Integrated Pest Management

This introduction to the crop management method, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) will give you all the basics so you can start using IPM in your own home gardens.

| July/August 1978

Wholistic gardeners, stand up and take a bow. At long last, farmers, scientists, and — yes — even officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture are beginning to concede that integrated pest management is the way to go for pest management control.

Although you were not likely to hear much about it on the 6 o'clock news, an honest-to-God revolution began to take place during the late 1970s; One that promised to reduce pesticide use by 30 percent over the next decade! How? By replacing dangerous, petroleum-based chemicals with a bagful of bug-baffling tricks . . . some as new as tomorrow, others as old as farming itself. The integrated pest management method of pest management is still in use today by many farmers and homeowners.

This revolutionary approach to crop protection is known as integrated pest management, or IPM, for short. And while the name faintly smacks of bureaucratic jargon, it's actually a pretty fair description of the program. For IPM aims to "manage" harmful insects (rather than obliterate them) through the "integrated" use of numerous strategies (instead of just pouring on ever larger quantities of ever more dangerous chemicals.)

Farmers who implement IPM programs — judging, at least, by the record so far — can expect to increase both yields and profits. The rest of us will reap worthwhile benefits too: cleaner soil, water, air, and market produce. And, as an added bonus, all you backyard gardeners and homesteaders will soon be able to add a few new pest perplexers to the natural insect controls you've been using right along.

The Pesticide Predicament

But why have farmers suddenly begun to change their minds about chemical pesticides after all these years? For one reason, the old poisons just don't work as well as they used to. Time was when you just set up a spraying schedule, then leaned back and watched your local duster apply liberal doses of chemical "crop insurance" to your fields, secure in the knowledge that, within a day or so, the only living things left on the treated acreage would be some tainted vegetation and a handful of migrant farmworkers with headaches.

But times change, and so do insects! And three decades spent dumping billions of pounds of chemicals on America's farmlands have produced races of "superbugs"; genetic strains more or less resistant to one or more pesticides. Already, in fact, more than 250 species of harmful insects have evolved resistant subtypes and more are on the way. Which may be why worldwide crop losses to pests have nearly doubled since the 1940s even though the use of chemical pesticides has increased tenfold!

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