Wednesday, May 2, 2012

IPM: Integrated Pest Management

As most of you know I am both an organic gardener as well as a biologist (or will be in 2 weeks when I don my cap and gown and finally achieve my degree). My focus in my degree was ecology, entomology, and botany. So that along with my organic gardening in my home life makes subjects like CCD and IPM very important to me. So what is IPM?
IPM or Integrated Pest Management is a way to is a way to control pests in both a garden setting or a large commercial setting without the use of large amounts of toxic pesticides or with little use of toxic pesticides. It is educating farmers large and small about better ways to deal with pests.
There are five steps to IPM:
1. Build your knowledge base: Learn all you can about the crops you are growing, the pests that plague them and the many different ways they can be controlled.
2. Monitor your plants: pretty self explanatory. Monitor what insects and pests eat them and how they are harming the plant. Is it an adult, or is it a larvae?
3. Decision making: Decide what plan of action will work best for your garden or farm. If you decide chemical, make sure to go with the most ecologically responsible possibility.
4. Intervention: Before insects become a problem there are ways you can intervene. One way is to spray kaolin clay on the plants. This forms a ecologically sound barrier to make in more difficult for insects to eat your plants.
5. Record keeping: Keep records form year to year on what worked, for how long, and what you could do better next year. This will help a lot in bigger farms because charting from year to year can help determine the Economic Injury Level or EIL.

A big aspect of IPM is determining the EIL. The EIL is the level at which it become no longer financially sound for a farmer to grow crops. If he has spent more on pesticides than he gains in crops then he is no longer making a profit and his farm is going to go bankrupt. The principles of IPM are meant to prevent chemical pesticide use through other more organic methods, however if chemical methods are needed then it is best to use them in regulated amounts, in rotation, and at the certain time when it is actually needed, which is when the pest level is reaching the EIL.  By implementing IPM farmers can lower their pesticide costs to almost nothing, and further reduce their own impact on the environment.
I have spoken a lot about impact on the environment but one of the biggest things I have not spoken about is one of the largest ones which is Insect Pesticide Resistance. Now assuming you all understand how selection pressures work on evolution, I am sure you can imagine what would happen if farmers sprayed nothing but one harsh chemical is abundance, year after year. The selection pressure would be so great that it would force evolution of a stronger strain of that said insect which would then be entirely resistant to that poison. So by using a variety of methods, rotating methods, and only using chemical pesticides when you are nearing the EIL, you can reduce almost entirely the chance of Pesticide Resistance.
Now I personally only use organic methods in my own use of IPM but larger commercial farms almost solely rely on chemical pesticides. By implementing IPM strategies any big farm can reduce their costs, promote their crops harvest, and reduce their impact on the environment. I will address this subject again over the course of the summer and show you in a bit more depth just how to find the EIL of your farm, what alternative pesticides you can use, and many other. I plan to have this subject be my main focus of the summer just like my series on backyard edibles was last summer. Happy planting!

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