Deciphering the IPM Options to Make the Right Decisions

The subject of integrated pest management, or IPM, comes up every day in my conversations with growers, retailers, university researchers, and crop advisors. It’s a concept that, perhaps surprisingly to some people, is very flexible. A grower can mix and match different pillars and practices to formulate a plan best suited for the goals and challenges of their operation. I liken it to that of a “choose your adventure” where we can customize an array of IPM strategies to our personal preferences and capabilities.

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Weighing the Considerations

Whether it is recognizable or not, IPM has a role in every step of the work we’re doing in the field, orchard, or vineyard. It can be a conscious decision to implement a variety of pillars associated with the concept, or it just happens organically in the crop management process that’s employed. IPM is made up of so many different elements and components, it’s nearly impossible to not leverage at least one facet of it at all.

When IPM is actively considered, growers can choose from a variety of paths and varying levels of commitment. A grower can take action that requires less handholding — for example, choosing a varietal or hybrid based on specific genetics — or one that’s more labor-intensive like scouting to inform pest management moving forward.

But one of the first steps of this decision-making process is how to prioritize for the growers’ resources — inputs such as time, labor, chemistry, equipment, fuel, and expertise — to maximize outputs: yield, crop quality, and long-term plant health. IPM requires a mindset of fluidity and willingness to change and adapt to existing and new external challenges, while consistently evaluating what is and isn’t working from season to season. It also takes patience. Integrated approaches tend to yield beneficial results over the long-term — some positive changes may take several seasons to take hold.

Getting More Mileage Out of Our Inputs

As an industry, growers are tasked with doing more with less and getting the most out of every pass across the field or through the orchard or vineyard. IPM can play a role in achieving this equilibrium. From a crop protection perspective, it’s about helping that application go farther, last longer, or have a deeper impact. The obvious response is active ingredient and mode of action rotation, but there’s another answer that’s more of a question that’s just as important: When? This can include the exact time the application is being made, growing degree units (GDU) when making the application, and anticipated pest density trajectory. If a grower is pulling the trigger on the application where the pest presence or pressure is not at the optimal level and touches only a small portion of the pest population, more than likely an additional spray will have to be made.

This comes down to really knowing the issues growers are facing and takes an understanding of reproductive biology — when the insect is vulnerable and when is it active. For example, if the pest is active at night and a grower sprays a contact application during the day, then that application has missed its target. To be as effective as possible, factors like insect behavior, physiological and developmental vulnerability, and phenology need to be considered. It goes beyond just preventing resistance and stewarding product sustainability, we have to also maximize the mileage of each application.

Finding the Right Fit

When considering IPM or the different pillars of it, the approached has to be viewed as a long-term strategy that’s achieving two objectives: A) Helping prevent unnecessary inputs that are costly from a time and financial perspective, and B) Maximizing output from season-to-season.

To find the answers needed, look at data-driven and real-time evidence to inform decisions on what strategies to employ, and invest time and effort into evaluating the pillars of IPM. This allows concepts and practices that are obtainable and realistic for an individual operation and the grower while delivering the best return. There is no one-size-fits-all in farming, and IPM is not an exception.

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