Addressing the world’s environmental woes means adopting environmentally responsible farming methods. IPM, or integrated pest management, maintains crop yields while minimizing environmental impact.
Operating a large produce company presents numerous challenges in successfully growing high quality fruits and vegetable. For some, embracing IPM seems like an additional hassle that takes too much time to properly implement. However, many proactive growers embrace it. For instance, Gilberto Salazar has experienced continual success using IPM methods.
For Salazar, integrated pest management means aiming for pest control using the least amount of chemicals possible. His company walks a fine line between producing healthy plants and applying insecticides. The company is not organic, but when chemical controls are used, it is only when completely warranted by the circumstances.
His IPM process also includes applying chemicals at the lowest effective dose, as well as other control methods such as tilling to beneficial organisms—all of which mitigate environmental issues. Because Salazar’s company exports internationally, he uses only chemical controls that comply with Mexican law and laws in the receiving country.
IPM Methods Go Beyond Chemical Controls
There are no one-shot, once-and-done, or one-size-fits-all solutions in IPM. UC Davis Department of Agriculture describes it as “managing the ecosystem.” Integrated pest management makes use of:
- Biological control, where pests’ natural enemies (often other bugs) are encouraged to control the pests
- Cultural controls that alter existing practices to make an area inhospitable and less inviting to pests
- Mechanical and physical controls that disrupt or kill pests
- Chemical pesticides, but only when absolutely necessary, used in conjunction with other more environmentally friendly methods, and applied sparingly
Implementing integrated pest management on a farm requires getting to know not only the soil and plant cycles, but also the life cycles of the pests so that the right technique is used.
Implementing Integrated Pest Management
Although evaluation and judgment are the linchpins of IPM, it has a scientific basis. Think of controlling crop-killing pests as a mystery solvable through certain steps.
- Creating a plan of action, taking into account known options and combining them with economic concerns. One pest sighted does not merit a blanket application of pesticides.
- Honing pest identification skills, because some treatments are completely ineffective on some bugs, while lethal to others:
- County extension offices often provide listings of commonly found garden pests in the region
- Check online resources such as Purdue University’s Vegetable Insect Identification site for pictures and descriptions of pests
- Use phone apps that help identify bugs
- Constantly checking and assessing the pest population and the harm it causes, weighing those factors when deciding upon a course of action (including no action) that incurs the least environmental damage
- Acting proactively to prevent pest problems, such as removing objects that hold stagnant water, cleaning up plant litter, and placing floating row covers over at-risk plants prior to a pest coming into season
- Implementing a combination of pest management tools, including biological, chemical, cultural, and mechanical, to deal with a pest problem once it emerges
How IPM Benefits the Environment—and You
According to the EPA, studies show pesticides may cause a host of health problems for humans, including birth defects, nerve damage, and cancer. Their overuse also affects many other organisms in the environment.
A major issue with using pesticides is that much of the substance never reaches its intended target, and instead spreads to other areas of the environment. British Columbia’s Ministry of Agriculture cites several instances of runaway pesticides:
- Runoff that transports chemicals away from targeted weeds or pests to other desirable plants and creatures, in addition to polluting the ground and water
- Adsorption of pesticides, meaning that they bind with soil particles
- Pesticide drift from the application site to areas downwind
- Pesticide leaching, where chemicals move in water through the soil, leading to possible groundwater contamination
By decreasing pesticide use to the lowest possible amounts, IPM improves environmental conditions for many desirable organisms. Sometimes its benefits go beyond just bugs into water conservation and dust pollution prevention.
IPM Effectiveness vs. Conventional Methods
IPM may require more manpower to implement, but conventional methods require more materials, which also cost money. Trials done during a study at California Polytechnic State University revealed that IPM materials worked as well on a commercial scale as did conventional methods with no loss of yield. Implemented properly, integrated pest management proves as effective as methods that are more “conventional” —all while saving the environment.