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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?

IPM is an approach to solving pest problems by applying our knowledge about pests to prevent them from damaging crops, harming animals, infesting buildings or otherwise interfering with our livelihood or enjoyment of life. IPM means responding to pest problems with the most effective, least-risk option.

Under IPM, actions are taken to control pests only when their numbers are likely to exceed acceptable levels. Any action taken is designed to target the troublesome pest, and limit the impact on other organisms and the environment.

Applying pesticides to crops, animals, buildings or landscapes on a routine basis, regardless of need, is not IPM. Applications of pesticides are always the last resort in an IPM program.

IPM Year

"IPM Year" graphic and text courtesy of Cornell University.

Soil Preparation: Growers give their plants a head start on pest problems by choosing the proper site, testing the soil, rotating crops, creating raised beds where necessary, and providing sufficient organic matter.

Planting: Growers plant crops that tolerate common problems, altering planting time and spacing to discourage certain diseases and insects.

Forecasting: Weather data are consulted to predict if and when pest outbreaks will occur. Treatments can then be properly timed, preventing crop damage and saving sprays.

Pest Trapping: Traps that are attractive to insects are used so that growers can pinpoint when the pest has arrived and decide whether control is justified.

Monitoring: Growers inspect representative areas of the fields regularly to determine whether pests are approaching a damaging level.

Thresholds: Before treating, growers wait until pest populations reach a scientifically determined level that could cause economic damage. Until that threshold is reached, the cost of yield and quality loss will be less than the cost for control.

Cultural Controls: The pest's environment it then disrupted by turning under crop residues, sterilizing greenhouse tools, and harvesting early.

Biological Controls: It is necessary for growers to conserve the many beneficial natural enemies already at work. They import and use additional biologicals where effective.

Chemical Controls: Growers select the most effective and appropriate pesticide and properly calibrate sprayers. They then verify that weather conditions will permit good coverage without undue drift.

Recordkeeping: Records of pest traps, weather and treatment are kept for use in pest management decisions.

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Who can use IPM?
Anyone who deals with pest problems can use IPM. Farmers, buildings and grounds maintenance personnel, professional pest control operators, and home dwellers can learn how to apply least-risk solutions to prevent pest trouble or respond to problems when they arise.

What are pesticide hazards?
Pesticide hazards include acute, immediate toxicity to humans and other non-target organisms; chronic or long-term toxicity such as cancer; and potential to contaminate air, or ground and surface water.  Information on many of these potential hazards for specific pesticides can be found on pesticide labels, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and resources such as www.pesticideinfo.org.

Recent studies documenting the need for continued reductions in hazardous pesticide use and practices include the Heinz Center evaluation of our nation’s ecosystems in 2002, reporting that seventy-five percent of streams tested had more than five pesticide contaminants.  A 2006 US Geological Survey review of 51 studies over ten years reported that 96% of fish, 100% of surface water, and 33% of major aquifers sampled from 1992 to 2001 contained one or more pesticides. Nearly 10% of stream sites and 1.2% of ground water sites in agricultural areas, and 6.7% of stream and 4.8% of ground water site in urban areas contained pesticides at concentrations exceeding benchmarks for human health derived from US EPA standards and guidelines for drinking water.

The adult human body is similarly contaminated with pesticides, pesticide-related compounds and other synthetic chemicals. A 2002 study led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers.  A total of 167 chemicals were found in these individuals, none of whom worked with chemicals occupationally or lived near industrial facilities. Of the 167 chemicals found, 17 were pesticides or pesticide breakdown products. Seventy-six were carcinogens, 94 neurotoxins, and 79 developmental or reproductive toxins.

Pests can also become resistant to pesticides, increasing control costs, crop losses or other pest damage. Many natural enemies of pests are killed by pesticides, freeing pests from these natural controls.

