Earlier this summer, you probably saw a few planes swooping over Iowa corn and soybean fields. The rainy summer weather created the perfect conditions for fungal diseases such as Northern Corn Blight, which left untreated can wipe out entire fields.

No matter what the crop – whether it’s soybeans or organic tomatoes, many farmers use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies to control pests that can decimate food crops.

IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices, according to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

Farmers use IPM programs to manage pest damage with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment.

In practicing IPM, farmers follow a four-tiered approach to pest management:

•    Set action thresholds. An action threshold is a point at which pest populations or environmental conditions indicate that pest control actions must be taken. Finding a single pest doesn’t always mean control is needed. The level at which pests will become an economic threat is critical to pest control decisions.

•    Monitor and identify pests. Not all insects, weeds and other living organisms require control. Many organisms are non-threatening to crops, and some are beneficial. IPM programs work to monitor for pests and identify them accurately, so that appropriate control decisions can be made. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Plant and Diagnostic Clinic receives hundreds of plant samples each week to help farmers properly identify crop diseases and pests.

•    Prevention. As a first line of pest control, IPM programs work to manage the crop to prevent pests before becoming a threat. In agriculture, this may mean rotating crops, such as planting soybeans one year and corn the next, and selecting disease-resistant varieties. For example, many farmers plant corn that is genetically modified to naturally repel corn borers, a destructive pest that’s common in the Midwest. These control methods can be very effective and present little to no risk to people or the environment.

•    Control. Once monitoring, identification and action thresholds indicate that pest control is required, and preventive methods are no longer effective or available, IPM programs then evaluate the proper control method. This could include targeted spraying of pesticides or broadcast spraying as a last resort. In the future, farmers may even use drones to apply pest control exactly where needed.

Iowa farmers, aerial applicators and farm workers who apply pesticides for commercial use are required by state law to pass an exam to become.

For more information about IPM, see the EPA’s fact sheet. CropLife America also offers some interesting facts about pesticide use in agriculture.

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