Integrated pest management (IPM) is a difficult concept to define because of its complexity. The idea is to use multiple tactics, both proactive and reactive, to keep crop damage below the economic injury level (EIL).
Much of IPM focuses on preventing pests from becoming a major problem in the first place:
- Keeping growing conditions sanitary.
- Attracting beneficial insects.
- Promoting a healthy soil.
- Removing pest habitats.
- Tilling and rotating crops to disrupt the life cycle of pests.
- Raising plants adapted to the climate and resistant to pests.
- Altering planting dates to avoid times when infestation is likely.
- Putting physical pest barriers around vulnerable crops.
The next key feature of IPM involves monitoring plants closely to assess current pest levels and types. The producer may use sticky traps or sweep nets to catch insects to count and identify. He may also observe the plants themselves to check for damage. Monitoring goes hand in hand with keeping good records, not just of pests, but of soil and weather conditions, and other factors that may affect plant health.
If pest numbers climb above acceptable levels, the producer will use his knowledge of the pest’s species, life cycle, and current population to choose a control strategy. The general idea is to use the least toxic control method first.
Control methods vary widely:
- Hand picking.
- Introduction of predators.
- Introduction of diseases fatal to the pest species.
- Introduction of sterile male pests to disrupt the breeding cycle.
- Insect growth regulators.
- Both chemical and biorational (natural) pesticides.
Many IPM programs also use similar monitoring and control methods to keep weeds and crop diseases in check.
The main advantage of IPM is that it tends to fit well with a whole-farm approach, working with nature to avoid major infestations. On the other hand, it does require the producer to spend considerable time monitoring plants, keeping records, and researching insect pests.
Of course, there are many variations on IPM, but a well-constructed IPM program will always have these three principles in place:
- A combination of pest-prevention techniques.
- A system of plant monitoring and record keeping.
- A control strategy that seeks to use the least toxic method possible.
Biointensive Integrated Pest Management
A free introduction to the theory behind IPM.
A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests
This bulletin presents many creative solutions and success stories. Good way to get started thinking proactively.
Integrated Pest Management for Greenhouse Crops
This free guide is a little more practical than the ones above. Although written with greenhouse crops in view, it can also give you an idea of how IPM can work in other areas of farming.
The Farm Journal
Our own series on keeping records.
The Family Garden Journal
Our own tool for keeping garden records. Includes plenty of room for observations, as well as reference pages ready for your personal notes on plant varieties, insect pests, beneficial insects, and plant diseases. Read more.