A strong IPM (integrated pest management) strategy is essential in any growing operation. The health of your crop depends on it. In starting my position as IPM and compliance coordinator, it was my job to create and implement the IPM plan for Red Sun Farms’ newest (and first in the US) commercial tomato greenhouse. With the construction of a new greenhouse in a location with a different climate from the company’s other greenhouses, I had to start from scratch in developing an IPM strategy. Due to the fact that we are still in our first year of production, I am still revising our plan for following years.
We think that there's no time like when you're beginning to mark the many lessons you're learning. Meredith's unique area of expertise and experience with Red Sun Farms gives her some great insights into building an IPM strategy. That's why we asked Meredith to give us some tips, hard won from her first year of IPM coordination. Here's what she told us.
1) Know what's there and what COULD be there.
The key to creating an effective method of pest control is to know the major pests of your crop and which potential pests for your crop are in your area. One major crop threat in one location may not present problems in another. Previous research on the indigenous insects can prepare you for what species may occur in your crop. The local extension office provided some quality information on what we could expect, especially in regards to surrounding agricultural crops and what they could attract.
2) Monitor and prevent!
Along with the history of pests for the area, I placed sticky cards throughout the greenhouse to monitor what insects were present. Not only is this an important action in building an IPM strategy, but it is necessary in observing the population size and establishment of pests throughout a growing season.
By correctly identifying the insects you have, it is possible to come up with multiple solutions, whether preventative or for future heavy outbreaks. Also, in monitoring the pests that are present, you may find that those you thought would be a huge threat, aren’t.
For example: one of the most known pests for our crop is the whitefly.
With this knowledge, we took a proactive approach in keeping this pest under control before we had monitored what insects were present. With 6 of our 18 acres being certified organic, we prefer to use beneficial insects, or biologicals, to control pests. After consulting with two different biocontrol companies, Koppert and Biobest, we used the preventative rates for two species of parasitic wasps that control whitefly populations, Encarsia formosa and Eretmocerus emericus.
I would love to elaborate on the sci-fi effects of their control, but I will save you the time and nerdy details. Expecting two different species of whitefly pests, we actually discovered that the whitefly species we had/have in abundance in this area is not a threat to tomatoes and will not establish within the crop. We continue to use the preventative rate of parasitic wasps because this is only our first season and we want to be prepared.
3) Find controls and synchronize.
Once you establish an efficient way of monitoring and identifying the pests you have, the rest is simple. Using consultants, or even just Google, you can discover what pests you are dealing with, when they are a threat, either in regards to time of year or where they are in their life cycle, and how to control them.
Like I previously mentioned, we prefer using biocontrol as our first option. There are companies, like Koppert and Biobest, who provide natural enemies to control your pests. I’ve had experience with gaining successful control of rampant potato aphid populations using biocontrol alone in our organic crop.
As another option, there are many biopesticides that are derived from natural elements that may provide control. And if all else fails, conditions are extreme, and you are comfortable and allowed to, you may revert to using a more potent chemical.
4) Make smart budget decisions based on an action threshold.
Realistically, with whatever IPM strategy you create, budgeting plays a large role. It can be difficult to maintain a steady budget because you never know when a pest may explode in population. The best way to set a budget is to use previous years' records to estimate when and what you may be spending more for control. With budgeting in mind, you must also decide when you need to take action on controlling your pests. The ideal time to address a pest is once it reaches its action threshold, or when its presence costs more in crop loss or damage than in control. There are some predetermined action thresholds for certain pests out in the IPM world, but they can vary. While biocontrol is the most environmentally conscious method of control, if pest populations are too large, it can be take a large hit on the IPM department's budget and still not regain control. Once the pest population has reached this point, the use of pesticides is necessary. Also, there are some pests that do not have an efficient predator due to their quick life cycles, such as russet mites. Once these pests are noticeable to the human eye, their population size has reached incredible size, and the egg to adult time span can be less than a week.
5) Always, always, always follow up!
It is crucial to follow up on the effectiveness of your methods of control, whether biocontrol or chemical. The worst mistake I've made, and only made once because it had such an effect, was not evaluating the effectiveness of using sulfur as an organic method of controlling russet mites. Never assume a method has been completely effective. I quickly learned that after each application, I needed to observe the mortality rate of mites under a microscope on leaves from different plants. I found that it takes about 3 applications to fully gain control of a mild infestation of russet mites.
Pests are constantly monitored in the Red Sun greenhouse. One method of monitoring pest populations is by using yellow sticky cards, as you can see in this photo.
Building an effective IPM strategy is an on-going process. While you may know what to expect, climate changes, new invasive species occur, and you must keep on your toes. This is what I’ve learned, so far, in developing the IPM plan for my current employer.
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Meredith received her B.S. in Zoology from the University of Wyoming with a minor in Insect Biology. She has now been the IPM and Compliance Coordinator for Red Sun Farms, LLC in Dublin, VA for 1 year. Meredith has a passion for learning about plant and insect interactions, especially in agricultural settings.