What is Integrated Pest Management?

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 Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an important catchphrase in agriculture today. While the mechanics of the concept are often talked about at workshops and lectures, many producers still do not understand exactly what IPM is. These same producers may be surprised to learn that to some extent, they are already using IPM and with a little coaching, they could maximize its potential for their real benefit.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), IPM is “an ecosystem approach to crop production and protection that combines different management strategies and practices to grow healthy crops and minimize the use of pesticides.”

Many growers are not aware that IPM relates not only to insect “pests” but can also encompass weeds, diseases and vermin. Ultimately, this is the stage where the term “integrated” in IPM applies: growers are dealing with a multitude of problems or potential problems in a variety of different ways, all at the same time. It’s this combination or integration of these methods that has the potential to make IPM an overall success.

To phrase it differently, IPM can be thought of as a toolbox. In this toolbox, growers have many different pest control methods/tools. Some of these tools are familiar such as tillage, rotation, genetic resistance and, of course, pesticides.

Growers may also be using other pest control methods and not be aware that in doing so, they are actually practicing IPM. These alternate methods can include tools such as crop timing, cover crops, scouting, optimizing fertility to the crop, proper record keeping and equipment sanitation.

Here are five common basic themes of IPM programs:

  • identify the pests of concern
  • monitor the population of the pest in the field
  • have a point at which growers will move to control this pest
  • try, when possible, to prevent the pest
  • use all tools available (chemical, biological, cultural and physical) to control the pest
Again, most growers may be surprised to learn that their management plans have all the hallmarks of an IPM plan. For example, a grower may choose to plant a cabbage crop in a four-year field rotation. If the field previously had cabbage maggot, they might consider planting a shorter season variety so as to be able to plant later in the season and avoid the worst damage from the pest.

If an infestation was particularly bad in the past, this same grower might also consider a preventative pesticide drench at planting. As the crop matures, this producer might walk it regularly to visually scout the insect population and cull any badly infested plant material.

Producers that are incorporating decisions like the ones above into their operation are already using IPM. However, it may be time to take the practice to the next level, further integrating their approach.

Techniques like encouraging natural predators and parasites, such as beetles and parasitic wasps, or more intensive scouting and data management for tracking outbreaks or infestations are important IPM components.

They might also consider other pest control methods like cover crops, crop-adapted spraying, intercropping or better nutrient management. Regardless of which methods are used, the more tools used appropriately in the operation, the better prepared growers are to deal with pest problems that may come along. Ultimately, IPM in a growing operation leads to a stronger, healthier crop and can give growers the return on investment they are looking for.
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Robert Spencer.
This information published to the web on February 6, 2015.