The Future of Integrated Pest Management

Gerrit Cuperus, Richard Berberet, and Phillip Kenkel
Departments of Entomology & Plant Pathology and Agricultural Economics
Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078

photo of a honeybee visiting a flower
Photograph: Honey bee -- Preservation of honey bees and other beneficial insects is an important aspect of IPM programs.

photo of a sorghum field
Photograph:
Sorghum field - IPM programs are implemented as important components of plant production systems to improve profitability and environmental safety.

photo of an entomologist counting insects in a sweep net in a field
Photograph:
An entomologist counts insects caught in a sweepnet while scouting fields. Monitoring populations of pest and beneficial species is critical to effective IPM.

photo looking out across a lake from the front of a canoe
Photograph:
A basic principle of IPM emphasizes protection of land, water, and wildlife species.

It is our contention in discussing the future of Integrated Pest Management that this strategic approach to pest regulation is closely allied to the future of systems devoted to production and distribution of plant and animal commodities whether in rural or urban settings. As a sustainable approach combining biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools to regulate pest populations while minimizing economic, environmental, and human health risks, IPM combines essential aspects of efficacy and safety to meet expectations of those who produce and market commodities and of the general public. The traditional focus of those involved with production of commodities has resulted in investment of tremendous resources for IPM in agriculture for research, educational endeavors, and for applications on-farm. It is becoming increasingly apparent, however, that principles of IPM have utility in virtually any situation where some species have been ascribed pest status. For example, in nursery and greenhouse ornamental production reliance solely on chemical pesticides to limit insect and disease problems is giving way to IPM. In storage, processing, and distribution systems for cereal grains, unilateral reliance on chemicals for management of a variety of pests (insects, rodents, and microorganisms) is evolving toward integrated approaches with greater emphasis on sanitation, aeration of stored grains, even stocking plans for reducing infestations once packaged products have reached grocery store shelves (Cuperus and Platt 1996, Kenkel et al. 1994).

We acknowledge that the vision we are describing for IPM as an essential aspect of all production and distribution systems for plant and animal commodities implies much broader awareness and acceptance by those working with these commodities than currently exists. Certainly, education of those working in production and distribution systems regarding alternatives to pesticides must be a priority. Integrated control programs with employment of cultural measures, host resistance, and biological agents along with attention to appropriate decision-making processes for application of pesticides must be emphasized.

And yet, the awareness and acceptance cannot end with those employed in these systems, but must be extended to consumers. We must strive for a general understanding of IPM as the means for effective regulation of pest species that stresses safety for the human population and for the environment in which we live. We propose that public awareness of IPM extend to moderation in use of pesticides and consideration of alternative controls in the home gardens and households of the urban population. Public understanding must be expanded beyond vague misgivings about food safety to include an appreciation of the potential for pests to limit our food supply, as well as, knowledge of the decisions that must be made for proper employment of pest management techniques. Our basic contention that the future of IPM is closely allied to the future of plant and animal production systems must be appreciated by the general public. The public must view development and implementation of IPM as a sound investment of resources.

While there is abundant scientific evidence to support our basic contention of an essential role for IPM, we believe that the most critical considerations that recommend adoption, at least for the short term, are demographic and sociological in nature. The number of farms in the U.S. has declined by about 25% in just the last 20 years, with those remaining having larger land holdings such that about 15% of farms now produce about 85% of all food and fiber (National Research Council 1989). With less than 2% of the U.S. population directly involved with commercial agriculture, tremendous challenges in education and communication must be met in building a public consensus for the importance of IPM in sustaining a wholesome, abundant food supply, and maintaining safe environments for humans and other species. If strong support for IPM exists only in production agriculture, the public interest and political will to provide necessary resources for development and implementation will not exist for the future. This is clearly indicated by the fact that research and extension programs of the Land Grant University System continue to be reduced in size as funding sources dwindle. Unless relevance and service to a largely urban population is emphasized, this trend seems certain to continue.

In a trend that is often considered to have gained impetus with publications such as "Silent Spring" (Carson 1962) and "Only One Earth" (Ward and Dubos 1972), concerns for food safety, environmental contamination, endangered species, and safety of farm workers continue to escalate. Sachs et al. (1987) reported a dramatic increase in concerns of consumers over a 25-year period regarding agricultural production practices. Limited trust in those who produce food and those whose role it is to enforce regulations insuring food safety appears to stem from several factors including lack of understanding of agricultural systems, little knowledge of pest management or pesticides, and dread of cancer. Health and well-being are highly valued by society today, resulting in demands for a safe, wholesome food supply that is produced without harm to the environment or hazards to those who work in agriculture (Tables 1 and 2). Though the general public appears to believe that use of pesticides constitutes the most critical hazard to the food supply (Cuperus et al. 1991, Pomerantz 1995), many scientists consider contamination by microorganisms to be a much greater threat. There is a critical need for improved understanding of the hazards posed by bacterial and fungal contaminants in food commodities and the role of IPM in reducing these hazards.

