Since the 1970s, researchers have been exploring safer, more ecologically sound ways to manage pests. Integrated pest management is a sustainable approach to pest management that draws from a variety of disciplines. IPM combines biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in ways that minimize economic, health and environmental risks.
Pests can include insects, rodents, plant diseases, weeds and nematodes. Methods of control range from reinforcing a pest's natural enemies to disrupting a pest's life cycle, careful weather monitoring and scouting. If necessary, pesticides are also used, but only those that do not harm the environment. Although IPM programs vary on a crop-by-crop and region-by-region basis, key principles include:
● Prevention, the practice of keeping a pest population from infesting a crop or field;
● Avoidance, the practice of using cultural techniques to avoid losses to pests that could be present in a field;
● Monitoring, the practice of observing pest populations, weather and nutrients; and
● Suppression, the practice of using cultural, physical, biological or pesticidal means to suppress pest populations.
American Farmland Trust, through its Center for Agriculture in the Environment, helps farmers find new ways to comply with expanded regulations through integrated pest management. In 1997, AFT entered into a cooperative agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to help implement IPM projects around the country.
Over the past five years, the projects funded have helped 4,350 farmers reduce their use of highly toxic pesticides by 30 to 50 percent on 550,000 acres while remaining profitable. As a result, pesticide use has been reduced by more than 2 million pounds.
Benefits of IPM
IPM has been proven to increase grower profits while positively impacting the environment and human health. IPM typically reduces the use of highly toxic pesticides and fertilizer. Increased crop yields, decreased soil erosion and increased profits are just some of the rewards farmers can expect when they implement wise management practices. Other environmental benefits of IPM include:
● Protecting the natural resource base
● Protecting wildlife, beneficial insects and endangered species
● Preventing the degradation of soil, water, and air quality
● Ensuring a safe supply of agricultural products
● Safeguarding the health of agricultural workers and their families
The USDA Extension Service has collected examples from around the country of ways that IPM pays off for farmers.
● IPM saved New Hampshire apple growers $450,000 in spraying costs in 1999.
● In Mississippi, where IPM is used on all of the state's 18 acres of greenhouse tomatoes, growers saw a 30 percent yield increase and an additional $828,000 in income.
● Growers of a number of crops in Delaware used IPM to reduce pesticide costs: pickling cucumber producers saved $15 an acre, or $75,000; potato farmers reduced fungicide use by $60,000 on 3,000 acres; and watermelon growers cut costs by $12,000 on 400 acres.