EPA's role in agriculture is to evaluate and register pesticides that are sold for use on crops. EPA promotes the use of an approach called Integrated Pest Management.
IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management in agricultural settings. For example, growers inspect crops and monitor for damage before they use pesticides. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means and with the least risk to people, property, and the environment.
In agriculture, IPM takes advantage of all appropriate pest management options including, but not limited to, the judicious use of pesticides. Effective, less risky pest controls are chosen first, including biopesticides such as pheromones to disrupt pest mating, or mechanical controls such as trapping or weeding. If less risky controls do not work, then additional pest control methods are employed, such as the selective and targeted spraying of pesticides. In most cases, the cost of different control options must be taken into consideration.
IPM is not a single pest control method but, rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls. In practicing IPM, growers follow this four-tiered approach:
- Set Action Thresholds: Before taking any pest control action, an IPM program first develops an action threshold, a point at which pest populations or environmental conditions indicate that pest control action must be taken. Sighting a single pest does not always mean control is needed. Understanding the level at which a pest becomes an economic threat is critical to making pest control decisions.
- Monitor and Identify Pests: Not all insects, weeds, and other living organisms require control. Many organisms are innocuous, and some are beneficial and help control pests. IPM programs work to monitor for pests and identify them accurately, so that appropriate control decisions can be made in conjunction with action thresholds. Successful monitoring and identification ensure that pesticides are used only when really needed and that the wrong kind of pesticide is never used.
- Prevention: As a first line of defense, IPM programs prevent pests from becoming a threat. This may mean rotating between different crops, selecting pest-resistant varieties, or planting pest-free rootstock. In most cases, these methods are effective in preventing pest problems, and they are more economical than chemical sprays. They also pose little to no risk to human health and the environment.
- Control: Once monitoring, identification, and action thresholds indicate that pest control is necessary and preventive methods are no longer effective or available, the next step is to determine which control method maximizes effectiveness and minimizes risk. Broadcast spraying of a nonspecific pesticide is a last resort.
More information on Integrated Pest Management in agriculture
- IPM Principles - steps in the IPM process, including the monitoring, identification and prevention of pests.
- EPA is encouraging the innovation of biological pesticides, also known as biopesticides.
- Environmental compliance programs - resource information for agricultural production, including agricultural chemicals, pest control, livestock, crops, and irrigation, as well as structural pesticide use, forestry, and lawn care.
- National Organic Program - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued the final national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products.
- The USDA provides specific pesticide information and crop recommendations.
- USDA's listing of State Extension Services.