Pest scouting protects yields, reduces chemical use and costs.
Pheromone insect monitoring trap in an orchard.
Parasitic wasps feeding on aphids.
Mechanical weed control with a 12-row, high-residue folding cultivator with rolling shields.
Managing pests (weeds, insects and plant diseases) in agriculture involves the safe and environmentally sound use of pesticides to control crop pests when and where needed, as well as integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that avoid total reliance on chemical pesticides.
IPM is the most comprehensive way to manage pests. It is a set of strategies based on monitoring, economic thresholds and preventive tactics to determine if and when pest treatment is needed. IPM strategies are presently better developed for insect control than weed control. IPM is especially advanced for fruit and vegetable production.
Groundwater contamination due to pesticide leaching is a concern especially in wellhead protection areas and susceptible soils. River, lake and stream pollution from pesticides in agricultural runoff is also a concern. An IPM approach to pest control can reduce the amount of pesticides applied to cropland, lowering pesticide expenses while protecting water quality.
A cornerstone of IPM is regular scouting (monitoring) to identify and determine the extent of emerging pest threats. Careful monitoring of pest populations and life cycles enables more judicious and targeted use of pesticides for specific pests. This approach is more effective and economical than non-selective pest eradication and may result in lower pesticide application rates and toxicity of the compounds used.
Selecting integrated strategies to prevent or treat pests requires knowledge of pest and crop ecology. In addition to pesticides IPM strategies include cultural, mechanical and biological controls.
Examples of cultural controls include crop rotation, pest-resistant crop varieties and timing of field operations to avoid or better manage pest outbreaks. Also, field borders and other types of conservation buffers near crops can be designed to provide habitat for natural predators. Examples of mechanical controls include weed cultivators, rotary hoes and techniques such as flame-weeding.
Biological controls involve the timed release of natural predators: an example is the use of parasitic wasps on soybean aphids. The Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station and Minnesota Department of Agriculture operate a quarantine facility with a biological control program to study, rear and release beneficial insects.
Pest management often involves other practices such as crop rotations, cover crops, field borders and irrigation water management.
Nutrient management also plays a role in pest management by ensuring proper plant nutrition, which reduces a crop's vulnerability to pest problems. Pest and nutrient management in general should be coordinated to better integrate both sets of management strategies into the agricultural production system.
On pasture and set-aside land such as conservation buffers, wildlife habitat or Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grasslands, pest management (particularly weed control) may involve controlled burning and invasive species management. In Minnesota biological controls are being used to control spotted knapweed and leafy spurge, two very damaging and costly invasive weeds of pastures, grasslands and roadsides.
Guidance from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Pest monitoring & IPM
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
See contacts for specific programs that fund this practice in the side-by-side payment comparison or contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District