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Integrated pest management

Integrated pest management (IPM) is an environmentally sensitive way of managing pests. It uses a combination of practices and control methods to prevent problems from occurring rather than dealing with them after they have happened. IPM practices include forward planning, regular monitoring and timely decision-making. IPM control methods include:

  • biological control, using predators, parasites or microbial pathogens to suppress pests
  • cultural and physical control, using methods such as barriers and traps; adjusting planting location or timing; or crop rotation and cultivation techniques which expose pests to predation or destroy their food, shelter and breeding habitats
  • chemical control, selecting the least toxic pesticides and using them only when needed as opposed to regular preventative spraying
  • plant choice, choosing plant varieties that are resistant to diseases in an area, and matching species to the site
  • genetic control, releasing sterilised male insects to decrease the incidence of successful mating of pest species
  • pheromone control, using pheromones to monitor insect populations in a crop or orchard.

IPM can be applied in agricultural and non-agricultural settings, such as the home, garden, workplace and natural spaces. The following aspects of IPM are covered here:

A four-tiered approach to integrated pest management

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has developed a four-tiered approach to practicing IPM, as follows:

1. Set action thresholds

Before taking any pest control action, set an action threshold, which is a point at which pest populations or environmental conditions indicate pest control action must be taken. Sighting a single pest does not always mean control is needed. The level at which pests will become an economic or environmental threat is critical for guiding future pest control decisions.

2. Monitor and identify pests

Not all insects, weeds and other living organisms require control. Many organisms are harmless, and some are beneficial. Monitor for pests and identify them accurately so appropriate control decisions can be made in conjunction with action thresholds. This monitoring and identification removes the possibility that pesticides will be used when they are not really needed or that the wrong kind of pesticide will be used.

3. Prevent pests from becoming a threat

IPM programs prevent pests from becoming a threat. In an agricultural crop, this may mean using methods such as rotating between different crops, selecting pest-resistant varieties or planting pest-free rootstock. These control methods can be very effective and cost-efficient, and present little to no risk to people or the environment.

4. Control

Once monitoring, identification and action thresholds indicate that pest control is required, and preventative methods are no longer effective or available, find the most effective control method that presents the least risk to the environment and human health. Such methods include:

  • highly targeted chemicals such as pheromones that disrupt pest mating
  • mechanical controls such as trapping or weeding.

If further monitoring, identification and action thresholds indicate that less risky controls are not working, employ additional pest control methods such as targeted spraying of pesticides. The general spraying of non-specific pesticides is a last resort.

Using pesticides

Pesticides should be used only when they are absolutely justified. Carefully identify the pest being targeted and ensure all control options are fully considered.

If choosing to use a pesticide, you are legally responsible for ensuring that it is used correctly by following all the instructions on the pesticide product label or permit issued by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). Pesticides must be registered by the APVMA before they can be manufactured, supplied, sold or used in Australia. Registered pesticides carry an APVMA-approved label that provides instructions about minimising impacts on health, the environment and trade. Under the Pesticides Act 1999, only registered pesticides can be used in NSW.

When selecting the appropriate type of pesticide, consider its:

  • toxicity
  • potential impact on the environment
  • specific effectiveness for the pest being targeted.

Options may include:

  • biopesticides (also known as biological pesticides) such as microbial pesticides, which consist of a microorganism (e.g. a bacterium, fungus, virus or protozoan) as the active ingredient. These pesticides can control many different pests, although each active ingredient is specific to its target. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has a Biopesticides page that contains useful information on types of biopesticides and ways in which they work.
  • biochemical pesticides, which are naturally occurring substances that control pests in non-toxic ways, (as opposed to conventional pesticides which are generally synthetic materials that directly kill or inactivate the pest). These may include substances such as insect pheromones that interfere with mating as well as various scented plant extracts that attract insect pests to traps (lures).

When using pesticides, consider pest resistance and the role that IPM strategies will play in reducing the risk of resistance. The CropLife Australia website provides information on pest management methods and ways of reducing the risk of pest resistance to insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.

 Resistance management