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What IS Integrated Pest Management anyway? And what does it do for you?

I never know who looks at our blog–whether they’re a specialist or a homeowner, and whether or not they even know what integrated pest management is. This post is dedicated to those of you who have come here and don’t know what integrated pest management is. The rest of you can have the day off–or have fun reading.

When I started my job here in 2006, many of my friends would ask me about my new job. As I tried to explain where I was working, I could tell that they could understand the word “Center” but were still trying to wrap their heads around “integrated.” Now, almost six years later and several attempts at explanation, some of them still don’t quite understand what integrated pest management is.

So if you got to this blog while looking for something else, or you were just curious to see what IPM is, this post is for you. And, while you’re here, I’m going to try to touch on another question that I’m sure is burning in many people’s minds.

What does integrated pest management, or IPM, do for us?

By definition, IPM is a way of controlling pests by choosing pest control methods that work for that particular pest. In other words, if you have ants, you may choose to use baits to kill the colony, and then find the place where they’re entering and seal it so other ants can’t come in. Sometimes insects that feed on other insects—called predator insects—can help reduce pest insects that are feeding on your plants.

The first step in IPM is to be able to identify the insect, disease or weed that is the “pest.” One of the first rules of IPM is that not every insect is a pest insect. Spiders eat other insects. Bees pollinate flowers that become fruit. If you have insect predators on your property, they can help you reduce the amount of pesticides that you’ll need to use on your plants. Reducing the amount of pesticides you need will save you money, one of the things that IPM can do for you. IPM “integrates” different types of controls rather than relying on one control such as pesticides.

Let’s talk about “management.” You may be thinking, “why do you want to manage pests? I don’t like bugs at all. Why can’t I just get rid of them?” The simple answer is that you just can’t. No matter how many bottles of insect killer or weed killer you get, you are never going to completely annihilate every insect and every weed. Some insects are needed to keep others in check; if you get rid of them, the pest insects multiply rapidly. Weeds have seeds that are buried deep in the ground and eventually sprout. The exotic invasive weeds and insects such as hydrilla, emerald ash borer and hemlock woolly adelgid have taught us why beneficial insects are so important. Without natural controls, destructive insects have nothing to keep them from multiplying and defoliating everything in their path, and many of them have found ways to protect themselves from insecticide sprays.

Insecticide resistance is another reason why IPM is important. If you’ve ever known someone who used antibiotics every time that person was sick, you know that those antibiotics eventually stop working, and the person has to use a stronger antibiotic to get better the next time. Similarly, if you use one insecticide, fungicide or herbicide repeatedly, you will eventually notice that it doesn’t work as well as it used to. When you use different methods at various times, the pest doesn’t have the opportunity to build up immunity. For example, I switch between the different flea treatments I use on my dog, so I make sure that fleas don’t ever get used to one brand in particular. IPM allows you to manage pests for the long term.

Even though many of us can’t see how the produce at the grocery store is grown on the farm, farmers have to make daily decisions about pest management. The choices they make are much more complex than the choices that most homeowners have to make about their home or garden. One element that affects their choice about pest management is the price that they will get for their crop from the buyer. Many farmers use IPM because it’s the most cost-effective in the long run, and it keeps them from wasting pounds of pesticides when the pest or disease is not present. It also helps them figure out when to use pesticides to protect their crop from pests or diseases in their area. Many farmers have used IPM to significantly reduce the amount of chemicals they use on their crops, making both your food and the environment safer.

IPM is also practiced at many of our nation’s schools. Several states have laws requiring that parents be notified when insecticides will be applied to a school building, and schools with particularly strict IPM rules have staff that regularly monitor the building for cracks and openings where insects and other pests can enter, and close those openings. Kitchen staff make sure that counters and floors are clean so that ants and cockroaches are not attracted to the kitchen or dining areas. Reducing the number of pesticide applications in schools, while still keeping the school pest-free keeps children from getting sick from both chemicals and allergens brought in by pests.

So what does IPM do for you?

  • It lowers your costs, both in your own home and garden and when you shop for products.
  • It helps you keep pests away for the long-term, not just for a short while, because it reduces the chance for pesticide resistance.
  • It reduces the amount of chemicals going into the environment and into your body.
  • It keeps children from becoming sick from pesticide applications and from pest allergens

4 Responses

  1. A very well written post… I work with aphids and the resistance to chemicals seems to be their favourite sport! 😀
    I have just discovered your blog but I think that I would read allt he other posts.

  2. Great post! I think I’ll do something similar for public housing residents on the StopPests.org blog next week.
    How do I subscribe to your blog?

  3. […] have NO clue as to what I do – please read this. Rosemary Hallberg did an excellent job on this. What IS Integrated Pest Management anyway? And what does it do for you? ipmsouth.com If you don't know what integrated pest management is, and you're wondering […]

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