What is Integrated Pest Management (a.k.a. “IPM”)? by
Knowledge Is Power:
Understanding the components of Integrated Pest Management (a.k.a. “IPM”) will help you to build an IPM System that is customized for your specific cultivation operation. By integrating an IPM System into your operation you can promote and sustain environmental conditions and soil biology that will effectively promote a viable and valuable crop. In the Cannabis Industry, there are companies that help growers and farmers develop customized IPM Systems.
Knowledge and awareness of the indigenous micro-organisms (a.k.a. “IMO's”) found within your region's air and soil, as well as an understanding of the native populations of insects and vegetation will help you to have a better grasp on how to implement an IPM System that is specific to your operation. And by understanding your local biology, you can better determine how to customize your operation's IPM System. Conserving the environment, promoting a healthy crop, and minimizing negative impacts are the overall goals of a successful IPM System. And in order to achieve these goals, you'll want to constantly Monitor, Collect, and Control. That is to say, by monitoring the environment you can collect data that will allow you to establish parameters for a healthy crop.
Integrated Pest Management Systems can look very different when comparing various regions. IPM Systems can also vary based on outdoor, indoor, and greenhouse settings. Outdoor settings have much less control over some variables such as light conditions and air quality. Which is why much more focus is placed on specific plant varieties and accompanying biological factors that can thrive in that region's environment, in conjunction with the existing soil conditions. For indoor and greenhouse settings, much more control can be placed on environmental factors. In any scenario, the idea behind a proper IPM System is to maintain the balance of all variables by establishing parameters for what is best suited for the plants. Maintaining these parameters once you've established them will help to keep balance within your environment. As you continue to implement a routine IPM System for your operation, you can effectively accumulate more and more data. Record keeping is essential for this aspect of IPM, and it will help you to understand the diversity of your operation's environment such as the presence of insect populations. A few of the Environmental Aspects that you can monitor include Biology, Air Quality, and Light Quality.
Biology: Routine monitoring of native pests and micro-organisms, as well as the surrounding wildlife and vegetation will allow to you to better understand how to conserve the environment. Knowledge of native predatory insects will also help increase your ability to prevent unwanted pests. There are also other beneficial organisms that can effectively mitigate against unwanted pests and pathogens. The more you monitor, the more data is collected, and the more you can understand about your environment's biological factors. With this knowledge you can effectively implement controls for maintaining parameters that are favored by your environment and your crop. For example, a common beneficial insect that is used for preventing aphids is the Lady Bug. So by monitoring for that population you can get a better understanding of it's ability to effectively prevent aphids. You can then use that data to determine what size of Lady Bug population would be needed for a certain crop size. Once you've established that parameter you can proceed to monitor and control the Lady Bug population. Additionally, you would have a better understanding of how to conserve the Lady Bug population for your environment, and for future crops.
Air Quality: As mentioned, Air Quality is also worth monitoring. Air quality is an important set of environmental variables such as temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide (a.k.a. “CO2”). When it comes to outdoor cultivation and farming, it is crucial to only utilize plant varieties that can naturally thrive in the region's specific air quality alongside the existing indigenous micro-organisms (IMO's), pests, and soil biology. But for indoor growers and many greenhouse settings, some of these variables can be monitored and controlled to help maintain the environment's air quality in a way that is optimum for plants, and also desirable for organisms that will help maintain the balance of the overall system. Even though some plant varieties will require specific parameters of air quality that are different than the requirements of other plant varieties, generally speaking, most plants will thrive within a range of temperature, humidity, and enrichment of CO2. By maintaining air quality for the plant, you'll ensure that these variables will never go above or below the parameters that are ideal for the plant. By going outside of these ideal parameters, you'll only be supporting an unbalanced environment that will only be beneficial to many unwanted factors such as pests and pathogens. And as the plants will be less vigorous, they'll also be a lot more susceptible to stress induced by these unwanted factors. For example, if the temperature rises above what is optimum for the plant you could ultimately be supporting an air quality in which invasive organisms such as non-beneficial pests, bacteria, molds, and mildews can thrive. Additionally, the environment could become undesirable for predatory organisms and insects that would typically help to keep the plants healthy