Integrated Pest Management Explained
written by Kulveen Virdee, ND
What is IPM?
Integrated pest management (IPM) is a farming practice that emphasizes the prevention of long-term pests that may destroy crops through early identification and intervention. A variety of pest control methods are used ranging from non-chemical methods to the use of Organic and conventional chemical pesticides when necessary.
Natural methods employed include:
- Biological controls including the use of native natural enemies of the pests.
- Habitat manipulation including rotating crops, traps for pests, mulches for weed management, screens to keep birds and insects out.
- Modification of cultural practices such as changing planting or harvesting dates around the lifecycle of a pest and the use of pest-resistant varieties of plants.
Farmers who practice IPM may spray the minimal amount of organic or conventional pesticides only after all other less-invasive methods have been exhausted. IPM farmers use pesticides that are very selective for the target pest and use the minimal amount necessary. Because of this targeted approach, there is a reduced risk to both human health and the environmental health of plants, insects and other organisms to favor ecological biodiversity on the farm and local environment. Whether or not a farmer chooses to use chemical controls depends on the levels of the pests and whether the pest has reached a level where it will impact crop yield (1). Spaying techniques include using them in bait stations or spraying in spots instead of an entire area (2).
The minimal reliance on chemical pesticides distinguishes IPM from conventional farming practices.
IPM and human health:
IPM farming practices, like Organic farming, emphasize healthy soil to boost nutrition for the plants and the humans that consume them.
Unlike the Organic farming industry, IPM is not currently regulated. There is no way to know whether farmers who claim to practice IPM are actually practicing IPM. This is why it is important to meet your local farmers and learn more about their farm and how they implement IPM*.
It is suggested that IPM will reduce your exposure to pesticides through the practices that IPM utilizes, but there are no current methods to measure pesticide levels in produce that come from IPM farms due to the very individualized approach that these farmers take in caring for their farms. Due to the effect that pesticides have on a developing fetus and young children, I still do recommend opting for Organic, when possible in pregnant and young populations**.
IPM and the environment:
Many farmers on the east coast rely on IPM because the fruit grown in our humid environment is susceptible to fungus and other pests. Supporting local farming helps to reduce our carbon footprint by reducing resources often used in cross-country transit. Organically grown fruits in drier climates across the country require a significant amount of water, which may not be the most sustainable practice due to the wildfires and drought that is impacting the local environment, especially in California.
1) What Is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)? Retrieved from https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/What-is-IPM/
2) Pete Goddell, PhD. The Value of IPM in Orchard Crops. Jan 20, 2012. University of California Statewide IPM Kearney Agric. Research & Extension Center.
* Steve Frecon at Frecon Farms uses IPM practices to support local biodiversity and boost the nutrition of his orchard plants. He is always open to answering questions about his practice of IPM and invites people to tour his farm to gain perspective on IPM. He is constantly attending conferences nationally and internationally to stay up to date with the latest in both organic and IPM farming practices.
** The Dirty Dozen Clean Fifteen list is a great resource for families who want to support local farmers while minimizing their exposure to pesticides in produce. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/