How to protect your crops from pests: IPM
Many kinds of pests can hurt your plants as they grow. Pests are any kind of insect, plant disease, or weed that hurt your profits and health. Insects, plant diseases, and weeds that are not harmful to your crops are not considered pests. If a pest is not found in large enough numbers to damage your crop, it is not a pest.
What is IPM?
IPM is a plan of what you will do when pests invade your crops. IPM uses pest control methods that are altogether the easiest, least costly, and least damaging to your land and the air we breathe. An IPM plan uses every kind of pest control method. You make your plan using your own information about your crops. Using IPM, you will not need to use pesticides (pest poison) unless nothing else in your plan works.
What do I have to do to get an IPM plan?
You can get a lot of the information you will need for an IPM plan in the winter, when you are not busy farming. Some of the information you need to make your plan may come from your history growing certain kinds of vegetables. Some information you will be getting in the growing season, especially if you have pests that are not included in your plan.
Here are the steps you will take to make your IPM plan:
- Decide what to grow that will help prevent pests from getting into your crops
- Watch your crops as they grow to be sure they are healthy
- If a pest becomes a problem, find out what kind of pest it is
- Use natural ways to get rid of the pest
- If nothing else works, use the right kind and amount of pesticide to kill the pest
How to prevent pests
The best way to protect your crops is to keep pests away from your field. So your IPM plan will begin with deciding what to grow. Some crops can naturally withstand pest damage and still grow well. Call your University of Minnesota Extension county office if you need help deciding what to grow on your farm.
Your plants will be better able to withstand pests if you grow different crops in your field, or wait four years before growing the same crop on the same field. This kind of farming is called crop rotation.
Crops that are healthy and well fed from the beginning have less chance of being ruined by pests. Keep wide spaces between plants to help the leaves dry. Plant diseases are less likely to spread this way.
Mulch your crop to help its growth. Mulching also helps soil keep its moisture, and helps stop some weeds, insects, and diseases from spreading.
How to watch for pests
Once the growing season begins, the best way to prevent pests is to look carefully and regularly at your crops. Check your fields often for insects, weeds, and plant disease. When your crops are young, and when they are bearing fruit, are the times you need to be especially careful to check them. A successful IPM plan depends on knowing what kind of pest you have, how big a problem it is, and how much damage is being caused.
Write in a notebook the current date and the things you see in your field that day, including:
- Growth stage of insects and other pests you see
- The number of insects, diseased plants, or weeds you see
- How many crops are affected by the pest
- How much damage the pest is causing
- Whether the pest problem is getting larger or smaller
Checking your crops often and writing down what you see will help you know when a problem develops, how big the problem is, and whether the pest is damaging your crops slowly or quickly.
How to use natural methods to get rid of pests
As soon as you have decided the pest is a problem, find out what kind of pest it is. Your University of Minnesota Extension county office can help you with this.
Once you know what kind of pest it is, consider natural methods to get rid of it. A natural method is any method that does not involve using a pesticide to kill the pest.
Here are some examples of natural methods:
- Surround your crops with plants that naturally keep the pest out
- Burn diseased crops so the pest won't spread to healthy crops
- If the pest is an insect, use a natural enemy--an insect that eats the pest but does not hurt your crop--to remove the pest
- Keep mulching your crop
If you are not sure how to do these things, or if you would like to talk about which natural method to use, call your University of Minnesota Extension county office for help.
How to use pesticides to get rid of pests
Pesticides are poison! That is why they are listed last on your IPM plan. Only use them if nothing else has worked.
If you must use a pesticide, use it carefully so that it does not hurt your soil, crops, family, or animals.
READ THE PESTICIDE LABEL BEFORE OPENING A PESTICIDE CONTAINER. If you cannot read the label, call your University of Minnesota Extension county office for help. Follow all the label directions carefully. Wear clothing the label tells you to wear so you are protected from the poison.
Apply pesticides only on the crops listed on the label, and only for the problems listed there. Do not use more pesticide than the label tells you, both because pesticides are costly and because using too much can poison you, your land, and your crops.
If you don't know what kind of pesticide to buy or how much to put on your crops, call your University of Minnesota Extension county office for help.
Good farming takes a plan
In the winter when you are not busy tending or selling your crop, you can work on a plan to protect your crops from pests. Start with what you already know about the crops you have planted. What pests appeared? What worked to get rid of them? What did not work? Make next year's plan by looking at what you want to grow, what will and will not attract pests, and how to keep pests away from your crops naturally. When all else fails, consider what pesticide you may need to use, whether you can afford that pesticide, and how well a pesticide may control the problem.
With a plan you will be ready for many things. You can face the next growing season with confidence. Like any plan, it may need to change as you go along. Whether you need to make a plan or change it, we at the University of Minnesota Extension are always here to help you.