IPM: It’s all about combining pest management tools

The multi-pronged approach known as Integrated Pest Management can boost yields while reducing costs

While Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has become a catchphrase in agriculture today, there can be confusion as to what it actually is.

“While the mechanics of the concept are discussed at workshops and lectures, many producers still don’t understand exactly what IPM is,” said Dustin Morton, a commercial horticulture specialist with the Alberta Ag-Info Centre in Stettler.

“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, 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,” said Morton. “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.”

IPM can be thought of as a tool box, said Morton.

“In this tool box, growers have many different pest control methods/tools. Some of these tools are familiar such as tillage, rotation, genetic resistance and, of course, pesticides. But growers may also be using other pest control methods and not be aware that, in doing so, they are actually practising 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.

The five basic themes of IPM programs are:

  •  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) in a responsible manner to control the pest.

“Again, most growers may be surprised to learn that their management plans have all the hallmarks of an IPM plan,” said Morton. “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. Furthermore, if it had been a particularly bad infestation, they might consider a preventive soil drench with increased scouting as the crop grows. All of these are basic principles of IPM.”

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

Producers who are incorporating these types of decisions 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 such as 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,” added Morton. “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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