What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?

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Pests, like rodents and insects, can cause huge damage to crops and can destroy cultivations. For agriculture, it may lead to irreparable results and affect a whole business’s reputation. If you have a garden, your plants or veggies can die before they even grow. 

Dealing with pests requires a lot of effort, and pesticides alone are not enough. Even if they are powerful they are not recommended as a pest control method as they pose harm to crops, the environment and health. Also, many pests can become resistant to certain pesticides which will only lead to further problems but will not solve the one with the enemies. 

So, we outline why an integrated pest management program can help you with pest control. This article gives answers to important questions like what is the IPM, why it’s used, what methods are integrated, pros and cons and more. No matter if you are a homeowner, tenant, gardener, agriculturalist or somebody else, this article will provide you with useful information regarding pest control. 

What is The Definition of Integrated Pest Management?

According to the European commission, integrated pest control:

“means careful consideration of all available plant protection methods and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of populations of harmful organisms and keep the use of plant protection products and other forms of intervention to levels that are economically and ecologically justified and reduce or minimise risks to human health and the environment. ‘Integrated pest management’ emphasises the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms.”

In other words, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective approach to minimise pest infestation by combining different methods and practices. The program aims to protect agricultural settings, your home, garden or other property from pests with minimum use of pesticides. 

The IPM strategy has a long-term focus on preventing pests or their damages and has a safe and harmless impact on humans and the environment.

How Does Integrated Pest Management Work?

Integrated pest management can be separated into several important steps:

  • Pest identification: The first and foremost step is to define the pest. Each of them has different behaviours and there are beneficial pests, as well. So, you have to correctly identify what type of pest is lurking around, is it bad or good for your crops. This step is a must as it will impact on how effective and least hazardous methods you will use to eliminate them.
  • Monitoring: next move is to observe the situation. The observation is mandatory as pest management is an ongoing process and you should track changes and pest activity. Monitoring can be accomplished with the help of special diagnosis systems, forecasting programs or sound warning alarms. Also, employees (if you have any) should work in a synergy with those systems and must pose high sanitation habits and report if they notice any pest activity. You can hire a professional who can do surveys weekly or bi-weekly.  
  • Documentation: record-keeping is a very important part of the IPM program. By this, you will keep track of distinctive features of the pest’s lifecycle such as type, population size, reproduction and other information which can be used for future preventive measurements and treatment methods. 
  • Make a decision: when monitoring is done, it’s time for decision making. On this step, you should set a threshold. It is the identified population level which when goes beyond normal then a treatment occurs. As it’s very difficult to be defined usually general observations can help with the decision. Furthermore, you should know the specification of the crops, the lifespan of the pest and other conditions while making any decisions. This step describes what combinations of biological, cultural, mechanical and chemical methods will be used.
  • Regular inspections: each effective integration pest management program includes at least weekly inspections. After the treatment, you should keep an eye on the areas where pests are most likely to hide such as kitchens, agriculture and other places where food source and shelter are available. One treatment usually isn’t enough and they can come back again. So be cautious. 
  • Prevention: no integrated pest management is as effective as the one including preventative measurements. Inspection is not enough if you haven’t taken any further actions to make the place unattractive. One of the best ways to keep pests out is to establish good cleaning habits and regularly clean the infested areas. Keep food and water sources away. Seal any entry point to your property. These few things will minimize the chance of pest infestation with less use of chemicals. Another great way to deal with the pests is crop rotation which is a great alternative to synthetic pesticides.

Methods Used in Integrated Pest Management

There are four main categories of Integrated Pest management methods: cultural control, biological control, physical(mechanical) control, and chemical control. The efficiency of each pest control method depends on different factors like pest type, infestation level, stage of its life lifecycle etc. The appropriate combination of the above-mentioned works best.
Now, let’s take a look at their specifications:

Cultural Control

Cultural pest control includes practices that can lower the chance of pest infestation. First of all, choosing plants or crops properly can reduce their presence. You can choose plants that can resist any disease or pest invasions, change the soil pH, execute irrigation practices, change the amount of sunlight etc.  Basically, cultural controls aim to make the environment less attractive to the vermins. There are some tips you can follow when applying cultural control methods:

  • Choose the proper plants for your region;
  • Choose plants that can withstand or repel pests;
  • Choose the right location;
  • Check the perfect timing when planting;
  • Make sure you use the proper tools when taking care of the plants;
  • Water them properly;
  • Test the pH of the soil regularly.

These and more conditions will not only help you grow perfect plants but they will also be a preventive measure against pests.

Biological Control

This is an important component of the IPM and relies on natural enemies of the pest. They are encouraged to the desired area where pests might be lurking. So, the main biological control examples are:

  • Predators: they are usually free-living insects of other types of pests and feed on their prey. Usually, plants and crops are infested by insects so the predators are insectivorous species. For example, attracting ladybirds can be beneficial against aphids, caterpillars or mites. Cats can be effective against rodent infestations which are still not excessive. 
  • Parasitoids: they lay eggs inside their insect host or on their body so the pest is killed inevitably. Most common parasites are flies and parasitoid wasps
  • Pathogens: these are micro-organisms such as viruses, bacteria or fungi. For example, Bacillus thuringiensis, is bacteria grown in the soil and can eliminate mosquitoes and other insects during their larval stage.