Table 1. Public Perceptions of Dangers Posed by Pesticides, Oklahoma, 1991
 

Perceived level of hazard (% of respondents*)

Focus group

No hazard

Little hazard

Some hazard

Great hazard

General public

4

21

46

24

Farmer/rancher

2

16

46

31

Farm worker

2

11

46

36

Wildlife

4

10

36

44

*Totals do not equal 100% because some respondents did not rate all focus groups.

 

Table 2. Public Perceptions of Primary Sources of Contamination in Surface andGround Waters of Oklahoma, 1991
 

Primary contaminants (% of respondents*)

Water source

Hazardous wastes

Pesticides

Petroleum

Nitrates

Bacteria

Heavy metals

Surface

25

27

11

13

12

4

Ground

28

19

18

12

9

6

*Totals do not equal 100% because some respondents listed other types of contaminants not included in this table.
 

As may be expected, concerns of the general public have resulted in increasingly stringent regulation of pesticides with the latest action of the U.S. Congress being passage of the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996. Provisions of this act reflect a definite response by lawmakers to hazards perceived by consumers and a comprehensive attempt to address the perceived dangers associated with use of pesticides:

  • additional safeguards for infants and children relating to pesticide residues in food based on the assumption that they consume proportionately more fresh fruits and vegetables than adults. Tolerances for residues in fresh produce must reflect this added margin of safety.
  • mandatory review of "high-risk" pesticides which may result in cancellation of registrations for many organophosphate and carbamate insecticides.
  • one national standard for pesticide tolerances with elimination of provisions for tolerances set by state or local governments.
  • more information to consumers about pesticide residues in food. The EPA is charged with compiling and distributing material through grocers to describe risks and benefits of pesticides and ways in which consumers can reduce their exposure to these agents.
  • accelerated registration procedure for compounds that will reduce risks of pesticide exposure for humans, other nontarget organisms, or the environment.

The Food Quality Protection Act will require extensive education of those who work in food production, processing, and distribution systems regarding use of pesticides. New provisions relating to tolerances for pesticide residues in food commodities will necessitate planning throughout these systems to evaluate the potential cumulative human exposure to residues of certain classes of pesticides used in a variety of food products. This is just the type of comprehensive approach that will allow IPM practitioners to relate key food safety components to plans for managing pest populations as crops and livestock are raised, food commodities are processed, and products are distributed to consumers.

The manner in which food commodities are marketed has typically not been integrated into decision support systems for IPM. The fact that commodity values may fluctuate by 50-100% depending upon the produce quality, detection of pesticide residues, and timely availability to meet demand must be considered as decisions pertaining to pest management are made. For example, market demand and value of fresh fruits and vegetables have reflected consumer concerns as indicated by increasing sales of organically-grown produce and that labeled as grown under IPM systems (northeastern U.S.). It is important that practitioners understand market trends and design pest management programs to assure quality, minimize pesticide residues, and preserve the identity of commodities as to production history and location. The following are factors that influence the marketability of food products:

  • consumer demand for cosmetically-perfect produce without pesticide residues.
  • concern of food processors relating to pesticide residues in fresh produce. (Over 50% of processors have changed purchasing contracts to minimize residues in their products).
  • surveys indicate that over 50% of grocers will test fresh produce for pesticide residues, yet 98% indicate that they have not heard of IPM.

Another area of concern regarding continued use of chemical pesticides is the growing problem of contamination of ground and surface water supplies. As an example of the magnitude of this problem in some regions, Christensen and Rea (1993) reported the presence of pesticide residues in water from over 40% of private wells in the Oklahoma City area. With the tremendous reliance on ground water supplies for domestic use (20,000 wells in the Oklahoma City area alone) these residues are definitely cause for concern. It is important to note that many instances of contamination of water supplies result not from agricultural use of pesticides, but from use by urban populations. A recent national survey confirmed the presence of diazinon residues in 7,230 of 23,227 samples of sewage effluent being released from municipalities into surface water supplies (Norber-King et al. 1989). These residues resulted from urban homeowner use and disposal of this pesticide. Contamination of water is but one impact that Higley and Wintersteen (1992) considered in assessing an environmental cost as part of economic injury levels for decision-making processes relating to pesticide applications. While their proposal dealt primarily with applications in agriculture, findings just discussed indicate that the same rational should be related to urban settings. Kovach et al. (1992) suggested formulation of a pesticide use index applicable to decision-making that would consider threats to human health and environmental impacts as a means by which users may be assessed for environmental costs accruing from use of pesticides. If these costs are assessed when products are sold, urbanites and agriculturists would share the burden of rectifying problems that result from use of these compounds.