by feeding on the non-beneficial pests and otherwise maintaining soil conditions. And such an example is also true for relative humidity within the immediate environment. If you fall below or above the parameters that are ideal for the plant, it can ultimately throw off the environment's balance thereby leaving the plants susceptible to the non-beneficial organisms that are left thriving in the unbalanced system. If humidity is too high it can ultimately invite unwanted pests, molds, mildews, and pathogens which thrive in conditions that aren't necessarily ideal for the plant and also undesirable for the beneficial pests and other organisms that would otherwise help to maintain the system's balance. The third factor to Air Quality that I mentioned is CO2. For outdoor growers and farmers, it is impossible to control carbon dioxide levels naturally existing in the atmosphere. But there are ways to ensure that there is help in naturally producing the CO2, by ensuring that the soil conditions are able to support the growth of beneficial bacteria, mycelium, and fungi. While the control of CO2 is less in-depth for outdoor growers, the ability to monitor and control levels of carbon dioxide is easily achieved by indoor growers and many greenhouse settings. In fact, many indoor gardens and greenhouses will actually enrich the air with 3 times the amount of CO2 that is naturally existing in the outside environment. And it's even been proven that this significant increase of CO2 will actually make many plant varieties yield a greater harvest. But again, if this variable is above or below the ideal parameters, it will only stagnate the plants and invite unwanted pests and organisms while preventing beneficial pests and organisms from partaking in the balancing of the overall system.
Light Quality: So as you monitor, collect data, and establish parameters for factors related to Biology and Air Quality, remember to include Light Quality in your IPM System. Sufficient intensity and proper spectrum is desired regardless of an indoor or outdoor setting. But for outdoor growers, this again can ultimately mean placing a focus on only growing plant varieties that are sure to thrive with the given environmental conditions of that region. And though indoor gardeners can place more control over their lighting, the overall goal for them is to replicate the sun's light energy. For indoor growers this means understanding specific lighting factors such as spectrum and intensity. Because without having the right spectrum and without having enough intensity, indoor plants will not thrive and beneficial pests and organisms will be reluctant to help maintain the balance. Ultimately, this will leave the indoor garden susceptible to pests, molds, bacteria, and other unwanted organisms to take control of the situation. By maintaining the system within desired Light Quality parameters, such as spectrum and intensity, you'll ensure that the soil biology and plants are thriving and are not left susceptible to crop failure.
Types of IPM: As I mentioned, the implementation of an IPM System for indoor settings can be quite different than it is for outdoor growers and farmers. In addition to the monitoring and control of environmental factors, there must also be consideration of the types of IPM to include in your System.
Cultural: One type of IPM is considered to be Cultural and relates to the manners in which you prevent the establishment of pest populations. Methods of Cultural IPM practices can include leaf plucking, or defoliating. Removal of unwanted plants and root systems is also an effective method for Cultural IPM that can be integrated into your overall IPM System. Other examples of these Cultural methods can include the removal of infected and/or infested vegetation from the garden. Many farmers and land agencies will utilize controlled burns, and even the utilization of cattle and livestock to graze on unwanted vegetation in order to prevent its ability to spread seed, which are both great implementations of Cultural methods into their overall IPM System. Cover Crops such as certain types of Clover can help to prevent erosion of your topsoil, thereby allowing the microbial activity to continue supporting the local vegetation, insects, and micro-organism. Maintaining beneficial microbial activity is much like maintaining the immune system, as it keeps much of the balance needed by vegetation, insects, and wildlife. Strategic planting of crops by utilizing Plant & Row Spacing will help to further implement those beneficial Cover Crops. Other Cultural methods can be utilized in your IPM System but you certainly will want to make sure that the Cultural methods you choose will be beneficial to your region's environment, the soil biology, and the plant varieties you intend to cultivate. Ideally, the Cultural practices you utilize will mitigate against the establishment of unwanted pest populations.
Mechanical: Now that we've talked about the Cultural methods, let's consider some Mechanical methods of IPM. Various equipment can be used as a Mechanical method, including use of machines such as trimmers, mowers, atomizers, and CO2 generators. Other Mechanical IPM methods can include pest and rodent traps. One of the most common and effective methods of Mechanical IPM is likely to be be mowing, but other Mechanical methods can be pretty effective as well. Some indoor growers will utilize devices such as ozone generators and sulfur evaporators (a.k.a. sulfur burners) on a routine basis as part of their overall IPM System.
