Integrated pest management, referred to as IPM for short, is the number one way to protect your garden from infestations.
But the best part about this methodology? It doesn’t always involve chemical intervention. This is a win-win for all involved, from you and your consumers to the environment.
So why aren’t more commercial growers implementing their own integrated pest management methods and strategy? The short answer is it’s far more complex than simply spraying your plants with an insecticide at the first site of bugs. Spraying is easy.
But, in the interest of producing the best crop possible, and protecting your brand image in the long run, an IPM strategy is a must for your operation.
We’ll define integrated pest management, and explain all the benefits of IPM. Then, we’ll help you come up with your own techniques and strategies you can employ on your farm or garden.
What Is Integrated Pest Management?
The first thing you are probably wondering is what does integrated pest management mean? To put it simply, IPM is a holistic, long-term approach to pest prevention and control.
This requires you to be proactive, crop after crop, cultivating an ecosystem that prevents or controls pests.
The kicker, though, is you do this all while minimizing your impact on the environment and those who consume your harvest!
That’s what really makes integrated pest management so powerful, is the benefit it carries of leaving the smallest footprint possible.
After all, don’t we all prefer a greener earth? On that note, let’s cover all the benefits of integrated pest management.
Benefits Of Integrated Pest Management
After learning the integrated pest management definition, your next question might be, why is integrated pest management important? Can’t I just spray any bugs that give me issues?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and when you undertake an IPM strategy, you can cut your chances of an outbreak dramatically.
The biggest benefit, though, is the quality and safety of your crop in the end. With IPM, you aren’t having to constantly spray, which means your product ends up being healthier for anyone who consumes it.
That’s not to say you will never have to spray again - no strategy can guarantee that. But, if your strategy is dialed in and you follow it to perfection, odds are you won’t be busting out the sprayer as often.
And as you'll learn when we discuss integrated pest management methods shortly, you will be much mindful and responsible about spraying.
You also leave a smaller footprint on the environment, which every operation should strive for. This goes without saying.
From a profit standpoint, you save more money in the long run with an integrated pest management strategy as well. With fewer crop losses and less money spent on chemical products, your bottom line will thank you!
You can also boast higher prices for your crop considering your holistic, health conscious approach to pest control.
Now, you are likely sold on an IPM strategy. Let’s discuss what these are typically composed of, and help you determine how to get started.
Integrated Pest Management Methods & Strategies - How Does IPM Work?
Now it’s time to get into the meat and potatoes of integrated pest management methods. As the name suggests, you are going to use multiple strategies in tandem.
Every crop, farm, or garden is different, and thus, not every integrated pest management strategy is the same.
So, you’ll need to consider your specific factors when you plan your IPM approach. In general, these are the five different IPM methods:
- Cultural Controls
- Physical Controls
- Genetic Controls
- Biological Controls
- Chemical Controls (last resort)
First and foremost, you can optimize your cultural controls. This is your environment; the culture in which your plants are growing.
The proper grow room environment will typically not be a good habitat for pests and diseases, deterring them from infesting in the first place.
If you keep temperature, humidity, airflow, irrigation, and ventilation dialed in, you can greatly lower your risk of an outbreak of pests or diseases.
This means irrigating in a way which mitigates the risk of root rot or other media-borne illnesses/pests.
It also means properly training your plants to ensure no leaf to leaf contact among plants, and get fresh air all the way through each and every plant.
Now, let’s discuss the physical controls you can optimize.
Physical controls are an easy, safe, cost effective way to prevent and treat pest issues in your crop.
In plain english, physical controls are insect traps.
These work great for flying insects, and are a key part of identifying which pests are giving you grief in the first place.
Every grow room or garden should have some sticky traps around the plant canopy to catch pesky flying insects.
If you are having issues with bugs in your media, you can try diatomaceous earth.
This is essentially super sharp, fine shards of natural glass you can put in your media and will kill bugs as they crawl across them. It works great for crawling insects, like caterpillars or slugs.
A third method you can incorporate in your integrated pest management strategy is genetic control. This is where you select and/or breed the most resistant varieties possible.
Manipulating plant genetics is a common tactic for growers who like to grow one strain or variety consistently, and see room for improvement.