Economic considerations often rank foremost among factors that influence decisions relating to pest management. These considerations have been basic to IPM since its inception in the earliest definitions for the economic threshold and economic injury level (Stern et al. 1959). These parameters have not only served as criteria for decisions regarding the use of chemical pesticides in many plant and animal production systems, but have also helped to define the goal of effective pest management. Rather than an insistence on complete eradication of pests, an understanding is developing among practitioners of IPM that maintaining pest populations below the economic injury level by use of all available control methods is indeed successful control. There remains, however, a perception that using economic thresholds as criteria for management decisions increases the risk of economic losses. The perceived risk is that sampling plans and decision criteria are inadequate with the result that pesticide applications may not be made when they are needed. This perception is often cited as a major limiting factor preventing the adoption of IPM (Cuperus and Berberet 1994).

While progress been made in defining simple economic thresholds and economic injury levels, especially for key insect pests, much research is needed for development of comprehensive thresholds for insect pests, pathogens, and weeds. Also, there has been relatively little accomplished in terms of integrating economic considerations relating to pest management activities into comprehensive benefit/cost analyses for agricultural enterprises. Decision-making criteria for pest control activities in settings other than agricultural production have scarcely been addressed in research or extension efforts. While it is clear that the criteria applicable to urban settings will not be the same as those used in agriculture, value judgements should still be made as to the necessity for measures such as pesticides. It is of vital importance that these considerations be introduced to people in urban settings so that they have the opportunity to make informed choices regarding chemicals introduced into their environment and to develop an appreciation for the decisions that must be made in agriculture.

We have described a variety of factors that appear to have "forced the issue" with regard to implementation of integrated approaches to pest management in production of agricultural commodities. However, it is not our intention to imply that development and adoption of IPM strategies has occurred only in response to social and economic pressures. Indeed, a great deal of research and extension effort has been devoted to IPM by scientists within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Land Grant System because of strong convictions that integrated approaches are essential to regulation of pest species over the long term. Also, the balance among social, environmental, and economic considerations has been a central theme of IPM since its inception. This theme is consistent with expectations for the entire system of agricultural production. The extent to which balance among these considerations can be maintained depends greatly on understanding and acceptance of IPM methods by the public and the degree to which principles of IPM are implemented in both rural and urban settings.

Over the past 20-30 years, scientists in the Land Grant Universities and groups within the USDA such as the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Economic Research Service (ERS) have conducted extensive research to develop integrated control programs for reduced reliance on chemical pesticides and to restructure processes by which decisions are made regarding applications of pesticides. Central to this restructuring process has been the replacement of prophylactic treatments with careful assessment of potential losses due to pests and development of economic thresholds to provide guidelines for decisions regarding pesticide applications. Out of this work has come scouting procedures and decision-making criteria for controlling many key pests of crops and livestock. Not only did these public agencies have the primary role in researching IPM strategies, at one time, they were also the priciple proponents and implementers of these approaches. Although private concerns had little part in this initial development and implementation, the future will bring greatly increased involvement by the private entities, particularly with regard to adoption of IPM. It is important that effective partnerships be established and maintained among public agencies and private entrepreneurs. It is also important that farmers, nurserymen, and others who use IPM in their businesses are part of implementation teams.

Scientists in public agencies are being joined by those in the private sector in a major role to expand the research base for improvement of IPM programs and promote essential coordination among disciplines such as Agronomy, Entomology, Horticulture, Plant Pathology, and Economics.

Benefits of this cooperation include:

  • technology for variable rate sensing to adjust applications of agrichemicals for specific needs of crops within fields.
  • precision agriculture that integrates elements such as global positioning and laser technology with emphases on whole farm management systems to maximize profitability.
  • application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to management of agroecosystems to maximize inputs such as agrichemicals while reducing problems of soil and water pollution. The Oklahoma Ag-Chems Project is an example designed to anticipate problems of soil and water pollution resulting from applications of pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) technologies to define critical control points within production and processing systems. This technology is intended to monitor stages in production or processing where risk of microbial or pesticide contamination may be greatest (Cuperus et al. 1991).
  • decision support software developed in both public and private sectors that allows IPM practitioners to complete cost/benefit estimates for a variety of management inputs such as pesticide applications or examine profitability of whole-farm systems.
  • genetically engineered plants and animals with characteristics to enhance productivity and reduce damage due to a variety of pest groups. Current examples include Bt cotton, Bt corn, and glyphosate-resistant soybeans.
  • movement of pest management in urban areas from unilateral control of pests with chemical pesticides to integrated methods that emphasize inspections and problem identification, with sanitation, traps, and other non-chemical controls employed to regulate pests (Bennett and Owens 1986).

