Integrated Pest Management Essay

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Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a collection of techniques used to control pests in agricultural production while protecting against longterm damage to the environment, human health, and property. In contrast to conventional pest control, which has relied heavily on chemical pesticides and short-term economic return, IPM involves the use of a combination of nonpesticide methods for the reduction and control of pests.

IPM relies upon both preventative methods for avoiding pest problems along with biological, mechanical, and cultural controls for addressing pests. It is a system in which pest problems are controlled and reduced to acceptable levels, but not necessarily eliminated. Acceptable levels of crop loss are established in advance, and then a program is implemented to manage pests accordingly.

No unified program exists in IPM; the combination of approaches used in different cases depends upon the specific conditions in a particular growing area. Thus, careful monitoring and ongoing study is needed in order to implement the ideal combination of techniques in a given area facing a particular pest problem. Growers must carefully monitor their crops and maintain accurate records. Intimate knowledge about pest life cycles, reproductive habits, feeding preferences, and predators is then used to limit pest problems.

The first element of any IPM program is preventative: to grow crops species or varieties that are suited to the particular environment and that are resistant to pests common in the area. Maintaining healthy crops through proper irrigation, fertilization, and pruning also serves to guard against pest vulnerability. When pest issues do arise, mechanical, biological, and cultural approaches are the preferred means to address them. Mechanical pest control methods can involve simple manual removal of pests by hand or with the use of mechanical devices such as vacuums. Pest traps can also be used as part of an IPM system as can the construction of physical-barrier designs.

Biological controls can include the introduction of predators that feed on pests in order to reduce the pest population. The release of sterile pests can also be used to disrupt reproduction and lower pest populations. Cultural controls are also used to disrupt pest reproduction in IPM systems. Crop rotation can reduce pests by interrupting pest life cycles as host plants are replaced with alternatives that do not support the pest species. Tilling can also be used to undermine pest reproduction.

IPM systems can also involve the use of chemical pesticides, but this is undertaken according to pre-established guidelines that specify when pesticide use is necessary, and are viewed as a strategy of a last resort. Even when synthetic materials are used, however, efforts are made to limit their health and environmental consequences. Pesticides that are the least toxic alternatives, as well as those that most narrowly target the pest species without harming other plant or animal life, are used. The application of pesticides is also minimized in terms of frequency and area. Although the other elements of IPM systems are commonly used in organic farming, pesticides are not used in organic agriculture.

Because of its environmental, health, and economic benefits, the U.S. government has encouraged IPM research and implementation for over 30 years. Yet, while many growers claim to be using some variant of IPM, some research suggests that the full implementation of IPM programs is very rare and that most growers in the United States are still overly reliant on synthetic pesticides. The same is true in other parts of the world, such as in Africa, although elsewhere, IPM is widely practiced. IPM has been adopted by many small rice growers in Asia.

Bibliography:

  1. Lester Ehler, “Integrated Pest Management: A National Goal? Issues in Science & Technology (v.22/1, 2005);
  2. Robert M. Faust, “Integrated Pest Management Programs Strive to Solve Agricultural Problems,” Agricultural Research (v.52/11, 2004);
  3. Alastair Orr, “Integrated Pest Management for Resource-Poor African Farmers: Is the Emperor Naked?” World Development (v.31/5, 2003).

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