What does integrated pest management mean for UK farmers and growers?

Saturday, 27 March 2021

How we interpret integrated pest management (IPM) can vary. New AHDB Head of IPM, Don Pendergrast helps break it down with the latest AHDB thinking and approach.

When we discuss IPM there can be a lot of confusion about what it means. For instance, some common queries include: what pests are covered in IPM? Are we just talking about insect pests or pests including diseases and weeds? Does IPM include activities such as crop rotation, or is that separate?  

In the UK, there is a definition of IPM that the Government uses that comes from the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (SUDP) that identifies IPM through eight key principles.

This definition makes it clear that IPM covers all harmful organisms, including weeds, pests, and diseases. It also makes it clear that IPM should encompass a wide range of activities that relate to managing crop protection and plant health from rotation, variety choice, cultivation, genetics, monitoring, mechanical, biological, and chemical control through to record-keeping which tells us that the Government approach to IPM is wide in scope.

These eight principles of IPM are difficult to think about in a singular way when you read the long list. From a practical perspective, AHDB has summarised them into a working mantra: defined as PREVENT, DETECT, CONTROL.

Why is IPM important for UK farmers and growers?

Crop protection is a critical element of crop production, affecting productivity, cost, energy use, carbon emissions and quality of produce. Whilst IPM has been with us for many years, we have not always had to think about it as vigorously and critically as we do today.

We all know the toolbox of conventional pesticides is decreasing, and the reality is that the alternative options are not like-for-like replacements in many cases. Also, there are less conventional pesticide modes of action which increases the selection pressure on remaining chemistries.

IPM is already with us, and the need to deliberately pursue it will only increase over time. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the implementation of IPM does have benefits. It can:

  • Potentially reduce the total input of pesticides which has social and ecological benefits in terms of improving biodiversity and maintaining beneficials
  • Reduce input cost in terms of total pesticide used and the number of spraying passes (by using more resistant varieties to reduce the number of fungicide or insecticide sprays)
  • Reduce selection pressure that drives resistance and can undermine the remaining toolbox (e.g., utilising varying modes of action and introducing biological control alongside conventional to mix modes of action)

IPM is an issue that is high up the Government agenda. There is a strong possibility that IPM activities could be considered a public good within the Environment Land Management scheme and be linked to future payment models.

Image of staff member Don Pendergrast

Don Pendergrast

Head of Crop Health and IPM

See full bio

General principles of integrated pest management

— Crop rotation

— Use of adequate cultivation techniques (e.g. stale seedbed technique, sowing dates and densities, under-sowing, conservation tillage, pruning and direct sowing)

— Use, where appropriate, of resistant/tolerant cultivars and standard/certified seed and planting material

— Use of balanced fertilisation, liming and irrigation/drainage practices

— Preventing the spreading of harmful organisms by hygiene measures (e.g. by regular cleansing of machinery and equipment)

— Protection and enhancement of important beneficial organisms (e.g. by adequate plant protection measures or the utilisation of ecological infrastructures inside and outside production sites)

such adequate tools should include observations in the field as well as scientifically sound warning, forecasting and early diagnosis systems, where feasible, as well as the use of advice from professionally qualified advisors.

the professional user has to decide whether and when to apply plant protection measures. Robust and scientifically sound threshold values are essential components for decision making. For harmful organisms, threshold levels defined for the region, specific areas, crops and particular climatic conditions must be taken into account before treatments, where feasible.

e.g. by reduced doses, reduced application frequency or partial applications, considering that the level of risk in vegetation is acceptable and they do not increase the risk for development of resistance in populations of harmful organisms.

and where the level of harmful organisms requires repeated application of pesticides to the crops, available anti-resistance strategies should be applied to maintain the effectiveness of the products. This may include the use of multiple pesticides with different modes of action.