IPM and Organic Moving Forward Together

This article is from Northeastern IPM Insights

by Chris Gonzales and Steve Young, Northeastern IPM Center

As a discipline, agriculture has a need for resources to support research, education, Extension, and technology transfer. Within the field of crop production and protection, IPM and organic are no different. Yet, their basic philosophy—which places an emphasis on the environment, human health, and profitability—sets them apart from other approaches. It has been said that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. IPM and organic communities have definitely not been beaten, but they are not growing as rapidly as they could be, considering the increased demand in the marketplace. The USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has funded and supported more projects in both IPM and organic than any other government agency. Perhaps their success is in their name, “sustainable agriculture.” Is it time to re-assess and re-label both IPM and organic as ecologically-based?

Because organic farmers are restricted from using synthetic insecticides, beneficial populations are rarely reduced to the levels found with other practices. IPM systems are generally designed to preserve beneficial organisms by using selective and fewer insecticides, adjusting timing of application, incorporating trap crops, and improving the habitat for natural enemies. While introduced exotic pests, such as spotted wing drosophila, brown marmorated stink bug, and Asian citrus psyllid threaten organic and conventional crops alike, the negative impacts to human health and the environment should be weighed equally with potential economic losses.

A Two-Pronged Approach

Individual practices, such as soil and nutrient management, and tools like natural herbicides and biological controls, provide short-term benefit for organic growers. For the long-term, however, an equal investment is needed to uncover the ecological solutions at the systems level. Researchers and growers who use a two-pronged approach, tightly linking the short-term with long-term outcomes, can be very successful—making new discoveries and identifying emerging threats. The ecologically-based approach must fully incorporate the use of biological, cultural, mechanical, and optional chemical approaches. The framework needed for the broad and open distribution of knowledge—about the biology, ecology, and prevention of pest outbreaks—already exists through the Northeastern IPM Center and other like-minded organizations.

Making Gains

Sustainable products are in high demand in the market. Organic and high-level IPM growers are responding by producing healthy food that leaves a smaller environmental footprint. However, more research is needed to better understand the systematic nature of the problems, rather than simply responding to the symptoms. In addition, short-term outcomes and long-term research must be conducted in tandem and coordinated across regions and disciplines. Involving professional societies could provide significant strength in the enactment of this recommendation. In practice, a greater adoption of ecologically-based approaches is needed, to focus on all three legs of the sustainability stool: the environment, human health, and economics.

This article is based on work of the North Central IPM Center’s Organic and IPM Working Group.

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