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Business of Farming

The Ins and Outs of IPM

Many little hammers in the tool box.This is first thing that comes to mind when I’m talking IPM.But, what does that mean and what really is integrated pest management or IPM?What are the benefits, and how does it affect the bottom line of a farm operation?Just as the saying goes, IPM is the use of many different approaches to controlling a pest, rather than relying on any single practice to provide control of a pest.Utilizing multiple tactics for pest suppression provides several benefits to growers over use of a single strategy for both short-term and long-term results when considering economics.

IPM is touted as a means to break the cycle of overdependence on pesticides in agriculture.There are many views on pesticide use in crop production, but for the sake of this article I’m just talking about the cost implications for a producer that uses (and wants to continue to use) pesticides on farm.Overuse of a single pesticide will inevitably result in the loss of efficacy of that particular pesticide.The classic example is glyphosate-resistant pigweed which resulted from the overuse of that herbicide.Selection for resistant populations, driven by repeated applications of glyphosate, have cost many growers a lot of money trying to find alternative chemicals to fight the weed.In many cases, hand pulling – which isn’t free- was the only effective option for control pigweed.If you ride the roads and pay attention to fields, more recently, you see a lot less pigweed (except maybe this year when early season preemergent herbicides were not as effective).Mostly because growers had to implement a multi-faceted approach to controlling pigweed.While practices now may be more expensive than just using glyphosate alone, long-term, it is far less expensive for a grower than to have to battle another resistant species.

Not only can resistance be costly for growers to try to get under control, but once that pesticide is no longer effective, the replacement chemical (if one comes to market) is undoubtedly going to be more expensive.Chemical companies spend millions of dollars over the course of many years in product development to get a pesticide to market; those costs get passed along to the consumer.So any time a grower can prolong the life of older chemical formulations by using nonchemical approaches in conjunction with pesticides, it can save money down the road.

When it comes to costs, there is nothing cheaper than free.In some cases, IPM incorporates practices that cost nothing but help to minimize or prevent pest pressure.Think crop rotation or disease tolerant crop varieties.These are all components of integrated pest management that help reduce the pesticide dependence, help reduce pest populations, and cost little to utilize.

Now, I know that pesticides are pretty effective, relatively easy to use, and a mainstay in pest control.But for chemicals to remain effective, and growers to try to be profitable, we are going to have to use all the tools in our toolbox.

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