Biological: As mentioned earlier, knowing and understanding your environment, your soil biology, and strategically choosing plant genetics that will thrive in your region is significant to the overall health and success of your crop. And when it comes to the Biological methods of IPM, you'll want to make sure that you're selecting the proper inputs to combat the non-beneficial pests. This selection will also be based on your environment, your soil biology, and the plant varieties you're growing. Biological inputs such as nematodes, bacteria, and predatory insects can all act as beneficial inputs for you IPM System. Types of Biological IPM Methods: A very common method of Biological IPM is considered to be traditional, or Classic. The Classic Biological method entails the targeting of a specific issue and confronting it with the implementation of a specific natural enemy of the target. Typically, the natural enemy is a non-native and is imported from an outside environment. Neodusmetia is an example used by a Texas A&M, as an effective way that successfully suppressed the spread of a specific type of mealybug that has been a problem for farmers, growers, and gardeners located in areas of Texas. Another method of Biological IPM is by utilizing Conservation techniques. Local wildlife such as beneficial insects, micro-organisms, and vegetation that all interacts with each other in a supporting way. Promoting techniques to help conserve these native and beneficial populations will help to support environmental balance, thereby offering your plants optimum conditions in which they can thrive. Another positive outcome that can result from promoting Conservation techniques, is that by doing so you are also helping to conserve the native predatory insects that can then be used strategically in a Biological IPM method known as "Augmentation". The Augmentation method entails strategic routine implementation of natural enemies such as predatory insects, competitive parasites, and beneficial pathogens that will all help minimize the presence of invasive or otherwise unwanted pest populations.
Physical: In addition to Cultural, Mechanical, and Biological types of IPM methods, there are also Physical IPM methods to consider for your IPM System. Insect traps are a great way to help prevent the adult population of non-beneficial insects from getting out of hand, and will help minimize their ability to reproduce. Another Physical method can include Steam Cleaning to prevent cross-contamination within your operation. Pots, tables, trays, reservoirs, and a wide variety of other items can be sterilized and some steam-cleaning systems can even be used during soil preparations to eliminate any negative pathogens that could otherwise infest your crop. Screens can be used in some situations, to help minimize the presence of insects and wildlife such as birds, which can potentially carry pathogens that can quickly infect your plants and soil. A multitude of options for Physical IPM methods can easily be adapted to your IPM System, and will help prevent and maintain what is known as “sterile technique”.
Chemical: By utilizing all of these types of IPM for your plants, you will certainly have a better chance for achieving a successful crop. But if for any reason the overall health of the plants is suffering due to a pest infestation, there are Chemical applications that can be included in your IPM System. Though there are OMRI Listed applications available, and “plant based” sprays that can be effective in eliminating unwanted pests, it is common for many of these Chemical methods will effectively eliminate beneficial pests and organisms from your environment. Chemical plant sprays such as synthetically made pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides are always a last resort for an IPM System. Whenever using these types of chemical plant sprays, make sure you read and understand the ingredients and their impact on the biology within your operation's environment as well as the surrounding environment in your local region. Understanding these ingredients will help you to mitigate from any negative effects on the plants, animals, insects, and micro-organisms thereby helping to sustain and conserve a healthy environment for your operation. As Chemical IPM methods are typically a last resort, many growers and farmers will opt to use a less Chemically based application on the plants such as essential and botanical oils. Many growers have had success from using tinctures that were made with grain alcohol and hot peppers. And many growers have even had success from using plant applications made with plant oils and citric acid. Whatever you decide to use as a plant application, just make sure you select intelligently and strategically, and while considering impact.
Avoiding Impact: By not utilizing an Integrated Pest Management System for your cultivation operation, you can potentially have a negative impact on not just the environment but also to the longevity of your cultivation operation. As the environment declines, so will the plants and vegetation that exists within the declining environment which can ultimately reduce the value of the crop. It can often become a downward spiral that causes many operations to have to start over, which for many farmers and growers, can often mean bankruptcy.
By monitoring and controlling your environment, and through implementation of various types of IPM, you'll minimize any negative effect on your operation's environment as well as any negative effect to your region's ecosystems. And by utilizing an IPM System on a routine basis, you'll give your crops optimum conditions so they can thrive to become a valuable harvest.