So, you should be aware of the difference between beneficial and harmful pests. You should know which beneficial is good for which non-beneficial pest so that they can be helpful and protect your garden or agricultural crop, lowering the need for other harmful methods. 

Physical (Mechanical) Control

Physical pest control includes sustainable ways to remove pests without harmful chemicals and protecting the ecosystem. As its name gives a hint, the pest control happens physically using means like:

  • Handpicking: the pests are removed with hands. This is one of the quickest ways to remove and kill pests. Especially, useful when certain plants or crops are invaded by bugs and can be easily removed. This method should be executed before any damage is done.
  • Weed-pulling: Before they set roots, you can mow, or pull the weeds.
  • Mechanical traps: setting rodent traps is another way to deal with bigger enemies like mice or rats. Mechanical traps can be used to effectively trap insects, as well. They are usually very expensive and can trap beneficial insects.
  • Mulch: applying mulch in garden areas can prevent plants from sprouting.
  • Nettings: stretching nets over crops or bushes can stop unwelcomed birds picking the fruit

These and more innovative approaches are great ways to keep pests away from your field.

Chemical Control

Pesticides are the last group of the integrated pest management methods. When other components don’t  work, chemical pest control takes place. They are usually much more powerful and effective but on the other hand, can pose risk to health. We can divide the pesticides into the following groups according to the type of pest they eradicate:

  • Insecticides against insects;
  • Rodenticides against mice and rats;
  • Herbicides against plants;
  • Bactericides against bacteria;
  • Fungicides against fungi;
  • Larvicides against larvae.

However, there are two main categories of pesticides based on their ingredients:

  • Synthetic pesticides: they are traditional and are made of synthetic chemicals which are powerful and mostly affect the nervous system of insects and rodents. For example, Zoophthora radicans are used against aphids. They can be extremely harmful to pets and humans and can lead to very serious illnesses such as cancer, asthma or other system disorders. This is why in IPM programs they are very carefully used by certified and trained pest control specialists.
  • Non-synthetic pesticides: they are organic pesticides that are based on extracts of different types of plants or organisms. For example, pyrethrin which is used against mosquitoes, flies, ants and other insects, is extracted from the chrysanthemum flower. Diatomaceous earth is another very popular natural pesticide which is made of fossilized algae (diatoms). Even if they are natural, they should be applied carefully, as well because these types of pesticide might cause allergic reactions or other unpleasant side effects. For example, neem oil can cause irritation on skin and dermatitis if sensitive.

So, the integrated pest management program aims to minimise the use of pesticides as they can be unsafe to humans and pets. This is why it’s not recommended for you to do it by yourself. Instead, an expert and certified pest controller should execute the treatment with chemicals. 

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Benefits of Integrated Pest Management

The integrated pest management is highly effective due to the fact that it has many beneficial sides thanks to which:

  • Farmers and gardeners can grow healthy plants and crops;
  • The cost of  pest control is reduced significantly;
  • New sustainable and organic pest management alternatives appear.
  • Less harmful impact on the environment by encouraging the use of more natural pest management methods;
  • Workers, tenants or homeowners are less exposed to chemicals;
  • The chance to contaminate the water or air with harmful ingredients is lower;
  • Can protect the property, garden or crops for longer periods of time;
  • Beneficial insects can be protected as an impact from the pest management activities;
  • The need to apply pesticides is less because other options exist.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Integrated Pest Management

As any aspect of life, the integrated pest management program has its positive and negative sides.
So, the integrated pest management advantages can be:

  • Eco-friendly approach: the combination of different integrated pest management approaches and minimizing the use of pesticide this is the best solution for the environment and the well-being of pets and humans.
  • Lower cost: using only one method (especially chemical control) will cost much more than integrating different methods. 
  • Anti-resistance effect: changing the methods and ways to eliminate pests will make sure they won’t get resistant to certain situations, environment and most commonly to pesticides.

On the other hand, disadvantages of integrated pest management are:

  • Requires time, patience and energy: the whole program is consuming and laborious. The application gives results after a certain amount of time for which you should be very patient and consistent. 
  • Requires technicalities involvement: the integrated pest management program has to be carefully planned. Also, specifically educated and trained people are needed who will dedicate their efforts to eliminate the pests.

Conclusion

Integrated pest management is a complicated but very effective way to deal with pests, no matter if you have agriculture crops, garden or you just need it at home or at the workplace. Most of the methods can be combined with each other and can eliminate and prevent pests from the desired areas for a long time. The aim of the IPM program is to find the best solutions with a minimum use of harmful pesticides and to preserve the environment and our health. 
To conclude we should mark some misinterprets regarding IPM program:

  1. Integrated pest management is not a new approach.
  2. Integrated pest management shouldn’t be reviewed as an organic farming: organic interventions rely only on non-synthetic methods. However, as we’ve mentioned synthetic methods can be applied even if they are required to be used less.
  3. Integrated pest management cannot be applied for one night: the program can take years and many experts may be involved (when applied in business, for example) 
  4. Integrated pest management doesn’t eliminate the use of pesticides: the program tries to balance between different methods including pesticides but using them in a safer and reasonable way. 
  5. Integrated pest management is not universal: each area, business, garden or property requires unique treatment, because of different factors like geography, climate, type of soil, type of pests etc. 

Image: wavebreakmedia/shutterstock.com

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