Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Integrated Pest Management

In agriculture, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a pest control strategy that uses an array of complementary methods: natural predators and parasites, pest-resistant varieties (see GMO), cultural practices, biological controls, various physical techniques, and pesticides as a last resort. It is an ecological approach that can significantly reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides.

An IPM regime can be quite simple, or sophisticated enough to be a farming system in its own right. The main focus is usually insect pests, but IPM encompasses diseases, weeds, and any other naturally occurring biological crop threat.

An IPM system is designed around six basic components:

  1. Acceptable pest levels: The emphasis is on control, not eradication. IPM holds that wiping out an entire pest population is often impossible, and the attempt can be more costly, environmentally unsafe, and all-round counterproductive than its worth. Better to decide on what constitutes acceptable pest levels, and apply controls if those levels is reached.
  2. Preventive cultural practices: Selecting varieties best for local growing conditions, and maintaining healthy crops, is the first line of defense.
  3. Monitoring: Regular observation is the cornerstone of IPM. Visual inspection, insect traps, and other measurement methods are used to monitor pest levels. Record-keeping is essential, as is a thorough knowledge of the behavior and reproductive cycles of target pests.
  4. Mechanical controls: Should a pest reach an unacceptable level, mechanical methods are the first options to consider. They include simple hand-picking, erecting insect barriers, using traps, vacuuming, and tillage to disrupt breeding.
  5. Biological controls: Natural biological processes and materials can provide control, with minimal environmental impact, and often at low cost. The main focus here is on promoting beneficial insects that eat target pests.
  6. Chemical controls: Considered as an IPM last resort, synthetic pesticides may be used when other controls fail or are deemed unlikely to prove effective. Biological insecticides, derived from plants or naturally occurring microorganisms (eg: BT), also fit in this category.

IPM is applicable to all types of agriculture. Reliance on knowledge, experience, observation, and integration of multiple techniques makes IPM a perfect fit for organic farming (the synthetic chemical option is simply not considered). For large-scale, chemical-based farms, IPM can reduce human and environmental exposure to hazardous materials, and potentially lower overall costs.

See also: environmentalism.