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What is IPM?

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM as it is commonly referred to, is a system for managing pests that aims to be as sustainable as possible. This sounds like the perfect way for farmers to deal with their pests and diseases, right?

Well, it certainly has the potential to be. In the European Union, IPM is actually an obligation for farmers. Sustainable Use Directive introduced it in 2009. 

More Precisely

IPM is all about choosing the best combination of cultural, biological and chemical measures to manage pests. IPM ensures the most cost effective, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable ways of managing pests. It can also be used to manage diseases and weeds in the field. 

The FAO have defined IPM as the “careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize risks to human health and the environment.”

The most important thing to remember with IPM is that it is a flexible approach; one that makes use of all available technologies and is adapted to local needs. This is not a blanket approach but an evolving one tailored to the specific needs of every farmer. A recent Scientific Foresight Study, published by the European Parliament, underlines that thanks to precision agriculture techniques applied in orchards and vineyards we see a reduction in pesticide use of up to 20-30% and a reduction of sprayed area between 50-80%. This is technology supporting IPM objectives. 

How does Integrated Pest Management work?

Take a look at the different strategies that IPM consists of. The most important element of IPM is prevention – that is the most important element of the IPM strategy. The farmer uses a host of different strategies to prevent pest build-up using appropriate crop cultivation methods. 

Then we have observation of the crop – farmers need to monitor pest levels. Farmers need to continuously monitor their crops in case any control measures need to be deployed. Lastly we have intervention. Before any chemical control is considered – all physical, mechanical and biological options are explored. For example, alyssum flowers added to an agroecosystem can increase the abundance and efficiency of syrphid flies that can lead to lower aphid numbers. It’s important to remember that chemical control is considered as last resort. In fact, it is only advised when all other strategies have been considered as not viable. Pesticides should be used as much as necessary and as little as possible. 

No one size fits all

The principle of effective IPM is to develop pest control strategies that take into account all locally relevant control tactics and methods. This means understanding and working with the local environment and its specific needs. As a result you might have a different approach for strawberries grown in greenhouses in Spain to those grown in the field in Poland. There really is no “one-size fits all” solution for managing pests and this is what IPM is all about – giving farmers a framework. 

Today, the problem seems to be that there is not enough understanding of, and adherence to, IPM guidelines. So, while IPM implementation is an obligation under the Sustainable Use Directive – many farmers still do not have access to materials, guidelines and IPM protocols for their specific situation. At CropLife Europe we believe that this gap needs to be filled. Knowledge sharing needs to be accelerated. One way to facilitate the promotion and dissemination of IPM strategies is by creating a centralized database accessible to farmers, agronomists and advisory services at European, national and regional levels. We need to find creative ways to bring IPM meaningfully into the lives of farmers across Europe.