Frequently Asked Questions

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is an approach to solving pest problems by applying our knowledge about pests to prevent them from damaging crops, harming animals, infesting buildings or otherwise interfering with our livelihood or enjoyment of life. IPM means responding to pest problems with the most effective, least-risk option.

Under IPM, actions are taken to control pests only when their numbers are likely to exceed acceptable levels. Any action taken is designed to target the troublesome pest and limit the impact on other organisms and the environment.

Applying pesticides to crops, animals, buildings or landscapes on a routine basis, regardless of need, is not IPM. Applications of pesticides are always the last resort in an IPM program.

The National IPM Roadmap definition of IPM, updated in 2013:

“Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a science-based, decision-making process that identifies and reduces risks from pests and pest management related strategies. IPM coordinates the use of pest biology, environmental information, and available technology to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage by the most economical means, while minimizing risk to people, property, resources, and the environment. IPM provides an effective strategy for managing pests in all arenas from developed agricultural, residential, and public lands to natural and wilderness areas. IPM provides an effective, all encompassing, low-risk approach to protect resources and people from pests.”

Agricultural IPM and Community IPM differ in many ways but share the same basic principles of prevention, monitoring, careful analysis of risk, and risk-reduction. Some key practices of Agricultural IPM include:

  • Soil Preparation: Growers give their plants a head start on pest problems by choosing the proper site, testing the soil, rotating crops, creating raised beds where necessary, and providing sufficient organic matter.
  • Planting: Growers plant crops that tolerate common problems, altering planting time and spacing to discourage certain diseases and insects.
  • Forecasting: Weather data are consulted to predict if and when pest outbreaks will occur. Treatments can then be properly timed, preventing crop damage and saving sprays.
  • Pest Trapping: Traps that are attractive to insects are used so that growers can pinpoint when the pest has arrived and decide whether control is justified.
  • Monitoring: Growers inspect representative areas of the fields regularly to determine whether pests are approaching a damaging level.
  • Thresholds: Before treating, growers wait until pest populations reach a scientifically determined level that could cause economic damage. Until that threshold is reached, the cost of yield and quality loss will be less than the cost for control.
  • Cultural Controls: The pest’s environment it then disrupted by turning under crop residues, sterilizing greenhouse tools, and harvesting early.
  • Biological Controls: It is necessary for growers to conserve the many beneficial natural enemies already at work. They import and use additional biologicals where effective.
  • Chemical Controls: Growers select the most effective and appropriate pesticide and properly calibrate sprayers. They then verify that weather conditions will permit good coverage without undue drift.
  • Recordkeeping: Records of pest traps, weather and treatment are kept for use in pest management decisions.

Community IPM is an approach to managing pests in buildings and landscapes including homes, businesses, rights-of-way and recreational areas using proactive, preventative, knowledge-based and low-risk methods.  Community IPM practitioners work to identify and correct pest-friendly conditions,  eliminating access to food, water and harborage by improving sanitation, maintenance, exclusion and landscape management practices. By correcting the conditions that lead to pest problems and using approved pesticides only when necessary, IPM provides more effective pest control while reducing pesticide use.

Key practices include:

  • Inspection and Monitoring: Regular, close examination of structures and landscaping to accurately diagnose pest problems and their sources. Monitoring devices such as sticky traps for insects can indicate pest presence, abundance and direction of travel.
  • Sanitation, Pest-Proofing and Exclusion: Food and water sources and harborage are identified and eliminated.
  • Communication: Educating building occupants to avoid pest-friendly conditions and unauthorized pesticide use, and to report pest sightings promptly.
  • Recordkeeping: Documenting pest complaints, inspection and monitoring results, pesticide applications and recommendations.
  • Low-Risk Pesticides: Non-chemical methods including prevention are the first line of defense. If pesticide use is necessary, products are available such as baits, gels and dusts, with low-toxicity active ingredients applied in ways that greatly limit potential for exposure.

Anyone who deals with pest problems can use IPM. Farmers, greenhouse growers, facility managers, grounds maintenance personnel, pest management professionals, homeowners and apartment dwellers can all learn how to apply least-risk solutions to prevent pest trouble or respond to problems when they arise.

Pesticide hazards include acute, immediate toxicity to humans and other non-target organisms; chronic or long-term toxicity such as cancer; and environmental contamination of the air, or ground and surface water. Information on many of these potential hazards for specific pesticides can be found on pesticide labels, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and resources such as the National Pesticide Information Center or the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Pesticide Database. Hazard or toxicity and potential for exposure together represent pesticide risk.

Recent studies document the need for continued reductions in hazardous pesticide use and practices. The Heinz Center’s State of the Nation’s Ecosystems evaluation of our nation’s ecosystems in 2002 reported that seventy-five percent of streams tested had more than five pesticide contaminants.  A 2006 US Geological Survey review of 51 studies over ten years reported that 96% of fish, 100% of surface water, and 33% of major aquifers sampled from 1992 to 2001 contained one or more pesticides. Nearly 10% of stream sites and 1.2% of ground water sites in agricultural areas, and 6.7% of stream and 4.8% of ground water site in urban areas contained pesticides at concentrations exceeding benchmarks for human health derived from US EPA standards and guidelines for drinking water.

