Pests can cause enormous difficulties for both individuals and businesses. Some businesses are more susceptible to the damage they cause than others. A pest infestation is bad news for any business. But for some industries, such as agriculture, pests can devastate their products and bring their operations grinding to a halt. For other sectors, such as healthcare and hospitality, the reputational damage arising from customers or staff seeing pests on the premises can be difficult to recover from. Even within residential properties, pests have the potential to wreak havoc and threaten the inhabitants’ health.
Dealing with pest infestations can be a demanding process. It’s rarely as simple as picking up a can of pesticide from the supermarket or laying down a few traps. These rudimentary methods might be effective at killing mature specimens. But if you want to get rid of a pest infestation and make sure it stays gone, you will also need to deal with any eggs, larvae, or other young they have left behind. If you don’t, you will have a resurgent infestation to deal with before long.
Not only this, but many infestations require far more rigorous treatments delivered by a professional pest control technician. Chemical treatments are falling out of favour because of the impact they can have on human, animal, and environmental health. Some pests are even developing a resistance to common pesticides, reducing their effectiveness.
If you are dealing with a simple one-off infestation in a property, you might be able to solve the issue with a single treatment plan. But many businesses have considerably more complex pest control needs. Agricultural companies, in particular, require a careful and considered approach to pest control. They need to strike a balance between robust pest control that keeps their crops free from any threats and the need to ensure they do not contaminate or harm their produce with the treatments they use. This is where integrated pest management comes in.
What is Integrated Pest Management?
Integrated pest management is a multi-faceted approach to pest control that uses multiple pest control methods and practices to treat and prevent pest infestations while minimising the need for pesticides and other chemical treatments. IPM focuses on the agricultural sector, but the principles it employs can benefit pest control professionals working in numerous fields.
IPM offers a long-term strategy for managing pest control in the agricultural sector in a way that is both effective and sustainable. By adopting an IPM strategy, agricultural businesses can minimise their pest controls’ impact on human and environmental health.
How Does Integrated Pest Management Work?
There are several steps to any IPM strategy. Each of these steps is vital to the overall process; businesses can’t afford to skip a single one.
- Pest identification: As with any pest control strategy, the first step is identifying which pests are present and which pests are likely to present a problem in the future. Every pest is different; they have their own behaviours and biology, and they require different approaches to treatment. In the agricultural sectors, the situation is complicated by the fact that some pests are useful, necessary even. Identifying which pests are present or likely to be present and what their impact on the business enables pest control technicians to identify the most effective and least hazardous treatment options available.
- Monitoring: Once pests have been identified and a treatment plan implemented, the next stage is to monitor the situation. IPM is an ongoing process, making observation a key component of any strategy. Pest control technicians should track changes in pest populations and activity. There are specialist diagnostic systems available that largely automate this process, as well as forecasting programs that can raise the alarm if things aren’t moving in the right direction. It is vital that any non-pest control employees understand those systems and how they can work in synergy with them. They should also be on the lookout for any new pests or changes in the behaviour of existing pests.
- Documentation: Comprehensive monitoring goes hand in hand with good record keeping. The documentation for IPM should provide a detailed record of the pests’ lifecycles and note any changes that are observed. You should also make sure to record any information relevant to future decision-making regarding treatment methods.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of treatment: After sufficient monitoring and a reduction in the pest population, you will have the information you need to make decisions about the future. This is where businesses set a threshold for acceptable population levels. If the pest population exceeds this threshold, your treatment plan should kick in again automatically. Setting a threshold can be difficult and requires more than simple observations. In selecting a threshold, you should consider the specific crops and pests present, and their expected lifespans and lifecycles. If more robust treatments are required, you can implement them here.
- Inspections: A robust IPM strategy should include weekly inspections. Once treatment has started, workers must monitor key areas to ensure they are pest-free. These key areas include indoor areas and spaces located far from the crops where pests might seek food and shelter. In most cases, a single treatment cycle won’t be enough to remove pests reliably; pests often return until multiple treatment cycles have been applied.
- Prevention: Like any effective pest control strategy, IPM needs to include a prevention plan as well as treatment. Whereas the treatment plan will address pests that are already present, prevention aims to reduce the number of pests that access the area to begin with. Once the IPM provider has completed their inspection, they will be able to suggest any further actions that will keep pests away. Practising good cleaning and hygiene habits throughout the business is always an effective pest prevention measure. Any food or produce stored on-site needs to be kept well away from crops to avoid attracting pests. Buildings should also be checked for entry points. Any cracks or gaps you find need to be sealed to prevent entry.
What Methods do Pest Controllers Use in Integrated Pest Management?
The steps outlined above give you an overview of how integrated pest management works, but it is only one part of the puzzle. There are four categories of pest control methods used in IPM systems. The best combination of these will depend on the specific circumstances of the business the treatment is for.
- Cultural control: Cultural pest control aims to reduce the likelihood of a pest infestation ever taking hold to begin with. The specific plants and crops an agricultural business grows will determine which pests it attracts. Some crops offer a natural resistance to pests, whereas others are more susceptible. Changing other environmental factors like soil pH can also make a difference.
- Biological control: Biological control aims to harness pests’ natural predators to keep them away. By attracting the right insects to agricultural land, you can deter many pests from coming anywhere near crops.
- Physical/Mechanical control: Removing pests manually, pulling up plants that attract them, and implementing a gardening routine can all help to reduce pest numbers naturally.
- Chemical control: In some cases, there’s no option but to utilise pesticides. Wherever possible, IPM providers should aim to use organic pesticides with a minimal impact on the surrounding environment and wildlife.
What are the Benefits of Integrated Pest Management?
The integrated approach to pest management offers several critical advantages over other alternatives:
- The ability to grow healthy plants and crops without the need for potentially-harmful pesticides
- Reducing the costs of pest control for agricultural businesses while still delivering reliable results
- Making pest control more sustainable and environmentally-friendly
- Reducing the impact of agricultural pest control on the surrounding environment and ecosystems.
- Reducing the number of chemicals and pesticides that workers are exposed to
- Less likely to contaminate nearby water sources and the surrounding air
- Reliably protect property, plants, and crops for longer periods of time
- Encourage the presence of beneficial insects and provide additional habitats for them
- Less reliance on pesticides because of the availability of alternative methods
Integrated pest management is much more complicated than just spraying pesticides. However, it can be just as effective as the most potent chemicals on the market. For agricultural businesses and residential gardens, integrated pest management reduces the reliance on chemical solutions and encourages a much more ecologically-friendly approach. Despite its relative complexity, integrated pest management is also cheaper than conventional approaches.
There’s no denying that time, energy, and patience are required to implement an IPM strategy. But once that strategy is in place, there is rarely a need for anything more than minor adjustments. As long as you ensure that key personnel receive the necessary training, an IPM system can synergise with your existing working arrangements.
Integrated pest management is not new; many of these techniques predate chemical pesticides. But the methods IPM uses have made a resurgence as businesses and consumers globally shift away from using powerful pesticides on crops. Integrated pest management is an ongoing process; it isn’t a one-off treatment option. For businesses or individuals with an ongoing need to protect their plants, flowers, and crops from pests, IPM is a very effective tool.