IPM Is About to Become More Vital than Ever

by Steve Elliott and Amanda Crump, Western IPM Center

Over the past year or so, the national IPM community has been coalescing around the idea of seeking $50 million in additional funding for integrated pest management in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The one problem with that big ask is that we didn’t really have a strong answer for why IPM needs the extra money now. “Making up for past cuts,” “rising costs” and “to meet unmet needs” – while true – aren’t winning arguments.

However, there is a clear and compelling need for expanded IPM efforts and funding.

On January 30, President Trump signed an executive order on reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs. The order instructs federal agencies to identify two existing regulations to repeal for every new regulation proposed, and to offset costs of new regulations by reducing the costs to comply with existing regulations. The United States has entered a new era of reduced federal regulation.

It’s impossible to know exactly what shape this regulatory reform will ultimately take, or what rules the federal government, pesticide manufacturers, farmers, ranchers and pest managers in schools, housing and other systems will be working under.

Whatever those rules will be, we are convinced that integrated pest management will be more important than ever for America’s pest managers.

The IPM community has a critical role to play in the months and years ahead. Here’s why:

Many people believe that government regulations – especially federal regulations – aren’t necessary for people to act responsibly, and that when regulation is necessary it should be enacted at the state or local level.

The growers and pest managers we’ve met around the West provide good evidence for the argument. The vast majority of growers recognize their farms are part of a larger environmental system and want to be good stewards of the land and good neighbors. The vast majority of schools want to manage pests effectively and protect their students from both pests and pesticide risks.

IPM gives them the knowledge and tools to do that. It gives them a process and a structure for thinking through pest-management decisions.

With regulation, decisions are easy. If it’s banned, you don’t use it. If it’s restricted, you use it within whatever parameters are allowed. Regulation can become a substitute for informed decision-making, a crutch pest managers can rely on. With strong regulations in place, you can honestly say that you acted responsibly because you followed the label.

But if regulations are significantly dialed back as the executive order calls for, it will fall to America’s farmers and pest managers to make responsible pest-management decisions on their own. They will no longer be able to assume that what’s legal and what’s responsible are the same thing.

IPM gives people the framework to make informed decisions, guiding them through a thoughtful approach that manages pests and risks. IPM gives growers and natural resource managers a way to know – and to show – they continue to be good stewards of the land and good neighbors. IPM gives community pest-management specialists confidence that they’ve made the best decision possible as they control pests in habitats that are difficult to manage.

There is danger for growers, the agriculture industry and others in deregulation. If individuals and industries don’t act responsibly, they will be blamed by the public. If pesticide use goes up significantly, or pesticide residue levels on produce rise suddenly, growers will be held responsible. If rivers and wells that had tested clean test dirty or there’s other significant negative environmental impacts, the ag industry will suffer. Brands could face boycotts and public distrust of commercial agriculture and the crop-protection industry could rise to economically critical levels.

No one wants that.

If regulations aren’t available to serve as a de facto decision-making tool for pest managers, we must give them another tool or we’re setting them up to fail. Integrated pest management is that tool. It’s the way growers and other pest managers can protect themselves, protect America’s environment and protect the reduced regulatory concept. It’s the way that we can continue to keep the West, and America, a healthy and economically sustainable place to live and work.

Our jobs, as IPM researchers and educators and practitioners, just got a lot more vital.

And that means that we have to find and devote resources to developing IPM tools that work on a regional level. It means that we have to work together to change the conversation – to stop working within the silos of our disciplines and collaboratively develop approaches that make sense for pest managers. It means that we have to continue to support growers, natural resource managers and community pest managers with effective and creative solutions to their problems.

It’s going to take all of us, and it’s going to take resources. Why does IPM need an additional $50 million from American taxpayers? Because America is going to need IPM now more than ever.

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