For example, you can grow/breed plants that are more resistant to extreme temperatures if you live in the desert or extremely cold areas.
The same can be done when it comes to pests and diseases. If you live in a climate where one particular insect, such as caterpillars, is more prominent, consider a more caterpillar resistant variety.
Or, as you'll learn in this next section, you can introduce certain species to your crop to aid in the battle against specific bugs.
One of the best integrated pest management methods is using biological controls - or beneficial bugs, which we have an entire guide on!
Fight fire with fire by introducing colonies of certain insects into your garden. These helpful bugs have no interest in your plants, rather, they want to eat the insects that are giving you grief.
They get all the bugs they can eat, and you get a pest-free garden or farm - everybody wins.
Different pests should be combated with different biological controls. For example, ladybugs can lend a hand in any battle with aphids, whiteflies, mites, and more.
But if you are dealing with Caterpillars, you would use a bug like Beneficial Nematodes.
Beneficial bugs are just part of the story, though. There are bacteria and fungi you can introduce to your farm or grow room to increase nutrient uptake, and improve overall plant resistance.
We've talked a lot about how an integrated pest management method will prevent you from needing to spray chemicals on your plants.
For the most part that is true, but when some infestations get out of control or are too advances to fight with the other four controls, you may need to rely on chemical controls after all.
But, not all pesticides or fungicides are bad. These words themseleves carry a negative connotation. When the right products are used properly, however, they can be perfectly safe. Not to mention, ultra-effective at fighting bugs/illnesses.
When it comes to the exact integrated pest control method - chemical control is done in a very specific manner. You aren’t just going to spray at the first sign of pests.
Instead, you only spray insecticides when it would be effective in the pests life cycle. For example, if adult bugs are immune to chemical intervention, spraying chemicals really isn’t an option, is it?
And, many pesticides you may be used to spraying are off limits when following an IPM strategy. Only OMRI listed pesticides should be used, as these are deemed lower risk.
Another approach you can consider when it comes to chemical controls are Biorational chemicals. These are a classification that doesn’t directly kill the bug, and can be really effective. A few examples of these are:
- Pheromones - often used to confuse, deter, or trap insects by playing on their scent preferences.
- Anti-feeding agents - induce a reaction in pests that prevent them from eating, weakening them, lowering damage they do to your plants, and slowly starving them to death.
- Repellents - behave similar to pheromones, only this time, playing on scents the bugs dislike.
In summary, chemical control in terms of spraying pesticides should be used in emergency situations and only as recommended above.
Our complete guide on the best insecticides & fungicides is a great place to learn about which products we recommend, and we include OMRI listed options on there for the organic growers.
However, integrating some biorational chemical controls is a safer option that can help prevent an infestation in the first place.
How To Come Up With An Integrated Pest Management Strategy
Now that you have a good understanding of the main methods of any integrated pest management strategy, how do you develop one for your crop?
As we briefly mentioned earlier, a lot of this is going to depend on your specific circumstances. You may need to put more attention and resources into certain areas than the next grower would.
So consider what your weaknesses are historically - do you have a pest that constantly plagues you? If so, you should research integrated pest management methods for controlling that particular pest.
Executing Your IPM Strategy
Once you are ready to push start on your IPM strategy, you need to understand how to successfully execute it.
First and foremost, you’ll need to have someone on your team constantly monitoring the growing space.
This means inspecting potential entry points for pests, as well as checking your plants themselves for signs of damage. You should also check nutrient/water sources for signs of fungus/pests. Keeping a grow room journal or checklist will help you with this.
If a pest does arise, you need to be able to quickly identify it. We have a complete guide on the most common garden pests and diseases, along with specific guides on each one to help you with this part!
After that, it’s just about following through on the control methods we outlined above. Deciding which methods to go heavier on will be a determining factor in your success.
Final Thoughts On Integrated Pest Management
Developing an effective integrated pest management strategy will save you money and time in the long run, while helping you achieve greater profits and leaving a smaller footprint on the environment.
If you don’t have an IPM plan, you should get to work! We have everything you need to execute your strategy here at Hydrobuilder.
If you are a commercial grower, you can apply for an account with us where you will get special pricing on the items you need, along with a dedicated support rep to help you along the way, with tons of additional benefits.