Global food security is an enormous challenge not only because it refers to our responsibility to feed a rapidly growing population, but because we must also do so sustainably in ever-changing conditions.

When it comes to balancing the needs of people and planet, then, protecting crops is our first and most important move. Getting this right can be the foundation for a food system that meets increasing demand while reducing the burden on the environment. 

From products that protect crops against pests to new technologies that make them more resilient to attack, crop protection helps farmers achieve optimum performance with every yield. And the sector has spent the equivalent of $50 every minute for the last 11 years to develop cutting-edge innovations for farmers.

But all of this relies on careful and exact science that balances factors including natural resources, crop resilience and pest resistance in much the same way that engineers balance fuel needs, efficiency and delivery.

One way we do this is through formulations, which is the means by which the crop protection product is applied to ensure the active ingredient is deployed to be most effective. 

Formulations come in many forms, such as liquids, where water-based systems are preferred to solvent-based systems, or solid. The choice of the right system is based on properties of the pesticide ingredient and features of the pest that needs to be controlled.

Improving crop protection formulations is just one of the ways the sector is investing in science and innovation to do better with less, allowing more crops to survive while minimising the environmental impact of protecting them.

For example, we are developing new formulations that can address growing levels of pest resistance to crop protection products to ensure they remain effective at warding off disease and damage.

Using a system called micro-encapsulation, we can coat individual active ingredients so they can be safely combined to develop a more powerful product while addressing incompatibility issues that might have previously prevented their use together.

This can mean that multiple active ingredients can be combined in one product without the threat of interacting with one another, to improve farmers’ chances of sparing their crops from pests who are resistant to simpler products.

Micro-encapsulation can also allow active ingredients to be triggered into action in specific ways, such as temperature or sunlight.

We have also improved formulations to reduce the amount of water needed to protect crops, for example, by developing a foam that replaces some of the water needed to apply the pesticide with pumped air. 

This helps reduce the amount of water used in agriculture while the foam allows a more precise delivery of the active ingredient in furrow, offering greater seed protection and increased chance of germination. 

Finally, careful selection of inert ingredients for formulations can help reduce the toxicity of crop protection products, making them safer for those applying them and for the wider environment. There is a trend in the industry to move toward plant-based stabilisers, biodegradable polymers and green solvents, all of which carry a lower ecological impact.

Not only is this safer for the farmer and reduces the need for costly personal protection equipment, it also reduces the environmental impact of pesticides.

Formulations are just one aspect of an effective crop protection product, allowing the active ingredient to best achieve its objective while doing so safely and efficiently.

New advances in science and innovation allow us to develop improved formulations, which are also inspired by the needs of farmers, who are dealing with the challenge of resource efficiency, resistance to crop protection products and new pest threats. But they are just one of many tools in the crop protection toolbox.

In the race to a more sustainable global food system for people and planet, we are working hard to play our part in ensuring crop protection products work better, safer and faster than ever before.

Ubiratan Sousa is the Global Formulations Development Manager at FMC Corporation, based in Newark, Delaware, where he specialises in developing formulations for crop protection products. FMC Corporation is a member of CropLife International.