Integrated Pest Management (IPM) And Biological Control Are Strategies For Managing Pests, But They Have Some Key Differences, Especially In Their Scope And Application.

More and more gardeners are trying to garden without using synthetic chemical pest control. Not necesarrily going full organic but thinking more about using companion planting, biological pest control or whatever they can to reduce toxic chemicals, overuse of plastics and other methods to reduce their carbon footprint and negative impact on the environment. In this article I’m looking at both Biological Control & Integrated Pest Management.

Many farmers are attempting to go down the same route. Today regenerative farming is seen as the way forward by many farmers and commercial growers are playing their part as well. But this isn’t some new fad, despite the news names being used. Integrated pest control has been practised on farms and in greenhouses for decades.

In fact the first biological control I’ve seen records of was in c.304 AD  when it is recorded that the Jiaozhi people sell ants and their nests attached to twigs looking like thin cotton envelopes, the reddish-yellow ant being larger than normal. Without such ants, southern citrus fruits will be severely insect-damaged“.

The term biological control is however newer and was coined in 1919 when Harry Scott Smith  used it in the USA at a meeting of the American Association of Economic Entomologists.

By the time I had my market garden in the 1970s the practice was well established in British horticulture with, for example, parasitic wasps such as Encarsia formosa being used to prevent white fly in commercial salad crops.

Encarsia formosa predated whitefly on tomato leaf from wiki images. Tomate_Blatt_Eier_Weise_Fliege_parasitiert-
Encarsia formosa predated whitefly on tomato leaf. Biological control example

Interestingly the theoretical aim was never to kill all the whiteflies. A few needed to survive to allow the wasps to breed more than one generation. But that was hard to do so most people just kept buying more of the microscopic wasps and accepted the cost. It was much less hassle.

There is a difference e between biological control and integrated pest control, though they actually overlap. I explain this below.

Biological Control in Horticulture:

  • Scope: A specific pest control method focusing on utilizing natural enemies of pests. It can be used in both agriculture and horticulture.
  • Focus: Introduces or encourages the growth of beneficial organisms (predators, parasites, or pathogens) to control pest populations.
  • Methods: Similar to the biological control aspect of IPM, but with a narrower focus. Common methods include:
    • Release of commercially produced beneficial insects or mites like ladybugs, lacewings, or predatory nematodes.
    • Providing habitat for beneficial organisms by planting flowering plants that attract them.
    • Encouraging the growth of naturally occurring beneficial organisms by minimizing pesticide use.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM):

  • Scope: A broad ecological approach to pest control used primarily in agriculture and top fruit production.
  • Focus: Focuses on preventing pest problems in the first place, minimising reliance on chemical pesticides.
  • Methods: IPM utilizes a combination of various methods, including:
    • Monitoring: Regularly checking for pests and their potential damage.
    • Cultural practices: Techniques like crop rotation (but that also reduces the predatory insects), tillage practices, and planting resistant varieties to create an environment less favourable for pests.
    • Biological control: Introducing natural enemies of pests, such as beneficial insects or mites.
    • Physical controls: Using traps, barriers, or exclusion netting to deter pests. In orchards pheromone baited traps to trap Tortrix moth are an example of biological control that goes back decades.
    • Judicious use of pesticides: Only using pesticides as a last resort and selecting the least harmful options when necessary.

Here’s an analogy:

  • Think of IPM as a full orchestra playing a complex symphony. Biological control is one of the instruments in the orchestra, but it works alongside many others to create a harmonious solution.
  • Biological control in horticulture is like playing a solo on a specific instrument. It focuses on the power of that one instrument (natural enemies) to address the pest problem.

Biological Control & Integrated Pest Management Conclusion

IPM is a broader strategy encompassing various methods, while biological control is a specific technique within that strategy, often used in horticulture.

Image Attribution: Tomate_Blatt_Eier_Weise_Fliege_parasitiert-
Tag: Integrated Pest Management

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