Fertilizers and pesticides are used extensively by farmers and home gardeners. Both chemicals ensure a thriving garden and healthy crop, but they do this differently.
Fertilizers and pesticides are not the same things. Fertilizers are soil additives that supply plants with essential nutrients. On the other hand, pesticides are used to kill and prevent infestation by pests that might damage the plants and eat the crops like bacteria, fungus, nematodes, and weeds.
In this article, I’ll detail why fertilizers and pesticides are used, what they’re made of, and how they’re used. I will also explore whether fertilizers can harm insects and if pesticides can affect soil fertility to explore why these additives might be confused with each other.
Why Do Farmers Use Pesticides and Fertilizers?
Pesticides and fertilizers are primarily used to help plants grow healthy and produce healthy crops.
Farmers use pesticides and fertilizers to help their fields produce healthy crops. Fertilizers are used to supplement and replace the nutrients required by plants to grow and produce crops. Meanwhile, pesticides control and prevent pests and disease carriers from damaging crops and produce.
Most plants need eighteen separate elements for their growth called essential plant nutrients. Fertilizers are soil amenders that enrich the soil with such nutrients to ensure that all plants have the right amount of nutrients.
Different soils and crops need different soil amenders depending on the soil’s composition and the plants’ requirements.
However, like all living organisms, plants are susceptible to disease and infestation that can affect their health and produce quality. Farmers use pesticides to kill and prevent infestations of everything from weeds and fungi to bacteria, viruses, and nematodes.
All About Fertilizers
Fertilizers, as the name suggests, affect the fertility of the soil. These soil amenders are used to provide food to the plants, and they supply the necessary nutrients that are essential for plant growth.
The three basic plant nutrients required by all plants in large quantities are:
These three elements are known as macronutrients, and most fertilizers aim at amending the soil to add one, two, or all three of these macronutrients.
The secondary nutrients required by plants include:
Micronutrients include minerals like:
These nutrients are usually needed in small quantities, so most soils don’t need these to be added.
Nevertheless, some fertilizers supply the secondary and micronutrients as well to amend soils that have been depleted of these nutrients after a harvest. Farmers and gardeners using micronutrients need to be especially careful as a too high concentration of micronutrients can hurt more than help the plants.
What Is Fertilizer Made Of?
There are many different types of fertilizers, depending on their composition.
Fertilizers can be made of organic or inorganic materials. Organic fertilizers consist of organic materials like manure, compost, or peat. Inorganic fertilizers are made of inorganic materials like chemicals such as ammonia, phosphate rock, and phosphoric acid.
Most organic fertilizers comprise compost and manure and are typically slow-release fertilizers.
These fertilizers are rich in macro and micronutrients and enrich the soil, improving overall fertility and supporting plant growth without the risk of burning plants with too much fertilizer.
Other components of organic fertilizers include:
- Bone meal
- Blood meal
These elements are especially important for supplying secondary and micronutrients to the soil.
Inorganic fertilizers are used for enhancing plant growth and are especially useful for immediate results. The main inorganic sources of nitrogen include ammonium sulfates and ammonium phosphates. Other sources include potassium nitrate, calcium nitrate, and urea.
Ammonium phosphates are also a good inorganic source of phosphates. However, rock phosphates are the primary source of phosphorus in inorganic fertilizers.
The two main sources of potassium for inorganic fertilizers include potassium chloride and potassium sulfate.
Different Types of Fertilizers Used in Gardens and Farms
There are many ways in which fertilizers can be categorized. Fertilizers can be differentiated between organic and inorganic or on the basis of the nutrients they supply. For this article, I’ll explore the categorization of fertilizers based on how many nutrients they supply.
Fertilizers can be used depending on the requirements of the plants and the composition of the soil. They are classified into three types:
- Single-nutrient fertilizers – These consist of one nutrient, usually a macronutrient like nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium. Plants will show deficiencies of these nutrients in their foliage, and single-nutrient fertilizers are a great way of amending the soil without affecting the balance of the other plant nutrients.
- Blended fertilizers – These comprise several single nutrient fertilizers mixed together in a homogenous mixture. These fertilizers are usually mixed in a set recipe to address specific deficiencies.
