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Integrated pest management

Integrated techniques offer farmers a bigger toolbox for pest control

Integrated pest management (IPM) involves a range of pest control methods. According to Pierre Petelle, vice-president of chemistry for CropLife Canada, IPM is “a process that uses all necessary techniques to suppress pests in an effective, economical and environmentally friendly manner.” In IPM, “pests” are broadly defined as weeds, insects and diseases.

IPM techniques can include prevention methods such as planting certified weed-free seed and cleaning equipment, cultural methods such as selecting resistant varieties and optimizing seeding rate, mechanical methods such as cultivating between rows, and using chemical control only where necessary.

Chemical control

Petelle believes chemical control is an important component of any grower’s “toolbox” of control methods, but correct usage is key. “We always reiterate that people should follow the label directions, including rate, frequency of applications and rotations of different active ingredient families or chemical classes,” he says. “If you’re growing herbicide tolerant crops and are rotating your crops, you should also consider what chemicals are being used. For example, you can find Roundup-Ready traits for many crops but you’re always using the same herbicide, putting heavy selection pressure on any weeds.”

Weed, insect and disease resistance to chemical control is becoming an increasing concern for growers across the country, and Petelle sees it as a “lightening-rod” that is re-engaging the IPM discussion. Growers can no longer expect products to serve as cure-all solutions to pests.

“Relying on the next silver bullet to come along — this is not a realistic expectation,” says Petelle. “We all have to work together to make sure that we’re using the products in the most appropriate way so we minimize resistance.”

  • From the Manitoba Co-operator: Pest surveillance branch update, June 19, 2014

The registration of completely new active ingredients takes a decade from start to finish and can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. New products are subject to complex regulatory processes, so as old products become less effective or are removed from the market, there are fewer options for growers looking to rotate chemicals.

“We don’t have a whole suite of products to replace (old products) with, so it’s essential that we make sure new products have as long a duration as possible so growers can benefit as long as possible. We don’t want to see resistance develop in just a few years,” says Petelle.

Knowledge is key

A major component of IPM is knowledge-gathering, understanding pest pressures and developing economic action thresholds, all of which takes place before pests become a problem.

According to Dave Bell, a New Brunswick agronomist, monitoring is the first step in IPM, and arguably the most important. “It always starts with scouting, monitoring, knowing what you have, understanding the life cycle (of the pest) and when it’s doing the damage, and when it’s susceptible to a control measure — that will give you that window of control that’s most economical and effective,” says Bell.

Particularly with insects, thresholds should be established which measure the degree of pressure the crop can withstand. Bell defines the “economic action threshold” as the point at which the number of pests is going to result in more damage than the cost of controlling them. A farmer using IPM would use a variety of methods to ensure pest levels stay below that economic action threshold before utilizing chemical control.

Most farmers are careful about the number of chemical inputs they utilize and have already adopted IPM strategies such as scouting and crop rotation. “Farming is a very risky business and the ones that are doing it are very good businessmen. They’re intelligent and focusing on doing everything right, because the margin of error is so small,” says Bell.

According to Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and CFA’s representative to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency Advisory Committee, the widespread adoption of IPM is due both to concerns over resistance and the need for managing costs.

“IPM is based on the principal that there’s no one tool you use. You use a combination of conventional and new tools with the goal of controlling pests so you can get a high-quality product at the lowest cost,” says Bonnett. “The key is making sure that Canadian farmers remain competitive, and controlling costs is critical.”

In general, Canadian farmers are ahead of the curve in their use of a wide variety of pest control methods, but this does not mean they can rest on their laurels. As resistance becomes an increasing concern across the country, with fewer options for chemical control coming through the regulatory pipeline, growers will have to amp up their IPM efforts to stay competitive.

“There’s always more to be done. Certainly farmers are stewards of the land and stewards of the agricultural environment, and they’re very concerned about being able to hand healthy and productive soils and financially healthy farms to the people who come after them. It takes constant diligence to do that,” says Bell.

“That’s one thing about growers — they’re always looking to the future and thinking in a multi-generational way. They’ve got the future in mind.”

This article first appeared in the Feb. 4, 2014 issue of Grainews.

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Julienne Isaacs

Julienne Isaacs is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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