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What Is Integrated Pest Management?

Liam Williams

April 6, 2022

Integrated Pest Management wasn’t always a method used in Texas to tackle pests. For example, in the 1950s, pest control heavily relied on organophosphates. Their effectiveness in controlling pests was considered to be phenomenal, with all research being centralized around the use of chemicals to combat pests.

By 1956, the boll weevil had become resistant to certain chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides all over Texas. By 1960, many species of insects had developed resistance to insecticides, and Texas cotton farmers were faced with increasing financial issues. Therefore, an alternative was desperately needed, and new approaches to insect control were proposed.

During the 1960s, cultural control methods started to be developed and were expanded to deal with all kinds of crops across all US states. This was the beginning of Integrated Pest Management as we know it today in Texas and worldwide.

What is Integrated Pest Management?

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a common-sense, scientific method of pest management that works with nature. Biological, cultural, and physical management principles keep pest damage below a critical value. These Economic Thresholds (ET) were determined using extensive research and can be quantified through regular scouting of planted crops. Infestation levels are recorded, and once a predetermined ET is reached, the least damaging, most pest-specific, and if possible organic, control measures are deployed. This usually forms part of a wider network of holistic land management, that relies on developing a healthy ecosystem to support crop production.

Definition of a Pest

We define a pest as an insect, weed, disease, organism, or pathogen that attacks plants, diminishing plant growth and yield.

Requirements for Integrated Pest Management

Producers need to meet a few requirements and have certain knowledge before attempting IPM:

1. Government and State Laws for Pesticide Applicators

Texas’ federal and state laws express that specific individuals buying and applying pesticides must pass the appropriate examinations before being certified as applicators. Therefore, someone must receive training in IPM principles and pesticide application before they are certified as an applicator. 

2. Vegetable Plantings/Gardens Must Have Insects

For Integrated Pest Management, we need a perfect balance between insects in the ecosystem so that predators and parasites can keep pest numbers under control. An ideal ecological system enhances this perfect biological balance to ensure that pest occurrence can be controlled naturally.

3. Know Your Enemies and Allies

Basic research is needed to understand the pest, its feeding habits, its life-cycle, etc. Arming yourself with this information is integral when utilizing biological or cultural control methods. Moreover, knowledge about the pest’s predators can help you to create favorable conditions for them in order to control the problem.

The plants you are growing are part of your arsenal for controlling the pest. Being knowledgeable about developing habits, seasons, and cultivar selection allows you to be equipped with vital information for fighting the pest. 

Food production is a science, and thus requires some scientific knowledge. However, as mentioned before, IPM is essentially a common sense, scientific approach to pest management. Therefore, combining your scientific knowledge with common sense gives you an edge when fighting the pest.

Combining Management Approaches to Implement Integrated Pest Management

Long-term pest control strategies, when followed, should suppress and control pest infestation severity. These managerial strategies include the following:

1. Biological Management of Pests

Biological control is any method of control whereby natural enemies are allowed to introduce or benefit from controlling the pest infestation. These predators, parasites and/or pathogens can be used to keep the pest infestation below the predetermined ET, without the need to resort to chemical intervention. 

2. Cultural Management of Pests

Cultural management involves controls to minimize or prevent pest establishment, reproduction, dispersal, and survival. An example includes interfering with the pest’s lifecycle and using tillage practices while the pest overwinters in the soil. In addition, changing irrigation timing may suppress a pest infestation, as particular irrigation times hinder pests from spreading and increasing in number.

Cultural control methods can effectively suppress and eliminate particular pest species. Therefore, it is best to do as much research as possible on this critical subject.

3. Mechanical and Physical Management of Pests

Mechanical and physical controls may kill a pest directly, block a pest out, or make the environment unsuitable for the pest. Barriers, high-pressure water spraying, and handpicking are some successful examples. Many more control methods can be found here.

4. Chemical Control of Pests

The final option is to use chemicals to control pest infestation. For this, a product should be used that has a minimal effect on the pest’s predators, viruses and pathogens. The selected product should also leave no or minimal residue and not contaminate any water sources nor its environment. Chemical control of pests is very much a science to be studied and researched in depth. Applicator courses offered in Texas should address this subject in detail.

Steps For Effective Integrated Pest Management

To ensure effective IPM, certain steps need to be followed in a specific order to identify, quantify, manage, and, if necessary, control pest infestation in a regulated way. 

1. Prevention & Preparation

Obtaining knowledge about entomology is a very important preventative measure. This can be done through self-education, which should arm you with a sound knowledge of potential problematic pests for your crops. Furthermore, being informed about the life cycle, feeding habits, and anatomy of these pests is very important. This will allow you to tackle any problematic pest infestation.

