Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an ecosystem-based approach to pest control in modern agriculture. Focused on long-term management, IPM combines different techniques in order to effectively control pest related damage, while minimizing financial, environmental and human health costs.
Rather than using pesticides to eliminate pests when they’re found, IPM aims to reduce their appearance through prevention, environmental control or biological measures. These are used in order to manage pest damage in the most economical and efficient way possible, while reducing the presence of toxic chemicals, which have adverse effects on plants and humans as well as pests.
Integrated Pest Management includes five steps to follow in order to effectively manage pest damage.
Proper IPM practice begins with gaining an understanding of the pests currently and commonly found in the growing space.
This includes understanding the crop and its susceptibilities, as well as the pest itself. In order to efficiently reduce their appearance, growers should learn the pests’ biological and behavioral aspects, such as preferred habitat and climate, life cycle, nutrition and predators.
Remember, pests are organisms that cause damage to the plants. Not all creatures found in a growing space are pests which require treatment.
Monitoring Pest Activity
Before attempting to eliminate a newly spotted organism, it’s best to monitor the population over a period of time. By doing this, you can determine whether the population is large enough to pose a substantial threat, requiring actionable measures to control, or too insignificant to require drastic measures.
Pest populations naturally fluctuate and may rise or decline due to factors which are not always apparent. Immediately reacting to a sight of a potential pest is often unnecessary and reckless.
By monitoring efficiently, pest treatment may be reduced or even avoided in certain situations.
Determining Action Thresholds
An action threshold is the point at which any further damage done by a pest is considered intolerable, and control measures need to be taken. These are individually set guidelines determined by the grower.
Thresholds may be based on any criteria such as economical, legislative or medical. Many models compare an economical assessment of damage against treatment costs. Once treatment makes financial sense, it’s implemented.
Evaluating & Implementing Pest Management Options
Integrated Pest Management was developed to manage and control pest populations and their damage, rather than blindly eliminating their presence. In this fashion, growers can reduce both costs and toxicity in the growing space.
In IPM there are 5 tiers of pest control actions, ranked according to their invasiveness and toxicity. These should be implemented starting from the bottom of the pyramid, working up as necessary.
- Prevention includes managing the growing space to prevent pests from appearing, before they pose a threat. These include the use of nets, fans or additional equipment which inhibits pests from entering the premises.
- Cultural & Sanitation measures restrict pests’ ability to sustain life, by removing the basic requirements needed for them to survive and thrive. These may include the removal of standing water, decomposing plant debris and more. Additional measures include climate control, which may reduce the pests’ ability to spread, breed or feed.
- Physical & Mechanical methods of restricting pests. In contrast to prevention measures, these methods are used to physically remove pests or prevent their movement in the greenhouse. Examples of physical measures include traps and barriers.
- Biological pest control measures are very useful when relevant. This method utilizes different organisms which are known to limit pest populations, without themselves causing damage to the crops. This method may be harder to implement, as not every pest has known harmless predators. In order to successfully control pests in this fashion, it is extremely important to correctly identify pests, as most have very specialized counter-organisms. If identification is wrong, the biological route will almost definitely fail.
- Chemical means of pest control include pesticides and various cleaning agents, among others. They are considered a last resort in IPM, as their toxicity potentially affects crops, as well as humans growing or consuming the produce.
Successful Integrated Pest Management should be comprised of multiple measures across several tiers. Preference should always be given to actions lower on the pyramid, only ascending as necessary.
Pest appearance is not a singular event, but rather a constant evolving battle. Successfully and continuously managing pest damage over time is no simple task. Doing so requires a large amount of knowledge and data.
Monitoring the results of pest control actions provides invaluable understanding of what works and what doesn’t, allowing growers to constantly tweak and adjust their defenses, further reducing the inputs and toxicity required in order to maintain populations.