According to a US General Accountability Office report in 1999, information is currently not collected to fully document the extent of pest problems and pesticide use.  Data on impacts of pest infestation and pesticide use on children as well as the general public are lacking. Data of short-term illnesses due to pesticide exposure are limited. Documentation would be difficult to obtain even if concerted efforts were made due to the multiple potential causes for short and long-term symptoms and illnesses associated with exposure to pests and pesticides.  These unknown or poorly understood potential hazards argue for additional levels of protection including exposures to multiple pesticides, at home, at school and in the diet; exposure to chemicals in combination with pesticides such as pharmaceuticals, industrial compounds and personal care products; and the general difficulty in attributing chronic illnesses to any one particular cause.

Pesticides are powerful tools for responding to persistent pest problems. It’s not smart, effective or affordable to use these tools when they are not necessary.   Using IPM to prevent pest problems and minimize reliance on pesticides is the best solution for a healthy environment for everyone.

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Are all pesticides bad?
Most pesticide problems are caused by a small number of the pesticides available today. Many low hazard pesticides are available, and more are being developed each year from both naturally occurring and synthetic materials. However, pesticide use without regard to need or potential hazard is always a poor choice, and rarely solves pest problems.

Improvements in pest management are needed, and pesticides will likely always be a part of the solution.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria continues to kill more than 1 million annually.

Asthma incidence and asthma-associated morbidity is increasing in inner city children in the U.S.  Asthma is associated with cockroach allergen sensitivity and exposure as well as exposure to pesticides.  (Download a  review of pest and pesticide associations with asthma in PDF format.)

Other persistent and emerging pest problems include vectored human and animal diseases such as West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and Lyme disease; plant pests and diseases such as emerald ash borer and soybean rust; and more than 170 noxious aquatic, terrestrial or parasitic weeds continue to challenge pest managers in the U.S. and elsewhere, and demand effective pest management measures.

Since 2003, the majority of new pesticide registrations have met criteria set by EPA for "reduced risk" including lower hazards to human health and non-target organisms, and reduce potential for contamination of groundwater, surface water, and other environmental resources.  These EPA "reduced risk" pesticides include biopesticides, which are naturally occurring substances, microorganisms, or pesticidal substances produced by plants containing genetic material introduced specifically to control pests.

How does IPM reduce hazards?
IPM reduces hazards by reducing overall pesticide use, using least hazardous pesticides when there is a demonstrated need, and taking special protective measures to reduce pesticide exposure living organisms and the environment.

How does IPM differ from Organic?
IPM allows the use of pesticides, fertilizers and other materials made from synthetic materials when necessary. Organic programs largely restrict allowable pesticides to those made from natural materials. Pesticides used in organic programs can also have harmful effects on humans, animals and the environment, and must be used carefully and only when needed. IPM strategies can also help organic programs reduce hazards.

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What is "IPM Certification"?
Certification implies that a professional, product or service meets a well-defined standard.  Certification can be a powerful tool to demonstrate to customers, neighbors and peers in your profession that your pest management practices meet the highest standards for reduced hazard and effectiveness.

Many programs include IPM as a standard that must be met prior to certification.  Not all programs require IPM performance to the same degree - some programs have minimal IPM requirements and other truly seek to identify top IPM performers.  For an independent rating of many certification programs addressing pest management, visit www.ecolabels.org.

The IPM Institute has worked with public agencies, non-governmental organizations and industry to develop and implement meaningful programs incorporating IPM standards.  Clients have included Food Alliance, Protected Harvest, SYSCO Corporation and the Universities of Wisconsin, Florida, Cornell and Rutgers.

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How can my products or services become IPM Certified?
Pest control operators, farmers, buildings and grounds managers, wildlife management specialists, crop consultants and others can have their products or services certified under a variety of programs that use IPM as a requirement.

To find out if you or your organization, products or services are eligible for certification, contact the IPM Institute. Anyone can join the Institute and support its efforts to reduce pesticide hazards.


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Last modified: July 27, 2009
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