Integrated Pest Management (IPM) helps U.S. soybean growers to protect their farms in a sustainable manner.

Farmers have to worry about nuisances all year long. 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.

IPM is just one way that U.S. growers sustainably manage pests. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it’s a sensible approach to dealing with 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 fewer pesticides, and increasing sustainability.

Why do farmers in the state of Maryland use IPM practices?

Josh Ernst at Ernst Grain and Livestock in Clear Spring, Maryland says that IPM is more than just a program, but 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.

Maryland’s farmers 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 are schooling pesky nuisances and creating a healthier, more sustainable environment in the state.

Sometimes reducing pesticide use through IPM involves having a cat to “mouse” the hay barn! Maryland farmer Eric Spates’ cat Bella helps him achieve this.