Why IPM is Not as Hard as You Think
IPM, Integrated Pest Management, is nothing new. It’s been around for thousands of years. Ancient agriculturalists, including the Sumerians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese, used IPM (although they just called it farming).
Integrated Pest Management integrates traditional agricultural practices with innovative technology for greater productivity and sustainability. Modern IPM began in the U.S. in the 1970s in response to the widespread use of chemical pesticides. Farmers used DDT and Glyphosate, for example, without knowing about the harm these pesticides were causing the environment and their consumers.
Pesticides can wipe out weeds, insects, and fungi-- initially. However, the pests can return with a vengeance as a biotype. A biotype has a genetically different makeup than the other variants within the species as it has developed pesticide resistance. Applying stronger and stronger pesticides more frequently can cause pests to continue to produce pesticide-resistant biotypes.
Continuous spraying damages the soil, the ecosystem, the farmers, and the consumers. It weakens the environment and the plants themselves. Enter IPM. IPM partners with the ecosystem rather than fighting it.
IPM fuses agricultural and technological practices to offer practical solutions. Rather than aimlessly spraying broad-spectrum pesticides that aren’t effective and are perhaps dangerous, farmers can use IPM to nurture and leverage the agricultural environment to create conditions that are advantageous for the plants, not for the pests.
What’s the secret to IPM?
IPM takes a holistic approach, incorporating various methods to empower farmers with efficient, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly farming practices. IPM involves techniques such as:
- Biological controls
- Mechanical and physical controls
- Habitat manipulation
- Cultural controls
- Planting pest-resistant varieties
IPM relies on pesticides more as an emergency measure rather than a routine procedure, using them only if absolutely necessary, after rigorous monitoring and analysis. If pesticides are required, IPM systems enable farmers to target the specific organism to ensure minimal environmental damage.
So why isn't everyone doing it?
While IPM has significant economic, health, and environmental benefits, many farmers avoid using it due to the risk of pest outbreaks. I get it. Growing up in a family of farmers, I understand the devastation of having a crop ruined by preventable insect infestations. As head of the New Crops Intelligence Desk at SeeTree, however, I can tell you that there are other effective ways to eliminate pests.
IPM tools can enable efficient, solution-oriented approaches to farming by customizing a flexible program that:
- Detects weak trees
- Quantifies loss for strategic farming decisions
- Reduces pesticide usage for effective farming practices
- Decreases human exposure to pesticides
- Incorporates cutting-edge technology to reduce human error
- Lowers labor and pesticide costs
With the right IPM tools, we can also streamline the tedious, labor-intensive scouting and sampling process, which involves examining numerous trees throughout the orchard and counting the number of scales under several leaves. If the number of scales reaches a certain threshold or if growers notice sooty mold, they can then spray immediately to prevent further pest infestation.
How do we make it work?
To reduce pesticide usage, make the scouting and sampling process more efficient, and ensure reliable data for strategic decisions, modern IPM incorporates:
- Drones to detect weak trees
- IoT sensors, and accurate weather data to predict pest or disease development
- Digitized platform to plan, track and report scouting activities
Using multispectral imagery, farmers can detect and address plant problems. In a California citrus orchard, for example, using SeeTree technology, farmers were able to discover a scale outbreak in the middle of the orchard.
The growers could access the data and view the map of their field from the SeeTree mobile app, enabling them to address the issue with the proper treatment, early on.
As a second-generation agronomist who lives and breathes farming, I can tell you that conventional, scheduled spraying is a stopgap solution. It may get rid of pests at the onset, but not in the long run. So I’m optimistic when I see that the agricultural world is returning to its roots - moving not just towards pest management, but Integrated Pest Management - an ideal approach that blends technological with farming practices.
Let’s remember that we are still the same humans, using trial and error, like our “forefarmers” before us. Yet we have the advantage of advanced tech tools that are accurate, efficient, and user-friendly, enabling us to increase our yield while supporting a healthier environment.
Head of New Crops Intelligence Desk