Integrated Pest Management and Water Quality

By Moffiitt, L. Joe | Contemporary Policy Issues, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Integrated Pest Management and Water Quality

Moffiitt, L. Joe, Contemporary Policy Issues


The popular media, the general public, policymakers, regulators, administrators, farmers, and researchers in biological, physical, and social sciences presently are devoting considerable attention to alternative farming strategies. These alternatives are variously known as "alternative" agriculture, "sustainable" agriculture, "low input" agriculture, "organic" agriculture, and "reduced input" agriculture (see Hall et al., 1989). The National Academy of Sciences (1989) has spurred interest by suggesting that farmers who use alternative farming strategies can be as productive and profitable as farmers who use conventional farming strategies. One undoubtedly may attribute interest in alternative farming strategies that use less chemicals and pesticides to concern about conventional petrochemical-based agriculture's impact on environmental resources, farm worker safety, and food safety. Pesticide contamination of both surface water and groundwater is a special concern because of potential long-term health risks (Lee and Moffitt, forthcoming).

Perhaps the most prominent and most publicized alternative agricultural production strategy is integrated pest management (IPM). Because pesticides are designed to injure living organisms, for decades many observers have been concerned about their use in agriculture. These observers see IPM as an alternative way to manage agricultural production without widely introducing toxic chemicals into the environment. In particular, IPM seems to be the appropriate path to a more environmentally sound future agriculture. In fact, state agricultural extension programs that develop and recommend specific farming practices often regard IPM adoption rates as a program performance indicator. Thus, such programs presume that IPM by its nature is environmentally superior to conventional pest management (see Wetzstein et al., 1985, for a counterexample).

Surprisingly, no one has attempted an explicit analytical exploration of IPM principles. How might rational application of these principles affect pesticide use and environmental resource quality? Developing and recommending specific IPM practices that focus squarely on economic efficiency is not a widespread convention but is a logical extension of current practice. This paper analyzes IPM's potential profitability and discusses how its application might affect water quality, a key resource that agriculture significantly affects. Section II reviews theoretical and practical definitions of IPM. Section III reviews information on agricultural pesticide use and water contamination. Section IV presents an economic consideration of potential IPM profitability and pesticide use implications. Section V offers conclusions.


Stern et al. (1959) define IPM as "applied pest control which combines and integrates biological (use of parasites, predators, or pathogens) and chemical (use of pesticide) control." More recent textbook definitions commonly refer to IPM as "an approach to pest management that uses an array of controls (natural enemies, cultural practices, resistant crop and livestock varieties, microbial agents, genetic manipulation, messenger chemicals such as sex attractants, and pesticides) to manage pests" (Flint and van den Bosch, 1981). Real-world IPM practitioners commonly follow much simpler criteria. For example, farmers are considered as practicing IPM if they enroll their cropland in a U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension Service IPM program. According to this criterion, in 1987 about 8 percent of U.S. cropland (approximately 27 million acres) was under IPM (Rajotte et al., 1987). Using pest control consultants and information in pesticide treatment decisions as opposed to relying on routine pesticide application also is a popular benchmark for establishing whether or not commercial farming operations practice IPM (Hall, 1977).

Technical and practical definitions of IPM often are less informative than are descriptions. …

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