Food this week was mostly purchased while out of the house, other than fruit, carrot sticks, and yogurt. I’ve tried to drop the organic over nothing mentality, but I still felt residual guilt knowing that most this food hosts a lot of food miles and comes from unknown sources. Also it was the first thing I’ve bought from McDonalds in a long time.
I’ve wanted to look into this topic since our visit to Milburn, and when I finally got a chance, I was rather surprised by the official definition:
Integrated pest management (or integrated pest control) is defined as a “broad-based approach that integrates practices for economic control of pests. IPM aims to suppress pest populations below the economic injury level.”
I didn’t expect the term “economic” to be brought up, or the tone to be so corporate, buzzwordy.
Looking back I was assuming the term and its practice was developed with a scientific background; by someone who understood the complexity and power of ecosystem interactions and could create a fertilization process that could better interact within those relationships.
I looked further into the term, specifically on the University of California, Statewide IPM Program’s website.
Their definition was better, “a process you can use to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment. IPM can be used to manage all kinds of pests anywhere—in urban, agricultural, and wildland or natural areas.”
They even mention the eco-system in the next sentence.
The EPA concisely defines the IPM method as one that focuses on pest prevention and uses pesticides only as needed.
IPM focuses on long-term prevention of pest damage. It utilizes a myriad of techniques including habitat manipulation, planting resistant plant varieties, and biological control.
The techniques above, are utilized based on information the farmer gathers through “inspection, monitoring, and reports.” The key point of this practice is that pesticides are only used after a farmer’s monitoring processes indicate it is necessary. Even then, the pest control “materials” are applied in manners where their risk to human health, “good” bugs and organisms, and the environment are minimized. So rather than spraying all the fertilizers, all the time, farmers are able to be much more discerning and stingy, while still maintaining a profitable and healthy crop.
But there is a lot more behind it. IPM encourages farmers to plan healthy crops to begin with. Which means crops that they can withstand pest attacks, are drug resistant, and have an environment that is as anti-pest as possible (e.g., filling in building cracks.)
Additionally, there are four management approaches that farmers are encouraged to combine. They are detailed in the graph below…
The first is, cultural controls, which are practices that reduce the chance of a pest establishing themselves and multiplying. This can take the place of changing irrigation practices, “since too much water can increase rout disease and weeds.”
The second method is, biological control, which constitutes the use of natural enemies, so the “predators, parasites, pathogens, and competition” of the pests.
The third method is mechanical and physical controls. This method directly kills the pests or makes their environment unsuitable. An example of this would be mouse traps.
The final, practice is chemical control; the use of pesticides. In IPM, this practice is only used when needed, and should be accompanied by the other approaches. Again the website mentions that these pesticides should be used in a way that “minimizes their possible harm to people, non target organisms, and the environment.”
Beyond these four, distinct methods, IPM is divided into IPM programs, which has six major components.
- pest identification
- monitoring and assessing pest numbers and damage
- guidelines for when management action is needed
- preventing pest problems
- using a combination of biological, cultural, physical/mechanical, and chemical management tools
- after action is taken, assessing the effect of pest management
When I find out that IPM has another organized list of elements: its three “action thresholds”, I’m reminded by the first definition I encountered. This process does seem regimental and academic.
The three action thresholds are nuisance, health hazard, and economic threat (in order of growing severity). These thresholds are supposed to help farmers decide the scope, size, and intensity of the methods detailed above.
It was interesting, finding the above picture after a quick google image search. Having never heard of IPM before the field trip, to think it would be portrayed as a beefy superhero (however, balding) is a bit odd. Especially by Maine’s state government.
There is, of course, much more detail to IPM. Just like there was more detail to organic labeling, fair trade items, etc. It is exhausting sometimes how predictably nuanced everything regarding food is.