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Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an economical and environmentally sensitive approach to controlling pests that relies on understanding the relationship between pests and their environment, using safe complementary methods to control them, and use of chemical pesticides only as a last resort.

Use integrated pest management (IPM) to keep insects and other pests away from your home, garden, yard, or farm. Using integrated pest management reduces or eliminates the need for toxic pesticides that can harm people, pets, and the environment.

How to use integrated pest management

IPM is a multi-step approach to controlling pests. The four steps to IPM are as follows:[1]

  1. Determine a threshold for taking action. The presence of an insect or other pest does not necessarily mean that you need to do anything. Most insects are harmless, and many play beneficial roles in your yard, garden, or farm.
  2. Identify and monitor what pests are present. Knowing and understanding what insects or other pests you are dealing with will allow you to determine whether or not further steps need to be taken. Also, knowing the quantity of insects present (is it just one or a whole swarm?) will help you to determine your next steps. See the links below for resources to help you identify pests and learn how to combat specific ones.
  3. Prevent pests. If possible, remove the food, water, or shelter that attracts pests. Outdoors, that may mean switching to pest-resistant varieties of plants or planting companion plants to repel them.
  4. Control pests when necessary. After you have identified that a damaging insect is present in quantities that require action, there are various methods of control available. The first approach is to use mechanical methods, such as pest control devices or simply removing insects by hand. The second approach is to utilize biological methods, typically by introducing or encouraging beneficial predators or by planting companion plants to discourage pests. IPM dictates the use of chemical methods such as insecticides as a last resort, and only in the amount and frequency necessary to combat the targeted insect.

Using integrated pest management helps you go green because…

  • It helps you to control pests like insects without the use of commercial chemical pesticides that can harm you, your family, pets, and wildlife.
  • It avoids using chemical pesticides except as a last resort, which can prevent other pest problems. For example, using chemical insecticides can lead to resistant populations, and by killing beneficial predators can even lead to rebound population explosions in the future.[2]

In 2001, over 3 billion dollars worth of insecticides were purchased in the US, representing over one-third of the total world market.[3] Nearly $1.3 billion was spent on insecticides for home and garden use, nearly as much as that used for commercial agriculture. IPM directly reduces both the economic and environmental costs associated with pest control by significantly reducing the amount of pesticide used.

IPM recognizes the increased health risks to people and the environment associated with using pesticides like chemical bug sprays. In IPM programs, use of these products is minimized or avoided altogether. Exposure to small amounts of chemical pesticides can cause serious health problems in humans (especially children) and pets, and even those who do not use pesticides can suffer from their pervasive use.

Pesticides may also harm the habitat of endangered species because of drift, runoff, or leachates that may contaminate the water, soil, or vegetation used by the species. Both the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon became endangered because of the use of the insecticide DDT, but populations rebounded after use of the insecticide was banned.[4]

Background information and history of IPM

IPM is an environmentally sensitive way to control pests that relies on a combination of complementary practices. IPM depends on using information about how insects interact with the environment to control them using the least toxic and most economical means. While IPM is not necessarily an "organic" approach to pest control (although most organic growers use many IPM techniques), it emphasizes using every other possible method before resorting to the use of chemical insecticides.

According to Racliffe's IPM World Textbook, IPM has its roots in the late 19th century when "ecology" became the foundation of scientific plant protection.[5] However, IPM has actually been practiced in one form or another since ancient times, long before the advent of modern agricultural practices. With the introduction of modern insecticides like DDT in the 1940s, the focus shifted towards chemical intervention to control pests. By the 1960s there was growing popular concern over the impact that pesticides were having on the environment, and books like Silent Spring by Rachel Carson showed the damage that could be wrought by them. The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) of 1969 created the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DDT began to be phased-out on the federal level.[6]

During the 1970s, Presidents Nixon and Carter both supported the expansion of IPM. The 1980s saw the adoption of IPM policies at the US National Parks Service and further research into IPM by both the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA. By the 1990s, IPM had entered the mainstream and many farmers and food processors had adopted IPM techniques. IPM also began to be used in urban sites, such as hospitals and schools as a way to reduce pesticide use among sensitive populations.[6] While organic growing has received more attention from both consumers and the press, IPM techniques have been widely adopted and are used by many growers who are not otherwise considered "organic."

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