Editorial: Effective IPM Means 'Walking the Fields'

The best Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies are marked by appropriate technology, practical knowledge, information exchange, and innovative thinking. Yet people remain central to successful IPM. It is people, namely farmers and those who work closely with farmers, who move IPM from theoretical to more pedestrian levels. An IPM technology born in a lab petri dish is impractical without knowledgeable, informed farmers to walk and scout their fields.

On the other hand--just like weeds, insects, and diseases--people can be crop management pests themselves. We are pests when we upset ecosystems, erode soils, poison the waters, neglect biodiversity, and ruin soil health. In the United States, we created a pesticide monster that gives us nightmares even as we sleep on full stomachs. The monster has apparently contributed to the bountiful harvests that free us from hunger. This belief is one rationale for the U.S. to export millions of pounds of pesticides not registered for use in the U.S., or which are so toxic that only certified specialists use them.

According to the Pesticide Action Network, pesticides whose use is illegal in the U.S. (including DDT) were exported from U.S. ports at a rate of 15 tons per day in 1991. Today, invoking the name of IPM for the sake of children's health, the U.S. government intends to "create incentives for the development of safe pesticides." We hope that translates to money for applied research and local level education about IPM. We also hope that "pesticides" refers to mechanical and biological control agents, not merely synthetic petrochemicals.

Above all, we trust that U.S. standards regarding pesticide labeling and sales will be applied equally around the globe. Most intolerable is the fact, reported in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine, that the vast majority of all deaths from pesticide poisoning occur in developing countries. New thinking about innovative pest management should recognize that weeds, insects, diseases, and people are all subject to the effects of pesticides. Now it is time for IPM proponents and practitioners to visualize a world where education and information exchange about pest cycles, threshold levels, and pesticide toxicity are as well-funded as IPM technological research. A balance between the development of IPM technologies and information exchange about IPM in rural and urban communities is in order.

Most of the articles in this special edition of the International Ag-Sieve address the technological issues associated with IPM. When IPM first gained the attention of the world agricultural community a quarter century ago, it was perhaps necessary to focus our resources on researching alternatives to petrochemical pesticides. This focus should remain, but farmers' fields and storage bins are where the real pest action occurs. To organize farmers on a "neighborhood" basis where pest problems are likely to be similar among four or five farmers is a simple structure for IPM education. By this scenario, manageable groups of researchers, extension workers, and farmers could learn from each other, walking their fields together.