The adult human body is similarly contaminated with pesticides, pesticide-related compounds and other synthetic chemicals. A 2002 study led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers.  A total of 167 chemicals were found in these individuals, none of whom worked with chemicals occupationally or lived near industrial facilities. Of the 167 chemicals found, 17 were pesticides or pesticide breakdown products. Seventy-six were carcinogens, 94 neurotoxins, and 79 developmental or reproductive toxins. The authors termed this collection of foreign chemicals accumulating in our bodies as the “body burden.”

Pests can also become resistant to pesticides, increasing control costs, crop losses or other pest damage. Many natural enemies of pests are killed by pesticides, freeing pests from these natural controls.

According to a US General Accountability Office report in 1999, information is currently not collected to fully document the extent of pest problems and pesticide use.  Data on impacts of pest infestation and pesticide use on children as well as the general public are lacking. Data of short-term illnesses due to pesticide exposure are limited. Documentation would be difficult to obtain even if concerted efforts were made due to the multiple potential causes for short and long-term symptoms and illnesses associated with exposure to pests and pesticides.  These unknown or poorly understood potential hazards argue for additional levels of protection including exposures to multiple pesticides, at home, at school and in the diet; exposure to chemicals in combination with pesticides such as pharmaceuticals, industrial compounds and personal care products; and the general difficulty in attributing chronic illnesses to any one particular cause.

Pesticides are powerful tools for responding to persistent pest problems. It’s not smart, effective or affordable to use these tools when they are not necessary.  Using IPM to prevent pest problems and minimize reliance on pesticides is the best solution for a healthy environment for everyone.

Most pesticide problems are caused by a small number of the pesticides available today. Many low-risk pesticides are available and more are being developed each year from both naturally occurring and synthetic materials. However, pesticide use without regard to need or potential hazard is always a poor choice, and rarely solves pest problems.

Improvements in pest management are needed, and pesticides will likely always be a part of the solution.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria continues to kill half a million people annually.

Asthma incidence and asthma-associated morbidity is increasing in inner city children in the U.S.  Asthma is associated with cockroach allergen sensitivity and exposure as well as exposure to pesticides.

Other persistent and emerging pest problems include vectored human and animal diseases such as West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and Lyme disease; plant pests and diseases such as emerald ash borer and soybean rust; and more than 170 noxious aquatic, terrestrial or parasitic weeds continue to challenge pest managers in the U.S. and elsewhere, and demand effective pest management measures.

Since 2003, the majority of new pesticide registrations have met criteria set by EPA for “reduced risk” including lower hazards to human health and non-target organisms, and reduce potential for contamination of groundwater, surface water, and other environmental resources.  These EPA “reduced risk” pesticides include biopesticides, which are naturally occurring substances, microorganisms, or pesticidal substances produced by plants containing genetic material introduced specifically to control pests.

IPM reduces hazards by reducing overall pesticide use, using least hazardous pesticides when there is a demonstrated need, and taking special protective measures to reduce pesticide exposure living organisms and the environment.

IPM allows the use of pesticides, fertilizers and other materials made from synthetic materials when necessary. Organic certification programs largely restrict allowable pesticides to those made from natural materials. Pesticides used in organic programs can also have harmful effects on humans, animals and the environment, and must be used carefully and only when needed. IPM strategies can also help organic programs reduce hazards when used in conjunction. For more information on what makes something “organic,” read about the different certifying bodies and the standards they use.

Certification implies that a professional, product or service meets a well-defined standard.  Certification can be a powerful tool to demonstrate to customers, neighbors and peers in your profession that your pest management practices meet the highest standards for reduced hazard and effectiveness.

Many programs include IPM as a standard that must be met prior to certification.  Not all programs require IPM performance to the same degree – some programs have minimal IPM requirements and other truly seek to identify top IPM performers.  For an independent rating of many certification programs addressing pest management (including some of our projects such as Green Shield Certified and EcoApple) visit Consumer Reports’ greenerchoices.org.

The IPM Institute has worked with public agencies, non-governmental organizations and industry to develop and implement meaningful programs incorporating IPM standards.  Our clients have included Whole Foods Market, Food Alliance, Protected Harvest, SYSCO Corporation and the Universities of Wisconsin, Florida, Cornell and Rutgers, among others.

Pest control operators, farmers, buildings and grounds managers, wildlife management specialists, crop consultants and others can have their products or services certified under a variety of programs that use IPM as a requirement.

To find out if you or your organization, products or services are eligible for certification, contact the IPM Institute. Anyone can join the Institute and support its efforts to reduce pesticide hazards.