St. Paul, MN (August 15, 2001)—It used to be that most growers had a simple way of dealing with pests that plagued their crops; they relied on a myriad of chemicals, applying them routinely in an effort to protect their harvest. But times have changed. Environmental and health concerns have lead to a decreased use of chemicals, while simultaneously our knowledge of non-chemical disease control methods has increased substantially. But scientists wonder if these new methods will prove effective in the long run. Many consider this one of the key agricultural issues of the decade, prompting the world’s largest group of plant health scientists to hold a special symposium at the end of August to discuss the economics of what is called Integrated Pest Management, or IPM.
At one time common practice held that growers applied chemicals to their crops on a rotating basis whether they had pests or not. But with IPM, chemicals are used only when a pest infestation has been detected, and then the chemical of choice is likely to be a new, so called “reduced-risk” variety, a name given by the EPA to chemicals deemed safer to workers and to the environment because they either require a smaller dose, degrade more quickly in the environment, or are less toxic than other products on the market. But the key concept in IPM programs is the word “integrated,” since the overall IPM strategy calls for growers to rely first on techniques like frequent monitoring, biotechnology and sanitation to manage potential pests and to use chemicals only when necessary.
“Growers have been very willing to adopt IPM programs since they see the value both in the marketplace and to the environment as well,” states Lorianne Fought, a plant pathologist with Bayer Corp. and organizer of the symposium. But she adds that even though IPM programs are popular, they can be very expensive to administer and their long-term effectiveness is still unknown. Fought hopes the symposium will be a first step for scientists to begin to evaluate how economical IPM strategies are for growers throughout the agricultural system. At the symposium, scientists will hear reports of IPM programs that are currently in use with staple crops like cotton and grains, as well as high-value crops like tomatoes and pecans.
States Fought, “The prices growers are receiving for their crops continue to decline and the cost of farm operations rises, even though retail prices remain largely the same. This puts enormous pressure on growers since IPM programs often involve substantial upfront costs, and can be very labor intensive. We need to have ongoing analyses of these programs so that we can identify potential weak spots and opportunities for improvement if growers are to stay in business and consumers are to continue to get reasonably priced foods grown under IPM-intensive programs.”
The symposium on the economics of IPM versus traditional pest control will be held at the APS Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, UT, on Tuesday, August 28, at 9:30 a.m. Complimentary registration is available for reporters and science writers. The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a nonprofit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant diseases, with 5,000 members worldwide.