Integrated Pest Management: A Holistic Approach to Controlling Pests
By the year 2050, the world’s population will likely increase to nine billion people. Moreover, the spread of prosperity across the globe will increase demand for meat, eggs and dairy, which will only increase demand for crops to feed livestock. As reported by National Geographic, the world will need to double the number of crops grown by mid-century. With two billion new mouths to feed, how can the agriculture industry provide for the food needs of entire nations without undue environmental harm?
Integrated pest management (IPM), a holistic approach to controlling pests, may provide the answer. With herbivorous insects responsible for destroying one-fifth of the world’s crops every year, our competition with insect pests for food is one of the greatest challenges facing the agriculture industry. Touted as the future of pest management, IPM could hold the key to reducing pesticide use, increasing crop yields and feeding the world.
The Elements of Integrated Pest Management
IPM is defined as “a decision-based process involving coordinated use of multiple tactics for optimizing the control of all classes of pests (insects, pathogens, weeds, vertebrates) in an ecologically and economically sound manner.” This approach to pest control entails:
- Managing multiple pests.
- Monitoring and identifying pests.
- Preventing pests from becoming threats.
- Setting treatment thresholds.
- Using less risky control measures first.
- Using multiple tactics.
At its core, IPM is about using all available methods to combat pests, resorting to chemical pesticides only when necessary and only after exploring all other options. Pesticide management, while important, is only one aspect of IPM. Farmers who rely solely on pesticide management risk needing to shuffle pesticides in a failed attempt to keep up with insect pest resistance. This escalating cycle is not something the agriculture industry can afford.
This overreliance on pesticides is evidenced by Florida’s collapsing citrus industry. In 2005, Florida citrus farms became infected with citrus greening, a citrus plant disease spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. This tiny brown insect is responsible for infecting 90% of Florida’s orange and grapefruit trees with citrus greening. For years, growers relied heavily on pesticides, but the psyllid quickly became resistant to many, leaving growers with few if any options. Researchers are still desperately looking for non-pesticide solutions to control the virus. Had growers adopted the principles of IPM earlier, they may have delayed the rapid onset of pest resistance to their now ineffective treatments.
Implementing IPM Elements
Non-pesticide options can include anything from breeding crops with direct and indirect defensive traits, such as odors that attract a pest’s natural predators, to deploying biorational substances, such as insect pheromones that disrupt mating. Other methods include using several varieties of crops in a field and taking advantage of plants’ priming responses by introducing them to defense-inducing organisms, such as soil microbes.
Biological control is one of the most basic elements of IPM. Biological control means using other organisms to control insects and other pests; however, it entails more than simply introducing a pest to its natural predator. For example, researchers have observed that bumble bees can be effective for transferring microbiological control agents to strawberry flowers infected with grey mold. However, introducing organisms to a new environment always comes with concerns, including the possibility that they move to unintended areas. This scenario illustrates why multiple approaches are utilized in IPM and why IPM managers are sought after in the agricultural field.
Why Is IPM the Future of Pest Management?
In decades past, farmers relied heavily on chemical pesticides. Pesticides were a cheap and seemingly one-size-fits-all solution that prevented pests from wiping out entire fields of crops. What the farmers of the past didn’t realize was that this approach is unsustainable. Not all insects are harmful. Like the bumblebee, many are essential for pollinating plants and hunting pest insects. Not only does indiscriminate pesticide usage kill beneficial insects, but it also results in pesticide-resistant pests, secondary pest outbreaks, environmental contamination, and serious health risks for humans. By employing IPM, farmers can improve the appearance, nutritional value, safety and yield of crops without the negatives. It’s the best of both worlds.
We’ve Only Scratched the Surface of IPM
Numerous challenges must be overcome before IPM is considered ubiquitous. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of plant resistances, especially with regard to genetically modified crops. While that presents a challenge for entomologists and nematologists, it also means that there are numerous unexplored solutions waiting to be discovered. Furthermore, while many farmers may lack the time or resources to implement IPM programs, entomologists and nematologists trained in IPM best practices can help farmers implement effective IPM programs and meet the world’s growing food needs.
At the University of Florida, students in our online entomology and nematology programs are given a comprehensive overview of pest management. Online courses like Insect Pest and Vector Management empower students with the knowledge needed to consider all elements of IPM. Whether students pursue a master’s degree or graduate certificate in medical entomology, landscape pest management or urban pest management, they are gaining valuable insight into insects and their impact on the world around us. Apply to one of UF’s online entomology and nematology graduate programs to learn about the most effective and ecological ways to manage insects.