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Integrated Pest Management: how it works and benefits 

Theme: Basics of biocontrol

Theme: Integrated pest management


Definition of Integrated Pest Management

An infographic show the process of IPM, including, the management strategies, approach and benefits.
IPM involves combining different agricultural management strategies in a 5-step process and has multiple benefits. Credit: CABI

Integrated pest management (IPM) is an environmentally friendly approach to managing crops. Its main goal is to solve pest problems while limiting unwanted effects on the environment and on health.

The FAO describes the IPM approach as the “careful consideration of all available pest control techniques”

Integrated pest management includes implementing various biological, chemical, physical and crop specific (cultural) techniques. This encourages healthy crops and minimizes the use of pesticides. Reducing the use of pesticides reduces health risks to people and the environment. In this way, integrated pest management is a sustainable form of pest management.

Integrated pest management, as a sustainable form of agriculture, aims to:

  • Manage pest damage in the most economical way
  • Limit impact to people, property and the environment
  • Avoid negative implications for the farmer
  • Improve biodiversity and conservation
  • Protect the human right to food

How does IPM work?

Integrated pest management programmes include a number of steps. These are pest management evaluations, decisions and controls.

Growers usually employ a five-step approach while conducting integrated pest management.

The five steps include:  

  1. Pest identification
  1. Setting an action threshold
  1. Monitoring
  1. Prevention
  1. Control
A schematic showing the 5 steps approach when using IPM.
The 5 key elements of integrated pest management © Carlos Vasquez

1. Pest identification

Correctly identifying the pest is key to taking further decisions and for using targeted measures. This step is essential to assess if the pest is likely to become a problem and to select the appropriate management strategies.

Misidentification or lack of information on the pest generally leads to the selection of unsuitable measures, which in turn leads to pest control failure. When identifying the weed, insect, or plant disease it is ideal to have a sample of the pest. This ensures it is identified correctly. You can even ask for the expertise of extension workers.

Sometimes the pest is not visible and you have to look for symptoms instead.

One resource that can assist with pest identification is the Plantwise Diagnostic Field Guide. This tool helps diagnose crop problems and makes recommendations for their management.

Identifying the pest also means learning more about the pest’s life cycle and biology. This will help with choosing the most suitable control strategy.

You can use CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium to search for information about pests.

a plant pathologist with a magnifying glass looking at a sorghum field infected by anthracnose
Plant pathologist Louis K. Prom examines sorghum seeds infected by Colletotrichum sublineolum, the cause of sorghum anthracnose © U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agriculture Research Service (ARS) Photo by Peggy Greb/via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

2. Setting an action threshold

Setting an action threshold is one of the most important aspects of IPM.

An action threshold is the point at which measures should be taken to control the pest. It is the guideline that indicates when pests reach a level (i.e. the number of pests per unit area) that justifies taking action to avoid or diminish pest damage.

To set action thresholds for your IPM strategy, it is helpful to ask:

  • Is there an economic threat and what is the cost of taking action?

Unless the pest threshold is exceeded, the grower will not need to take any action. The cost of control should be less than or equal to the estimated losses caused by the pests, if left.

  • What are the risks to health and safety?

When a pest poses a threat to human health or safety, the grower should reduce the action threshold. For example, if the grower found grain and flour pests in food for human consumption.

  • Is there the potential for visual damage?

Damage in the appearance of any product can cause concern. Damaged products are difficult to sell.

Establishing action thresholds should be based on regular crop monitoring, which takes us to the third step of IPM.

3. Monitoring

One farmer and two advisors in a tobacco field making monitoring observation with a notebook
A farmer and advisors monitoring pests in a tobacco field in Argentina © CABI

Keeping good records of pest populations is important for deciding when it is time to act. This prevents the using of control methods when they are not needed. Monitoring and management should be adapted to your situation.

Thresholds are meant to be flexible. For example, they can be set based on:

  • The average number of pests caught per trap each week
  • The percentage of damaged or infested leaves or plants discovered during examination
  • The number of pests dislodged for every beat or shake sample

Follow CABI Academy’s course on bioprotection to learn how to monitor pests with bioprotectants.

4. Prevention

Prevention is a key step in integrated pest management. This is the best line of defense against pests. It focuses on how to prevent pest populations from building up to economically damaging levels.

IPM aims to prevent pest problems. This method of pest management is often cheaper and has better results in the long term. Even if prevention does not eliminate pests, it should lower their numbers. This makes them easier to control.

Among others, preventive actions include:

  • Carefully selected crop location
  • Appropriate variety selection
  • Strategic planting and crop rotation
  • Use of preventative biopesticides
  • Mechanical, physical, and cultural crop protection methods
  • Water management
  • Optimization of plant nutrition
  • Protecting natural habitats near farmland

These actions can be very effective and present few risks to the environment and people.

5. Control

a farmer spraying a plant protection product in the field
A farmer spraying his field with a plant protection product © CABI

Pest control is required when the action thresholds are exceeded and when preventive actions cannot help anymore.

Using a combination of various methods brings the best results in terms of duration and efficacy of pest control.

Methods that can be used in IPM include:

  • Pest trapping (with pheromones for example)
  • Heat/cold treatment
  • Physical removal
  • Biological control
  • Pesticide application

It is important to assess the effects of pest control actions, to evaluate the success of the strategies implemented.

This can be done by keeping:

  • An updated record of each pest control method used, including all pesticide applications
  • Evidence of what non-chemical control methods were considered and implemented
  • The lessons learnt for preventing future pest problems

Why use IPM?

An image showing a farmer looking a 5 signs showing the benefits of using an IPM approach
The benefits of using an IPM approach include reduced negative impacts on people and environment. Credit: CABI

IPM provides multiple benefits both for humans and the environment. Public Health Notes discusses some of these benefits, as does Crop Life. Some benefits include:

  • Lessening negative impacts on biodiversity, as well as soil and water resources: using different control methods in an appropriate way can prevent beneficial insects being killed by the inappropriate use of chemical pesticides, for example.
  • Lowering health risks for farm labourers: less reliance on pesticides means less exposure and less health issues.
  • Reducing the risk of insect resistance or recurrence: reliance on one sole control tactic increases the probability of pests getting used to them and becoming resistant. IPM and the rotation of control methods is beneficial as it counteracts this problem.

Additionally, growers also perceive benefits from using IPM. With prevention practices, growers can prevent the build-up of pests, therefore saving money and time. IPM can help growers:

  • Increase crop profits as a result of improved pest control
  • Maintain market access
  • Reduce the risk of restrictions for their produce due to pesticide residues
  • Increasing public confidence due to following safer procedures

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