Integrated pest management

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According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the coordinated use of pest and environmental information with available pest control methods to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage by the most economical means and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment."

After World War II, DDT and other pesticides came onto the market and were seen as major advances in crop production. Pesticides were seen as a cheap and effective way to control crop pests and their use quickly became widespread in crop production. With crops such as cotton, tobacco and many fruits, it became standard practice to spray on a regular schedule, regardless of what pests or pest damage was seen.

In time came the realization that pesticides had side effects and risks. In 1962 biologist Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book in which she claimed that DDT was threatening a number of bird species by thinning the eggshells, so that they broke before hatching. Beekeepers and aerial applicators got into disputes, somtimes with violence, because the applicators poisoned the bees along with the insect pests and threatened the beekeepers' livelihoods. Increasing concerns about health hazards of pesticides, both as residues on food, and for farm workers who handled the applications created incentives to reduce pesticide use.

Resistance to DDT began to be observed in the 1950s, creating markets for other synthetic pesticides such as chlorpyrifos and Diazinon, which had been developed by the Germans during World War II, as a sideline of their production of nerve gas. Then pests began to develop resistance to these, and pest control began to look like an endless treadmill, with a constant race to keep ahead of pest resistance with new pesticides.

An understanding began to develop that no system of pest control would ever be sustainable if it violated the principles of ecology. Pest control with inseticides might represent a short-term gain, but create a greater long term degradation of the environment.

Finally, due to the fact that most of the traditional pesticides are manufactured from petroleum, the cost of their use is rapidly rising, which created another incentive to reduce their use.

Integrated Pest Management today is considered to be the best practice in pest management. Several principles are followed: 1. Action thresholds are predetermined. This means that some damage is acceptable, but action will be taken when damage goes above the threshold. 2. Actions are based on actual monitoring of pests rather than guesswork. Ideally the IPM advisor should monitor beneficial insects and insect predators as well. 3. Pest life cycles are studied with the purpose of preventing large outbreaks of the pest. Cultural methods are developed which will break pest life cycles, wherever possible. 4. Treatment for pests is done after monitoring determines that treatment must be done - the preference being for the use of milder biological pesticides, insect pheromones to disrupt pest reproduction or feeding, protective coatings on fruit (such as kaolin clay), which makes the fruit unattractive to pests, with the traditional chemical pesticides as the last resort.

The concept of Integrated Pest Management was first developed by Dr. Roy.F. Smith and Dr. Harold T. Reynolds at the University of California in 1967. IPM was established as a national priority with an executive order in 1972 by President Richard Nixon that all federal agencies promote and develop IPM as the standard means of pest control. IPM methods are taught in many schools, particularly in the Land Grant Universities, and IPM-trained entomologists have become a specialty in agriculture, as advisors to growers.