There's good news for farmer and consumer alike: Scientific technology is catching up with environmental needs.
After Rachel Carson's groundbreaking book ,"Silent Spring" appeared in 1962, a long-neglected idea in management of crop pests and weeds began to find new life and take hold--"integrated control." Today we call it "integrated pest management," but it still stands for the same thing. a multi-faceted approach to pests that uses all the weapons science and nature give us.
Twenty years ago, the Agricultural Research Service worked to ensure the quantity and quality of the U.S. food supply mainly through evaluation of new pesticides. Thanks to new scientific knowledge, today we have more diverse opportunities for acceptable and sustainable means of managing pests
Now more than 80 percent of our pest control research is aimed toward developing biologically based alternatives to conventional pesticides. The remaining 20 percent focuses on technologies and systems to reduce pesticide use and improve application timing, safety, and efficiency when pesticides are necessary.
Integrated pest management-IPM-combines our best current knowledge about biological control, host-plant resistance, and farming practices with chemical controls as needed to provide the most environmentally sound, effective control of weeds and pests.
Chemicals are just one weapon in a growing arsenal that also includes beneficial insects, cultural practices, and other environmentally friendly means of protecting our food supply.
IPM definitely demands more strategy and patience than in the days of quick and potent chemical treatments. The agricultural producer who uses IPM has to know exactly which pests to treat and how long to wait to act before crop losses from those pests reach economically unacceptable levels. Fortunately, years of scientific studies have already pinpointed the right time to strike most effectively against many pests.
Part of the answer could be as old-fashioned as mechanically killing a weed, rather than spraying it with chemicals, or temporarily switching to a crop that insect pests won't find as tasty.
But knowledge that we may not have possessed 30 years ago also comes into play, such as which beneficial insects could eliminate the unwanted invaders without eventually becoming pests themselves. Under IPM, all these measures might be used, along with judicious amounts of pesticides when necessary, to ensure maximum agricultural production with minimal environmental impact.
A cornerstone of successful IPM is cooperation among producers. To work, it must be implemented over widespread areas.
One example is ARS' current focus-with cooperating agencies--on an areawide pilot project to control codling moths, an apple pest in the Pacific Northwest.
Typically, codling moths are battled in apple and pear orchards with multiple sprays of organophosphate insecticides. Unfortunately, the result all too often is increased chemical resistance in the pests, plus the destruction of valuable beneficial insects that might have been effective as natural weapons against the moth.
Now codling moths are being stopped by disrupting their mating with a synthetic copy of the female moth's own sex attractant. Males can't find a mate, and apples are protected because offspring aren't produced. As part of an IPM strategy against codling moths, this could help reduce the half-million pounds of active insecticide used each year on 170.000 acres of apples in Washington alone.
This project is just one example of how we're using cutting-edge technology, employing new expertise to produce an attractant that can fool moths. IPM isn't a new idea, but the new knowledge that we bring to it every day from research areas such as insect behavior and chemical ecology give it a brand-new luster of promise to everyone who counts on American agriculture.
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