Integrated Pest Management: A National Goal? the History of Federal Initiatives in IPM Has Been One of Redefining the Mission Rather Than Accomplishing It

By Ehler, Lester E. | Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Integrated Pest Management: A National Goal? the History of Federal Initiatives in IPM Has Been One of Redefining the Mission Rather Than Accomplishing It


Ehler, Lester E., Issues in Science and Technology


The original intent of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was the coordinated use of multiple tactics for managing all classes of pests in an ecologically and economically sound way. Pesticides were to be applied only as needed, and decisions to treat were to be based on regular monitoring of pest populations and natural enemies (or antagonists) of pests in the target system. The use of a wide range of compatible or nondisruptive practices, such as resistant crop varieties and selective pesticides that preserve antagonists of pests, would ultimately lead to reduced reliance on chemical pesticides.

In principle, IPM would appear to be a worthy national goal. But after 30 years of research, it is debatable whether IPM as originally envisioned has been implemented to any significant extent in U.S. agriculture. The predominant approach to pest management in many agricultural sectors continues to emphasize pesticides and is sometimes referred to as "integrated pesticide management." In insect management, for example, crops are monitored, insecticides are applied when pests reach a predetermined threshold, different insecticides are juggled to manage pest resistance to the insecticides, and new insecticides are evaluated for input substitution. In recent years, "resistance management" has evolved into a respected discipline in its own right--an apparent attempt to portray an admission of failure as a sign of progress.

In California, there has been some progress in real IPM, but integrated pesticide management remains the dominant practice for many crops. In an analysis of pesticide use from 1993 to 2000, Lynn Epstein and Susan Bassein (University of California, Davis) concluded that there were no obvious trends in decreased use of most pesticides used to treat plant disease. For insecticides, they reported reductions in the use of organophosphates, but attributed them to the substitution of newer pesticides such as synthetic pyrethroids. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation's (DPR's) January 2005 report on agricultural pesticide use revealed that pesticide use in most categories actually increased in 2003 as compared to 2002. As a result, the DPR director has asked the department's Pest Management Advisory Committee to develop a "blueprint for IPM progress."

Federal policy

The first official government use of the term IPM occurred in 1972, when President Nixon directed federal agencies to advance the concept and its application. In 1979, President Carter established the interagency IPM Coordinating Committee to ensure the development and implementation of IPM. In 1993, the Clinton IPM Initiative was launched, with a goal of having 75% of U.S. crop acreage under IPM by 2000. To qualify as an IPM farmer, it was necessary to use three of four key tactics: prevention, avoidance, monitoring, and suppression. Three out of four might sound good, but that made it possible to exclude monitoring, which is an essential IPM component. In addition, there was no requirement for integration or for the use of compatible suppressive tactics. This was illusory IPM.

A 2001 General Accounting Office (GAO) report criticized federal efforts to implement IPM and reduce pesticide use. The GAO found that "IPM as implemented to this point has not yet yielded nationwide reductions in chemical pesticide use. In fact, total use of agricultural pesticides, measured in pounds of active ingredient, has actually increased since the beginning of USDA's IPM initiative." The report concluded that, "federal efforts to support IPM adoption suffer from shortcomings in leadership, coordination, and management."

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the National Road Map for Integrated Pest Management to identify strategic directions for IPM research, implementation, and measurement that would ensure that the economic, health, and environmental benefits of IPM adoption were realized.

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