Modern crop protection practices support increased productivity on existing farmland, so alleviating pressure on uncultivated areas which provide important habitats for wildlife such as birds, bees and other insects.
By focusing on approaches that aim to maximise yields on a given area of land, conventional agriculture optimises both the productivity of cultivated land and the availability of non-cultivated land for other conservation and wildlife benefits.
Lower-yield agriculture, for instance under low-input or organic systems, would inevitably put pressure on bringing currently un-cropped land back into production if yield levels are to be maintained or increased, with clear consequences for wildlife and the environment.
More efficient weed control allows farmers to use fewer cultivations such as ploughing, which helps cut greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil quality.
Using pesticides on land set aside for conservation can also help ensure that land is properly managed to provide maximum benefit. Some of the best examples of conservation farming in the UK take a conventional approach, both to growing crops and to managing land for biodiversity and the environment.
This approach often sees environmental measures considered a crop like any other – managed with the same time, effort and expense, and under the same agronomic principles as the rest of the farm. This may, for example, mean headlands cultivated to produce a strip of pollen-rich flowers are treated with herbicides to manage weeds, so producing a habitat more attractive to pollinators and other beneficial invertebrates. Not only does this have a widespread positive impact on wildlife, but the presence of beneficial insects on field margins provides additional pest control in neighbouring crops, reducing the need to apply insecticides later in the year.