The scope of IPM implementation will continue to change greatly in the future. What began as limited approaches to promote integration of control methods for key pests and provide guidelines for decisions regarding pesticide applications is evolving to an ecologically-based systems approach (Cate and Hinckle 1994). Where there was once limited cooperation among disciplines, now there are teams comprised of scientists from several disciplines that work with consultants and producers to incorporate effective pest management into production systems. The complexity of these systems requires a broad base of expertise to address issues such as timing and efficacy of pest control recommendations; dealing with the ever-growing problem of pesticide resistance; addressing issues of worker safety; avoiding pollution of soils and water by agrichemicals; and assuring that foods contain no harmful residues of pesticides. While these issues must be dealt with for the forseeable future, it is important to assure an effective transition from pest control programs with heavy reliance on chemical pesticides to ecologically-based biointensive IPM. A recent report by the Consumers Union states that the way we control pest problems is at a crossroads with the necessity of decreasing reliance on chemical-dependent approaches becoming steadily more evident (Benbrook et al. 1996). An organizational strategy must be adopted to increase acceptance of integrated approaches by; 1) providing intensive educational outreach involving coordinated efforts of extension specialists, industry representatives, and private consultants, and 2) emphasizing regional and national coordination for preparation and dissemination of educational materials.

Those who develop and implement IPM technology must be proactive in design of information delivery systems. This challenge has several aspects including effective communication of research information to extension specialists to promote the formulation and delivery of integrated programs; providing timely advisories of the status of pest populations so essential to adoption of ecologically-based programs by IPM practitioners; and feedback to scientists from practitioners regarding effectiveness of programs. Also, the traditional flow of information from researcher, to extension specialist, to practitioner is being changed to include crop consultants and representatives of agribusiness. Current trends indicate that cooperative extension is becoming a secondary supplier of information, especially that regarding treatment advisories, with private sources assuming an increasing role (Cuperus and Berberet 1994) (Tables 3 and 4).

Table 3. Sources of Information Used in Making Decisions Regarding Control of Pests in Plant Production Systems, Oklahoma, 1994
 

Type of pest (% of respondents*) Information

Information source

Insect

Pathogen

Weed

Nursery/garden center

26

25

26

Family member

18

17

17

Manufacturer brochure

15

13

14

Cooperative extension

10

11

10

Farm supply

5

5

5

Friends

4

4

4

Magazines/catalogues

3

3

3

TV/radio

<1

<1

<1

Newspaper

<1

<1

<1

Label on container

<1

0

0

No response

19

22

21

*Totals exceed 100% due to rounding.

 

Table 4. Sources of Information Used by Farmers in Making Decisons for Pest Control in Peanuts, Oklahoma, 1996

Sources

Percent of respondents

Professional consultant

33

Aerial applicator

25

Agribusiness sales rep.

22

Cooperative extension

17

Oklahoma Mesonet advisory

2

The following give additional evidence of trends toward private entities for delivery of information to those who produce agricultural commodities:

  • certified crop advisors have increased from none in 1990 to over 20,000 in 1996 (Reetz 1997).
  • independent crop consultants have increased from 0 in 1978 to current levels of over 450 companies in 40 states (Reetz 1997).
  • vertical integration through contracts that specify production and pest management methods used for fruits, vegetables, meat, and some other agricultural commodities is having a great influence on the means by which information is transferred to growers.
  • while the private industry has greatly expanded its activities in relation to overall crop management, including IPM, the extension staff in many states has been reduced as much as 33%, with remaining employees devoting much more time to environmental and social issues at the expense of traditional agricultural emphases.

While the challenge of information transfer to IPM practitioners in agriculture is great, that of communicating with the urban population is even greater. We have stated the contention that those in urban settings must be actively engaged in making informed decisions to maintain the quality of their environment, as well as, having an understanding of issues that assure a safe and abundant supply of food and fiber from agricultural production systems for the future. Delivery systems such as mass media and the internet must be employed to reach the large numbers of people who reside in urban areas (Thompson and Kelvin 1996). Modest programs that have begun in schools to promote environmental awareness in a more global sense may be expanded to teach young people how to preserve the quality of urban environments where they live. The grower meetings, field days, and fact sheets which have been the mainstay of agricultural extension work will never reach the volume of people necessary for educational outreach in towns and cities. Much work remains to prepare the organizational framework and enlist the personnel required for this educational effort.

In summary, we believe that the principles of IPM are essential to sustainability of agricultural production systems. Implementation of IPM programs is essential to profitable production of a safe and wholesome food supply while minimizing hazards of environmental pollution that could threaten entire ecosystems. To make the transition from chemically-based to ecologically-based pest management strategies, production and processing systems must be aggressive in developing the human and information resources required. Only through enhancement of research and educational resources will safety and profitability of food and fiber production and processing be assured. A unique opportunity exists now for IPM to bring great benefits to both agricultural and urban environments.

References Cited

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