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Exploring the Evolution of Agricultural Chemicals: A Historical Perspective

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The origins of agricultural chemicals stretch across centuries, rooted in the use of natural substances to enhance crop yields and combat pests. However, the significant role of synthetic chemicals in agriculture emerged only in the 20th century. This blog post embarks on a historical exploration, tracing the trajectory of agricultural chemicals from their inception to the contemporary era dominated by pesticides and fertilizers.

World Wars & Agricultural Chemicals: Navigating Chemical Realities

Diving into the impact of World Wars on agriculture, the narrative acknowledges the omnipresence of chemicals around us, shedding light on the various types used in agriculture—fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. The historical journey elucidates how these chemicals, initially embraced for their potential benefits, have led to contemporary challenges, prompting a reflection on the path that led us to this complex scenario.

Mechanization & Scaling: The Pursuit of Profit

The desire for wealth accumulation catalyzed innovations like mechanization in agriculture, aiming to reduce labor costs. While the transition from manual labor to machines seemed advantageous, it birthed monoculture cropping practices. Mechanization’s unintended consequences, culminating in the Dust Bowl phenomenon, set the stage for the involvement of the Chemical and petroleum industry’s industrial capacity in agriculture, transforming chemicals designed for warfare into herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers.

Mechanization gave rise to monoculture cropping, which, in turn, contributed to the occurrence of the Dust Bowl phenomenon during the 1930s. Post-World Wars, the surplus industrial capacity in the chemical and petroleum industry found purpose in transforming chemicals initially designed for lethal purposes into herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers for agricultural use.

From Chemical Weapons to Agriculture Chemicals: A Dark Transformation

Commercialization pressures and profit motives fueled the mechanization of agriculture, a shift that had repercussions. The blog unveils a troubling chapter in history, exemplified by the deployment of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The chemical, supplied by Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), not only affected soldiers but also had enduring consequences on the Vietnamese population, leading to the realization that chemicals designed for harm were repurposed for agricultural use post-war.

The Discovery of Synthetic Chemicals: Pesticides Take Center Stage

In the early 20th century, researchers delved into synthetic chemicals in agriculture. The introduction of lead arsenate in 1913 marked the inception of synthetic pesticides, albeit with significant health and environmental risks. DDT, synthesized in the 1940s, exemplified the double-edged nature of these chemicals—effective against pests but persistent and toxic to non-target species.

The Rise of Modern Pesticides and Fertilizers: Balancing Act

Despite early risks, the use of pesticides and fertilizers surged through the 20th century. Organophosphates in the 1960s offered less persistence but continued risks. The 1970s witnessed the development of integrated pest management (IPM) strategies, acknowledging environmental concerns. Neonicotinoids in the 1980s posed new risks, leading to a contemporary movement favoring sustainable pest management practices.

The Future of Agriculture Chemicals: Toward Sustainability

Growing concerns about environmental and health impacts have fueled a shift toward sustainable agriculture practices. The blog explores the rise of organic farming, emphasizing natural pest control methods and organic fertilizers for promoting healthy soil and plant growth. Emerging technologies like precision agriculture and genetic engineering are discussed as potential solutions, offering insights into optimizing crop management and developing pest-resistant crops.

Glyphosate (Round Up) – Herbicides, Neonicotinoids, and Seed Control: Navigating Controversies

The blog brings attention to specific chemicals, such as Glyphosate (Round Up) and Neonicotinoids, unraveling controversies surrounding their use. Seed control, dominated by a few global giants, is scrutinized for its implications on agricultural diversity and farmer autonomy.

In Agent Orange operation during the Vietnam War, 465 million liters were dispersed to deprive Vietnamese soldiers of sustenance and camouflage. The aftermath impacted 4.8 million Vietnamese directly, resulting in enduring birth defects. The supplier of Agent Orange, Monsanto (now owned by the German company Bayer), was also the creator of DDT. Subsequent to the war’s conclusion, these entities redirected their focus towards agricultural activities.

Seed Control


60% of the global seed market is owned by just four companies. Bayer has patented their roundup-resistant corn variety of GMO seeds.

BT Cotton in India: Broken Promises and Agricultural Realities

In India, about 90-95% of cotton comes from BT Cotton seeds which were introduced in India on the following promise

Incorporation of the BT genes into major varieties of cotton will help cut down by half the use of insecticides and save cotton worth $100M – $200M [1992]

Source: Indian department of biotechnology

But like most promises from industry, it was also a blatant lie. Instead of decreasing pesticide usage, it has increased because bull worms grew resistant to them and more bugs like meal bugs & white flies have emerged as new pests.

Yields, on the other hand, have declined and are hovering around 500kg/hectare between 2005-2018. But the input costs have increased.


The blog post concludes by emphasizing the urgent need for informed consumer choices and a collective transition toward sustainable agricultural practices. It invites readers to contemplate agricultural chemicals’ intricate history and consequences, advocating for a future where productivity coexists harmoniously with environmental and human well-being. As the agricultural landscape evolves, the narrative encourages active participation in shaping a future that balances abundance with responsibility.

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