Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

If you’re looking into sustainable production, it won’t take you long to hear the term IPM. IPM or Integrated Pest Management is an approach to controlling all types of pests in a system with a comprehensive strategy. Unlike conventional agriculture practices that employ chemical based pesticides as a first defense, IPM’s principal tactic is prevention. We’ll discuss an overview of the basic principles of an IPM approach here. Since an IPM program can be detailed and multi-faceted, we’ll dig into each of these aspects in detail in this series’ other lessons.

The best pest problem is one that doesn’t occur. This principle of prevention, followed by careful monitoring to catch pests before they become a problem, often eliminates the need for more intensive solutions. If a pest infestation cannot first be prevented and you catch it early, you must decide what level of pest damage you are willing to accept. Once that acceptable level is determined, the type of control to use when it is reached can then be considered.

There are three broad types of controls. These are mechanical, biological, and chemical. Which type(s) you choose depends on the pest, the crop, the level of control you need, and the cost.

  • Mechanical and cultural controls employ physical barriers, planting techniques, and diversions. Some examples
    • Mulching around plants prevents weeds from sprouting
    • Row covers block pests from getting to a crop
    • Keeping soil healthy prevents disease and pests
    • Planting compatible crops together
    • Planting trap crops to distract pests away from desirable plants
    • Many others…
  • Biological controls use three major types of combative measures; Parasitoids, Pathogens, and Predators
    • Predators like lady beetles, spiders, mantids, reptiles, and many others can be attracted to or released in a crop to naturally control pest species.
    • Parasitoids lay their eggs in or on harmful pest species, eventually killing them and resulting in another generation of beneficial organisms.
    • Pathogens are fungi, viruses and bacteria and nematodes that cause disorders in target pests. Bacillus thuringiensis and Verticillium are examples
  • Chemical controls include an extremely wide range of examples. Extremes in toxicity and makeup make this category very useful but potentially very dangerous.
    • Neem oil – a product derived from the Neem tree is very effective for controlling many pest and is non-toxic
    • Diatomaceous Earth (DE) – finely ground fossilized remains of diatoms that act as tiny razors on the bodies of insects
    • Elemental chemicals like Sulphur and lime

We must stress that a chemical solution is not always a bad thing. There are many things in this category that are used in sustainable or organic production every day and do not pose a risk to humans, animals or beneficial insects.  The key is to prevent problems before they get to a level of needing a chemical solution that could possibly do more harm than good.

There is an old axiom that the best garden fertilizer is the farmer’s shadow. This holds true for pest management as well. All of these management practices, used together can create a safe and healthy garden that is productive and diverse in plants, insects and animals.

We will dig into this subject on a much deeper level in lessons to come. Pest management is one of the most diverse and interesting areas of gardening and a source of most gardening questions. We hope you can join us for this series and we look forward to your participation and questions. Visit our Contact page if you have a question or comment.