem Reap
Bitter gourds at a trichoderma field trial in cooperation with the Provincial Department of Agriculture Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Field experience of ASEAN SAS has shown that with regard to input costs and in relation to crop productivity application of BCA are competitive or even cheaper than synthetic inputs.

Because farmers mis– and overuse synthetic inputs, the alleged advantage of synthetics of being cheaper does not result in higher income of farmers. On the contrary, farmers do experience losses, if the balance between input costs and crop productivity is not right. Degraded soils and pesticide-induced phytotoxicity further attest to this approach as being unsustainable.

Input Cost and Profit for Growing Vegetables2The boxes on this page present examples of simplified profit and loss sheets for rice and vegetables (cabbage). For instance, case studies in cabbage have shown that input costs (including labor) varied between 121% (effectively a loss) and 55% of the revenue (see box on the right).

In rice, input costs varied between 56% and 86% of the revenue in an inter-country comparison (see below). However, productivity of rice is much lower than that of cabbage or other vegetables. Hence, input costs are much more critical in rice  and every measure should be taken to reduce costs.

Because BCAs like Trichoderma not only reduce crop losses due to plant disease but also increase yields (productivity), these fungi are very well suited to improve revenue. If Trichoderma is properly applied with compost, it can reduce or substitute expensive synthetic fertilizer.

In view of its soil health promoting properties Trichoderma is a truly sustainable approach.

Comparison

HOW TO REDUCE INPUT COST?

Pesticides

  • Reduce number of sprays to 2 or less, considering action at low to medium pest & disease levels. Sometimes control is useful even before planting.

  • Protect natural enemies by not spraying if not necessary. For instance, in rice do not spray the first 30 days.

  • Use biocontrol instead of synthetic pesticides if possible

  • Spraying at pest outbreaks is useless

  • Do not listen to arguments aiming at creating fear: Even by doing less you will not loose your entire crop!

  • Crop rotation (or mixed cropping) will reduce pests & diseases, diversify your farm production, and increase your income.

Fertilizer and Soil

  • Determine your soil fertility

  • Adjust fertilizer applications according to fertility status

  • Use compost or manure to improve soil health

  • Reduce tillage and maintain soil cover to increase soil organic matter

FAQ: Pest Management and its Economics in Farm Production

Can pest and disease management increase crop yields?

No. Pest and disease management can only reduce losses, which are caused by pests and pathogens. For lowland rice, estimates indicate an absolute yield loss of 1-2 tons per ha.

If I want a higher yield, what can I do?

Focus your attention on improving soil health and nutrients. Increasing soil organic matter is key to stabilizing and improving soil structure. Low tillage, maintaining soil cover (through crops, crop residues, cover crops, rotations) and applying compost or manure can all contribute to better soil health and, ultimately, higher yields.

Trichoderma also has a yield-increasing effect. Thus, it can be used as an amendment for improving soil.

Are insect pests the most important pest?

Not always. In rice, the role of insect pests is generally over-estimated. Rodents and weeds are often more damaging.

Vegetables and fruits can suffer from heavy insect pest attack, but plant diseases are also important. Note: Some insect pests are a problem because of overuse of pesticides (e.g. diamondback moth); here, pesticides are not the solution, but the problem! Pesticide overuse is a major driver for increasing input costs.

Fungal diseases often become more important during the wet season, especially when the cropping pattern (e.g. spacing of plants too narrow) supports fungal growth.

Insect pests are best kept in bay by promoting natural enemies.

When is application of BCA most economic?

Application of BCA is most effective and economic at a moderate to low pest and disease level (targeting larval or early stages of pests) in a preventive rather than reactive manner. This reduces application rates.

What is the economic threshold level?

If the yield that I loose if I do nothing is more worth than the cost of plant protection, then I could apply plant protection measures. However, I have to understand the pests and natural enemies  involved, plant tolerance and ability to compensate for damage, other investment opportunities, and expected climatic conditions (weather forecasts).

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