- Compound fertilizers – These have a mix of nutrients and are called multi-nutrient fertilizers for this reason. Unlike blended fertilizers, where each granule supplies a different nutrient, each granule of compound fertilizers has a combination of multiple nutrients. They are useful for the uniform distribution of nutrients in the soil.
Before applying any type of fertilizer, it is important to do a soil analysis to ensure that you’re only supplying the nutrients necessary. Too much fertilizer can cause fertilizer burn, which is when the plant is dehydrated because of the amount of water taken up by excess nutrients.
Do Fertilizers Harm Insects?
Fertilizers are not used to affect insects and pests of crops directly. However, they can have an indirect effect.
Fertilizers don’t harm insects in general. However, they enhance the nutritional levels of the plants. The additional nutrition supplied by fertilizers helps bolster the defenses of the plants, which helps them fight off infestations, bacteria, and viruses.
Healthier plants are able to resist infestations and infections much better than sick or malnourished plants, which is how fertilizers can support plants and protect them from pests.
Understanding Pesticides and their Usage
Pesticides are important to control the spread of pests that can damage or cause diseases in plants or lead to infestations that destroy the crop.
Pests can affect the health of the plant and the size of the crop yield. They include:
What Are Pesticides?
Pesticides are important to the agricultural industry at large. Agriculture and even home gardeners rely heavily on pesticides.
Pesticides are substances used to control, kill, or prevent the infestation of insects, plants, or other organisms that eat the crops or affect the health of plants in any way. These pesticides are used extensively in agriculture to improve crop yields by protecting plants from disease and damage.
Pests like weeds and fungi can choke the plant of nutrients by draining the plant directly or the soil. Bacteria and viruses affect the health of the plant and can prevent it from fruiting. Insects and rodents attack the plant directly, eating it and damaging the roots.
Protecting plants from pests is essential to ensure a thriving farm or garden. Otherwise, these infestations or infections can spread to other nearby plants, gardens, and farms and cause a wide-scale agricultural disaster.
Composition and Types of Pesticides Used in Gardens and Farms
Pesticides contain two main types of ingredients – active ingredients and inert ingredients. The active ingredients are what kill or repel the pests from the plants, and these can be organic or inorganic.
Biopesticides comprise natural active ingredients. Antimicrobial and conventional pesticides have inorganic compounds as their active ingredients. Antimicrobial ingredients work against bacteria, viruses, and fungi, while conventional pesticides work on most other pests.
On the other hand, inert ingredients in pesticides perform a number of functions:
- Serve as solvents for the active ingredients
- Improve the overall shelf-life of the pesticide
- Protect the pesticide from degradation
- Help make the application of the pesticide safe for people
The main types of pesticides used in gardens and farms target specific pests or diseases. These pesticides include:
- Fungicides – prevent the growth of fungi and mold
- Foggers – repel or kill insects
- Herbicides – kill weeds
- Molluscicides – kill mollusks like slugs and snails
How Do Pesticides Affect Soil Fertility?
As discussed, pesticides are mainly used to protect plants from pests and diseases. However, they do affect the overall fertility of the soil.
Pesticides can linger in the soil for years after they are applied, resulting in a drop in soil health. They can affect beneficial insects and organisms as much as they affect pests, leading to unhealthy plants that are more vulnerable to malnutrition and pest infestations.
If pesticides must be used, it is important to use them as part of integrated pest management systems that ensure that only the necessary amount of pesticides are used. This prevents excess pesticides from running off into the soil and the groundwater and poisoning them.
Using targeted pesticides that only affect a specific pest rather than broad-spectrum pesticides is more effective. These targeted pesticides, like molluscicides, kill the primary pest and don’t cause the death of beneficial insects and organisms.
Fertilizers and pesticides both contribute to plant health and crop yields, but they are not the same thing. Fertilizers are soil amenders that add macronutrients, secondary nutrients, or micronutrients to the soil. These nutrients help plants become healthy and fight off pest infestations.
Pesticides are used to prevent infestations or kill pests that might affect the health of the plant. While the crop yields of a farm are reliant on pesticides, using too much can affect the fertility of the soil and kill beneficial organisms, so they should be used judiciously.