The preventative phase of integrated pest management starts by planning your production cycle for multiple years. Pest occurrence and infestation are influenced by the following conditions and practices, which should be considered when attempting to limit pest severity:

  • Healthy soils with adequate nutrients and microbial activity will supply healthy plants with the ability to be more tolerant or even withstand the negative effect of many pests. 
  • The correct soil preparation method can break the life cycle of certain pests. Although conventional soil preparation isn’t a preferred annual method, it can prevent certain pests from completing their lifecycle in the soil. 
  • Plant healthy seedlings that are certified to be free of pests and inoculated seeds.
  • Crop rotation should be planned by considering the life cycles of pests. Crop rotation is a major cultural control method for common pests and a powerful tool to increase soil health. However, monoculture crop production can cause an increase in soil-borne pathogens and should be avoided.
  • Cultivar selection can play an immense role in combating pests. Varieties that are tolerant and even immune to certain pests are bred for specific areas and species of pests. 
  • Planting a trap crop around a crop that is susceptible to certain pests may attract the pest and keep it away from your main crop. Therefore, any damage should occur to the trap crop instead of the primary crop.
  • Planting repellent crops around or between the main crop can alleviate pest occurrence and infestation levels. Several of this kind of plant species are available in Texas.
  • Using decomposed manure is brilliant for soil; however, using waste (raw manure) can contribute to pest occurrence and infestation under certain circumstances. Therefore, avoid using natural manure and only use correctly decomposed manure.
  • Using cover crops is beneficial to soil health and serves as a pest manager. Cover crops may starve or trap pests, or even gas them out of existence. Therefore, including cover crops in your crop rotation is a must and will contribute to effective integrated pest control.
  • Perimeter weeding is another way to prevent pests from infesting your crops. Creating a weed-free area of about three yards around your farm or garden will create a haven for your crops. Weeding, in general, produces fewer hosts for insects. In addition, a weed-free area serves as an obstacle preventing pests from penetrating your planted field or garden.
  • Washing tillage implements and tools after use will prevent pests from spreading.

In summary, careful planning before planting your crops is one of the most important preventative measures in integrated pest control. The producer should plan by studying and researching all available literature to enhance their integrated pest control. Join the Texas Pest Management Association for valuable training and insights, or contact your local extension office for further assistance.

It might be impossible to get everything in place for the next season. But striving towards achieving these steps to ensure more effective integrated pest management is an absolute necessity.

2. Scouting For Pests and Beneficials

Scouting should start as soon as the seedlings emerge and continue until harvest time. Scouting should target insects, diseases, weeds, and even abiotic stress in plants. Therefore, effective scouting is the cornerstone of integrated pest management and crop management in general.

Effective scouting on field crops, perennial crops, and scouting in nurseries should be addressed in applicator certification courses. A scout’s goal should be to scout regularly and systematically with every detail recorded to allow timely and effective action to be taken.

It is imperative that scouting be executed based on background data that can indicate the emergence of a pest or disease, such as weather data. For example, specific weather scenarios can contribute to pest emergence and infestations. In addition, producers can obtain degree-day models, enabling scouts to model when conditions are favorable for pests to emerge and cause infestations. 

Scouts should use the correct scouting methods and tools for every crop in order to identify and quantify pest infestation. Proper identification of the pest is of the utmost importance. This knowledge is the basis on which management or control of the pest will rely.

Scouts must record their scouting on data sheets that are handy to use when producers make management decisions. For example, datasheets are the basis for pulling up graphs indicating pest infestation for the season in conjunction with appropriate weather data. These graphs show a correlation between certain weather events and pest occurrence/infestation trends.

3. Intervention

When pest infestation exceeds the Economic Threshold (ET), producers must ensure that appropriate management steps are applied to manage or control the infestation rate. As previously mentioned, if pest control is the final option, the most appropriate option must be selected, i.e., one that does not harm the environment.

4. Scouting and Evaluation of Results

Scouting will determine how effective the chosen method was regarding the pest infestation and the status of other pests and beneficials. These records can be valuable in evaluating different intervention or control measures in the future.

5. Developing More Appropriate IPM Tactics

All information attained through scouting, management, and control strategies needs to be evaluated to obtain the best managerial or control methods in the future. Following this procedure will aid in developing the best IPM strategies.

By following all these principles and steps, producers can successfully apply integrated pest management. Furthermore, IPM ensures that pests are prevented or managed and that chemical control is only used as the last resort in integrated pest management.