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Integrated Pest Management: Organic's Thrifty Sister


For many, the idea of leading an organic lifestyle is associated with a lack of affordability. Premiums placed on organic produce by higher-end retailers, for example, cause some shoppers to stray from products labeled as such. But there are ways to be a sustainable consumer without breaking the bank, starting with a lesser-known practice called Integrated Pest Management.

Most often, organic produce comes at an increased cost because of greater expenses to its farmers incurred by factors like time and labor. Additionally, unlike conventional farmers, most organic ones don’t receive federal aid.

Integrated Pest Management (commonly known as IPM) has offered a less costly alternative to organic farming. In today’s conventional farming, there is a widespread use of pesticides with little-to-no discretion. With the use of IPM, called an “age-old, common-sense practice” by the Environmental Protection Agency, pesticide use is a last-resort, making it friendlier to both the consumer and environment.

IPM consists of four farming stages established by the EPA:

1. Determining “Action Thresholds,” in which guidelines and plans are set forth for when pest control is needed. In most cases, control becomes necessary when pests begin to pose an “economic threat,” as opposed to when they are first spotted.

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From the Organic Authority Files

2. Identifying malignant pests, as opposed to living things that are benign and, sometimes, valuable to the ecosystem. Ladybugs, for example, are often seen as beneficial insects since they feed on crop-infesting pests like mites. Many times, IPM incorporates the creation of natural habitats for beneficial creatures that naturally rid crops of malignant pests. Additionally, proper identification can help avoid “blanket” use of pesticides, preventing their spread to other crops.

3. Prevention. In addition to the above-mentioned cultivation of habitats for beneficial organisms, IPM requires other preventative measures to avoid crop infestation and need for pesticides. Some crops are even available in what the EPA cites as “pest-resistant varieties,” however, those have stirred some controversy due to their origin and question of genetic modification.

4. The final step of IPM is Control, which is only taken once pest suppression has been thoroughly deemed necessary. The control stage involves a careful assessment to determine which method of control will pose the lowest risk to the environment and consumers, such as weeding or other non-chemical, manual methods of trapping pests. As an absolute imperative and last resort, “targeted spraying” is employed.

Unlike the organic variety, produce treated with IPM is rarely labeled, largely due to the lack of an official certification process. As IPM becomes increasingly popular, however, many small farms advertise their products as having been grown in this way.

There are also online resources to research and identify local IPM growers. The IPM Institute of North America’s website, for example, contains a list of national and regional growing councils that recognize and advocate the use of IPM, such as the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program and the Northeastern Integrated Pest Management Center.

IPM is an evolving practice, one that, with hope, will be amplified by both the media and public. What's more, IPM practices are easily applied to home gardens of any size. With the proper education and information, consumers everywhere will learn that good health doesn’t have to come at a cost.

Image: IRRI Images

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