Fundamentals of IPM: Cover all the bases

Features - Integrated pest management

A quick primer on what an in-season integrated pest management (IPM) program should look and feel like.

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May 9, 2022

© MAURO | Adobestock

Like the gears of a watch, parts of an engine or electronics of a computer hard drive, there are many moving parts that contribute to the metaphorical, singular “well-oiled machine.”

But how does this apply to integrated pest management?

Well, entirely! We can perform individual, sporadic tasks to ensure that pests do not best us this year. However, performing individual pest management elements regularly and together will create a strong, well-rounded IPM program, leaving no stone unturned and no leaf or grain of soil unprotected.

Let’s look at the different elements of integrated pest management, and how to seamlessly and easily integrate them together to achieve a well-oiled IPM program.

Collecting data is an important part of deciding what pest control actions to take in your operation.
© ManuPadilla | Adobestock

Scout for success

Scouting and data collection are some of the most fundamental and important pieces of an integrated pest management program.

Collecting data on current and historic pest populations will help you decide which types and rates of beneficial insects/mites and pesticides to use, which pests have historically been seen on specific crops, and aid in forecasting and planning a preventative program before a predicted surge. This data is also collected to allow for communication of pest problems across your team, ensuring that team members diligently be looking for pests while performing regular horticultural tasks.

Data in and of itself is all well and good … but how do we collect it?

There are numerous ways to collect and interpret scouting data; the most important factors are that it fits seamlessly into your production schedule, and that it happens regularly. The more regularly scouting occurs, the more readily we can create a plan to prevent or manage current and/or historical pest populations. It’s helpful to create or download a scouting collection sheet to keep data consistent, organized and well-kept track of.

Once the data is collected, we can now tell when there’s one too many pests. Establishing an action threshold — the number of pests on your crop that indicates when action should be taken before there’s economic damage — can help determine the next step.

Action thresholds are different depending on the crop, stage of the crop and the pest type. For example, one cotton aphid on a fully developed hydrangea may be OK, but that same single cotton aphid on a cutting may be a different story.

Typically, a preventative IPM program will help you keep the pests below your action threshold. This involves different elements such as implementing a beneficial insect, mite and nematode program, implementing beneficial-insect friendly sprays if necessary, and as mentioned before, regular scouting to understand where your beneficial and pest populations are. When scouting, if the number of pests on your crop is at or above your action threshold, it’s time to take action!

Employing a preventative IPM program will keep pests at bay before they become a problem.
© tomasz | Adobestock

Preventative > Curative

Curative IPM programs can be carried out in a lot of different ways, but generally, it can be quite challenging. It’s much easier to control and maintain pest populations preventatively, rather than curatively.

Regardless, this is something we all have to face at one point or another and is not a moral wrongdoing. Ecosystems eb and flow; this includes our agroecosystems. To take on a cumbersome pest population, we want to take all our elements of an IPM program and turn them up to overdrive.

Typically, it’s suggested to growers to spray a chemistry that will knock down their pest population. Once enough time has passed where the chemical residue wouldn’t affect your beneficial insects, then it’s time to release the kraken! Just kidding — when you release your beneficial insects at this time, this should allow them to have the upper hand and establish a population before a pest population can crop up once again.

Following this release, scouting is once again very important (as always) to ensure the spray and beneficial insects are keeping the once overwhelming pest population at bay. From this point on, it would be important and wise to establish a preventative program, to ensure that headache doesn’t happen again. Collecting data on what successfully keeps pests at bay is important — this can become a tool in the belt for prepping better for the next season.

Much like nesting dolls, different elements of IPM fit neatly within each other, resulting in a wholly well-rounded, solid IPM program.

Scouting for data collection helps us determine where our beneficial and pest populations lie, and just the general look of the crop. Having a preventative IPM program, with regular beneficial insect, mite and nematode/pesticide applications keeps headaches and pests at bay. If our data from regular scouting indicates pest numbers are above our action threshold, it’s time to switch our IPM biological control agent regime from preventative to curative.

As a curative program is carried out, it’s important to scout and monitor to know what products are working. This will also determine when it’s safe to ease back into a preventative program. Additionally, this data is good to know in case another pest surge occurs, or to establish at what times of the year pest populations rise.

The bottom line?

By leaving out one of the elements of IPM, a domino effect occurs.

If we don’t scout, we don’t understand what’s happening with our beneficial and pest populations. If we don’t accurately understand the pest populations, we may take on crop damage. Additionally, if we don’t understand what pests exist in our crop, we may or may not implement the correct pesticides and/or beneficial insects, mites and nematodes. If we don’t understand what happens to our crop throughout the season, we can’t properly prepare for the next!

It’s important to incorporate all elements of IPM into the production schedule, for the benefits of an efficient, well-rounded IPM program far outweigh the risks.

Heather is the Northeastern US technical sales representative at BioBee USA, and her favorite insect is the Dalotia coriaria. Additionally, she attends The Ohio State University and is pursuing a masters in Plant Health Management.