Skip to main content

Word of the Day: Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a way to protect buildings, farms and other places from pests while minimizing pesticide use and treatment costs. As our world becomes more global, the number of invasive species in Florida will continue to increase, making it more important than ever to design sustainable, cost-effective pest control programs.

IPM grew out of earlier holistic strategies:

Shortly after WWII, entomologists started implementing “supervised insect control” in which treatments were monitored by entomologists so that insecticides were applied only when needed. The next stage was called “integrated control” and focused on creating a mixture of chemical and biological control methods for a specific pest. This stage also saw the introduction of a concept known as “economic threshold,” the point at which a pest becomes so pervasive that it’s more cost-effective to treat for the pests, rather than put up with the damage they cause.

Finally, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act of 1972 required pest-control providers to follow an IPM strategy for all kinds of pests – not just insects and other arthropods, but also weeds and pathogens that cause plant diseases.

The IPM goal is to manage pests and keep their economic impact in check, the goal is not to eradicate the pests. Trying to eliminate every last aphid or chinch bug is not a realistic goal; it would be expensive and unsafe. Instead, as proposed with “integrated control,” the provider and client need to calculate ahead of time what economic threshold is acceptable for the specific pest and the specific site.

The next steps focus on prevention — discouraging the target pest from taking up residence and reproducing at the site. Preventive cultural practices are one option, and may involve the quarantine of infected plants, cleaning of tools, and even the introduction of beneficial fungi and bacteria to the soil.

Monitoring is another important facet of IPM; signs of pest activity should be carefully observed through visual inspection and the use of insect traps. Also, a record should be kept of any apparent changes in the pest population and the population of beneficial insects in an area.

If the presence of a pest surpasses the economic threshold, then the provider will use cultural, biological and/or chemical methods, as dictated by circumstances.

Cultural methods are often used first, because they’re relatively easy to deploy: barriers, traps, hand-picking, vacuuming, tillage. If the pest lives in the lawn, sometimes simple changes in mowing and irrigation practices can help to disrupt its life cycle and reduce populations.

Biological control is another option, it may involve promoting natural enemies of the pest or the use of biological insecticides such as entomopathogenic nematodes (see this week’s other Bug Word of the Day selections).

Finally, chemical control methods can be used, but should be considered a last resort and they should be applied carefully. It is important to select the correct pesticide for the job and follow all label directions carefully. Increasingly, new pesticides derived from plants or naturally occurring substances are being used, many of these are used in the production of organic fruits and vegetables.

IPM sounds great, right? It’s also a little intimidating, but bear in mind that IPM plans are tailored to the client’s needs. They can be simple or sophisticated depending on the scale of the garden, yard, home or farm and the type and level of the pest.

The UF/IFAS IPM Florida website (http://ipm.ifas.ufl.edu/IPM%20_Florida/IPM_Florida.shtml) is a great resource for up-to-date and crop- or pest-specific information, as is your local county Extension office (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/map/index.shtml).

Don’t forget – if you are talking about Bug Week on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, use the official #UFBugs hashtag!

UF/IFAS Photo