Feature Story •  8/7/2022

What are the components of an effective Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy?

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Close up of ladybug on green lettuce leaf shows how integrated pest management preserves beneficial insects and biodiversity

For as long as agriculture has existed, farmers have had to stay ahead of pests in order to put food on our tables. Pests—a term that encompasses insects, weeds, nematodes and diseases that impact yield and quality of agricultural production—are a constant threat. Farmers have always looked for new and better ways to combat pests with practices that balance growing quality crops and taking good care of the land. Today, many of these practices fall under the term Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, a science-based decision-making process for pest control. IPM strategies minimize environmental impact of pest control practices and maximize the opportunity for farmers to improve economic return on their crops. With many effective ways to control pests, IPM gives farmers options to choose the best solutions for their situation.

Older male farmer in hat in corn field examining crops. How does integrated pest management support your farm? IPM helps meet goals, provides insights and gives farmers choices.
Older male farmer in hat in corn field examining crops. How does integrated pest management support your farm? IPM helps meet goals, provides insights and gives farmers choices.

Identifying pest threats

Before farmers can develop solutions to address pests, they need to understand the pests they are up against. This involves properly diagnosing the pests that are present—whether insect, nematode, disease or weed—and learning more about how they operate. In gathering information, farmers may ask:1

  •  What pests are present and what is their current stage of development?
  • How does the pest’s development stage relate to the developmental stage of my crops? (Certain pests will be more damaging at certain  points of the growing cycle.)
  • What conditions on the farm might increase or decrease pest  pressure?
  • What kind of damage does this pest cause? What’s the potential economic risk to my farm?

At this stage, insights from consultants, agronomists, local agriculture and crop protection experts can be useful. For example, farmers can work closely with Corteva experts in agronomy and crop protection for additional information about pest trends, patterns and signs to watch for.

Monitoring and measuring against thresholds

An important part of IPM is looking at thresholds, or the level at which the pest causes economic damage to the farm. In an IPM strategy, thresholds fall into these categories:2

  • Damage boundary: The number of pests present before injury would result in yield loss. Below the damage boundary, there’s no need for farmers to take management action.
  • Economic injury level (EIL): The smallest number of pests that will cause yield losses equal to management costs.
  • Economic threshold (ET): A decision point at which pests reach a density where management should be used to prevent pests from reaching an economic injury level.

Thresholds are changing targets that can vary depending on multiple factors, like farm operations, consumer demands and commodity prices. For example, if the commodity price for a crop is high, the threshold is lower because very little damage can produce important economic impact. Universities and other agriculture resource groups update pest thresholds from year to year to help farmers better understand the potential threats to their fields.

To determine if they are at threshold, farmers can evaluate pest populations in a given area and use mathematical formulas to figure out the overall pest pressure in a wider field or on the whole farm. Counts are often done manually, but many farmers are also using new technology in their IPM strategies. Digital tools from Corteva include technologies like satellite tracking, drones and data analytics to help farmers pinpoint pest issues to the acre and get a heads-up on coming threats.

Decision making

Armed with the right data, farmers can then make decisions based on their pest situation. In an IPM framework, options fall into five main categories.

1. Taking no action:

IPM recognizes that sometimes, the best thing a farmer can do is to wait and see. If the pest problem is not causing significant damage to the crop or the farmer’s business, no intervention is required. This saves the farmer time and resources, and it also means there’s no need to introduce a new practice or product to the field. In a wait and see approach, farmers continue to monitor thresholds and still have the option to take action if and when it’s needed.

2. Cultural practices

Cultural practices address pest control at the plant or soil level. Tactics often include:3 

  • Tillage (or no-till).
  • Planting pest-resistant crop varieties (including biotechnology-derived and native traits).
  • Rotating crops.
  • Pruning vegetation that harbors pests.
  • Making sure plants are properly nourished so they’re healthier  when  threatened.
  • Sanitation (like cleaning off equipment to avoid spreading residue).

3. Mechanical methods

These physical interventions remove pests or keep them from infiltrating crops, and can include:3

  • Barriers, screens and traps
  • Mulching
  • Weeding by hand or mechanically

4. Biological controls

Biological controls refer to the use of living organisms, or products derived from living materials, to treat pests. This can include practices like:

  •    Releasing beneficial insects into a field to prey on pests
  •    Using pheromones to lure pests into traps
  •    Applying biological products

There are many new biological product options available. Farmers should look for products that have been carefully evaluated and scientifically proven for their efficacy and have a well-understood mode of action. Biological products from Corteva are studied extensively before they reach the marketplace to ensure they address pest threats and work as expected.

5. Pesticides

In IPM, pesticides are only used when they are absolutely necessary. In an IPM strategy, pesticides are applied in the amount and location where they are most needed. Advances in pesticide products are giving farmers more and better choices when pesticides are the right solution for their fields. Newer pesticides are designed to complement IPM practices with:

  • Targeted profiles that reduce impact on beneficial organisms like   pollinators or predatory insect.
  • New modes of action to reduce resistance risks.
  • Ingredients that break down more quickly in the environment, so  products don’t linger in soil, air or water.
  • Lower use rates that allow farmers to apply less product.

Record keeping and follow-up

Maintaining records is a critical part of an IPM strategy. With long-term data, farmers can better distinguish single-season anomalies from pest-pressure trends. They can also see how their selected interventions work over time, to inform smarter decisions year after year.

IPM helps farmers do what they do best: grow abundant crops and take good care of the land for today and the future. Pest pressures are always changing, but IPM gives farmers a scientific framework to make decisions and change strategies when the situation demands. With IPM, farmers help ensure the next generation of growers has access to many effective pest management options so they can continue to sensibly push back against pests without sacrificing productivity.

1 “Strategies,” Texas IPM Program (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension), accessed May 16, 2022, https://ipm.tamu.edu/about/strategies/.

2 Larry P. Pedigo, Marlin E. Rice, and Rayda K. Krell, Entomology and Pest Management, 7th ed. (Waveland Press, Inc., 2021).

3 “Integrated Pest Management.” Province of British Columbia. Ministry of Agriculture and Seafood, January 15, 2016. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriculture-seafood/animals-and-crops/plant-health/integrated-pest-management.