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Integrated Pest Management

IPM improves farmer profits while promoting land stewardship.

In agriculture, dealing with insect pests is just a part of life as farmers constantly fight the battle against profit-robbing pests.

For a more cost-effective and sustainable approach to insect control, you might want to consider adopting an Integrated Pest Management System.

What is IPM?

IPM is the use of a variety of cultural, biological and chemical methods to effectively control pests while lowering the need for chemical applications. With IPM, no field is committed to one broad pest-management practice. Instead, treatment methods are targeted to the specific pest problems in specific fields.

IPM helps farmers treat insect problems before they become an economic problem. Farmers use a variety of complementary tactics that are specific to individual situations to tackle problems before they cause economic impact.

One goal of IPM is to reduce the use of pesticides. By using a variety of methods to manage pests, insect resistance to pesticides starts to diminish. Pesticides then become more effective when they do need to be used.

IPM Strategies

There are four basic strategies to consider when planning your IPM program:

  1. Prevention: This strategy focuses on stopping a pest from being introduced to your area. This is accomplished through regulation and quarantine. Pest hosts are either moved or eliminated if pests are found in an area.

  2. Avoidance: This practice focuses on holding a species population under levels where it would become a threat. This could involve keeping crops healthy so that any pest damage remains below economic thresholds. Farmers can also avoid pest problems by increasing or maintaining their natural enemies, setting traps and barriers or using biological control.

  3. Monitoring: Tracking a pest's history in the fields, as well as the current pest conditions, is a good way to keep aware of what actions need to be taken before pests become economically damaging.

  4. Suppression: This method is used if prevention and avoidance have failed and pest populations rise above economic thresholds. When chemicals are used, they are applied in a way that the impact on the environment is minimized.

Get Started

So how can a farmer get started in IPM? Many resources are available online through Cooperative Extension agencies and various other organizations. In short, putting an IPM program into practice involves three phases: observe, implement and evaluate.


In an effective IPM program, trained scouts make weekly field checks from the time of planting to maturity. Scouts record progress on forms that give the farmer an overall picture on how each field is developing. The forms also serve to record the field’s history for future management decisions.

Weekly field checks also allow a farmer to treat insect problems early. Typically, pests are much easier to control when they are small or before populations get too high.

Obtaining plant and insect samples and sending them to public agencies or private labs gives a farmer vital information the type of pest and what stage of life that pest is in.

Depending on the type of crop you are growing, the frequency and amount of samples can vary. It’s important to consult your Southern States Agronomy Professional or local Extension agency for these details. Also, Extension should have scouting handbooks or guidelines specifically for your state or area, with information such as field scouting patterns and threshold guidelines.

Certain states, such as Kentucky, are using organized IPM cooperatives to hire trained scouts. Another option is to hire individual consultants. Many farmers simply train themselves to be scouts and perform inspections themselves. However, some farmers have found they are simply too busy to keep up the weekly routine.


After careful observation, it’s time to put a plan into action. Because each circumstance is unique, choose the methods that work best for you. Some specific management practices that should be assessed are:

  • Site selection
  • Crop rotation
  • Planting strategies (seedbed preparation, planting date, plant population)
  • Fertilization and other soil amendments (organics, lime)
  • Cultivar or variety selection including transgenics when appropriate
  • Water management
  • Use of plant growth regulators
  • Harvest practices
  • Crop residue management
  • Use of pesticides

Cultural and biological methods should be used as much as possible before pesticides are considered, or before an economic threshold is reached. The economic threshold, or ET, is the point when a pesticide will prevent economic injury. The economic injury level, or EIL, is when the cost of treatment equals the economic benefit of treatment.

Universities and other organizations conduct ongoing research to fine-tune the accuracy of thresholds. Your Extension office should have these figures available for you.


You should keep record of actions taken and evaluate the progress and record results for future study. Be sure to record what was done and when, and revisit your records to refine future processes.

While an IPM program can drastically change a grower’s pest management approach, many farmers have found both economical and environmental benefits to using the system. Noticing signs early and attacking with a variety of methods is proving to be a more effective way to handle pests.

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