Integrated Pest Management: the Future of Pest Control

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has been gradually gaining followers over the years amongst farmers and growers as a way to manage pests economically and with the least amount of risk to people and the environment.

It involves using the latest scientific information on how pests live and interact with their environment to select the best available means to control them.

Different IPM programs usually involve a number of similar practices, including:

  • Monitoring of crops and accurately identifying the pests that need to be controlled (and those that don’t)
  • Determining the point at which the numbers of a problem pest at a particular site would pose an economic threat to a crop (i.e. when the cost of damage is more than the cost of control)

  • Taking preventative measures before pests become a problem, such as planting pest-resistant varieties, changing sowing times to avoid typical infestation periods and burning or deep-ploughing stubble prior to planting
  • When control does become necessary, trying safer methods first such as weeding, tillage, trapping, hand-picking, netting or using pheremones to disrupt breeding cycles, only moving on to chemical pesticides if these methods fail.

IPM strategies favour the use of biological controls such as insecticides derived from natural sources and beneficial insects that eat target pests.

The use of biological control agents (natural enemies of insect pests) has many benefits, including:

  • The ability to control pests which have become resistant to chemical pesticides
  • Their suitability for use on crops that are sensitive to chemicals
  • The fact that they are safe for humans and involve no re-entry restrictions

Biological control agents (BCAs) can be released in a variety of ways including:

  • Inoculative release – release of a few predatory pests early in the infestation period to achieve gradual control
  • Regular release – small releases during likely problem periods as a preventative measure
  • Inundative release – high rate release for fast eradication

IPM strategies must be tailored to each crop, each pest and each particular environment. In a nutshell, their aim is to produce quality crops at minimum cost, with little or no risk to humans or the environment.

IPM strategies do not exclude the use of chemical pesticides. Sometimes there is no other alternative. They merely advocate its judicious use on an as-needed rather than calendar basis.

As with chemical spraying, the application of non-synthetic pesticides also requires regular inspection and maintenance of equipment to minimise the risk of wastage or spills.

While originally developed for agricultural pest management, IPM programs are now being adopted as best practice behaviours in other areas such as residential and commercial pest control and the maintenance of parks and golf courses.

There is still a way to go before IPM is fully embraced by all farmers and growers, but the fact that most now identify pests before attempting to control them is a healthy step in the right direction.

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