It’s been estimated that plant pests result in a 40% loss in global food production each year, and it’s thought that they pose the single biggest threat to global food security. The BBC interviewed a leading agricultural researcher and asked him what the worst agricultural pests were.
Here are some of his highlights:
• The potato blight. This bad boy, technically known as Phytophthora infestans, was singlehandedly responsible for the Irish potato famine (1845-1852)—the one that killed a million Irish people and caused a million more to leave the country. Since so many of them immigrated to America, the potato blight had a profound effect on our national history.
• The kharpa beetle. These pose a big problem because they love dried foods—like grains. Further, they can survive long periods without eating, and have a high resistance to traditional insecticides. You do not want to find these in your grain silo.
• Desert locust. One of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. It’s no wonder ancient people thought these were God’s punishment: locusts could disappear for years, only to suddenly materialize in giant swarms that could strip a farm field bare in under an hour.
• South American rubber blight. This fungus (Microcyclus ulei) devastates rubber trees, and is the main reason why so little rubber is produced in South America. In the 1920s, Henry Ford tried to build a huge rubber plant in Brazil. Thanks to this pest, the plant was a disaster, and Ford lost around $250 million (in today’s equivalent). The rubber blight continues to survive all attempts to eradicate it.
Agricultural pests like these aren’t static—they come and go and ebb and flow in great cycles. New pests take the place of old pests, and genetic mutations allow pests to adapt to environmental changes (like insecticides) in a massive evolutionary arms race.
But we’re better-armed than any of the pests in your home or business!