What do our farm fields and school soccer fields have in common?
It’s Integrated Pest Management!
While schools and farms have different pest problems, both have to worry about nuisances all year long. For the farmers, whether they are planning on how to manage their crops or livestock for the coming season, or are in the middle of a season, handling damaging pests is always on their minds.
One way that farmers and schools manage pests is with Integrated Pest Management. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it’s a sensible approach to dealing with pests — insects, plant diseases, weeds and more — with methods to protect human health and the environment while saving money. It’s a holistic approach to integrating multiple pest control strategies for maximum effect, sometimes using less pesticides, and increasing sustainability.
Why do Maryland farmers use IPM practices?
Josh Ernst at Ernst Grain and Livestock in Clear Spring says that IPM is more than just a program, but more as a preventive mindset. “I have learned over the years that one pest control practice does not eliminate pests nearly as effectively as a combination of practices does. The larger combination of practices we use, the closer that percentage will be to 100 percent,” said Ernst. “For us, it is trying to approach pests with a preventative mindset and not just treating the problem once it occurs. Through this, we minimize pesticide usage on our farm.”
A managed pest control program goes beyond creepy crawlers. It also includes fungi and mildew, bacteria, viruses, weeds and wildlife. Ernst has two different areas of concern on his farm — crops and livestock. When it comes to crops, there are things like weeds, slugs, corn borer, beetles, corn and soybean diseases, fungus specifically in wheat, and inclement weather to deal with. For the livestock, there are a host of viruses, bacteria, lice and worms, to name a few, that Ernst manages.
“There is no one solution that solves every problem,” Ernst said. “Each pest management strategy has a percentage of effectiveness and the more that are combined, the closer to 100 percent we can get to. But in doing this, we have to keep cost, as well as other goals, in mind.
Ernst also said that there is no one IPM strategy that will work on all farms.
Case in point: Larry Hountz at City-Hydro, a vertical farm in Baltimore, says that his pest management practices are vigilant, but on a different scale. “We use IPM to keep down pests and to be proactive,” said Hountz, whose high-tech farm is tucked in a 10-by-15-foot room in Fells Point. “We have lots of visitors to our grow operation that is loaded with microgreens. So, when a fruit fly gets in they think they have died and went to heaven and get busy reproducing.”
Hountz says that his focus is food safety and avoiding chemicals. He regularly vacuums any trays that may collect fruit flies, and uses a concoction of apple ale (apple cider vinegar works, too, he says) and dish soap that lures and kills fruit flies. This active, pesticide-free approach allows him to stay on top of issues and lower the overall cost.
Maryland’s farmers and schools practice the basic tenets of IPM: Monitoring for problems and determining the extent of an issue before doing blanket treatments; practicing good sanitation and upkeep to deter insect or animal pests; keeping good records; using multiple pest control strategies; and evaluating their IPM program regularly. Another important part of the equation: Continuously learning new tips and techniques, and adopting innovations for increased success.
With IPM, Maryland’s farmers and educators are schooling pesky nuisances and creating a healthier environment in our state.