Integrated pest management (IPM) is simply using the right tools at the right time to attack common pests. Its principles include utilizing an array of alternatives, rather than focusing on only one or two methods of pest control. This practice depends largely upon knowledge of the crop and information about a pest or potential pests and includes an analysis of the pest population, a survey of the economic severity of the pest, the surrounding environment, and the various tools that are available to control pests.
The objective of using an IPM cotton program focuses on producing an early, high quality and high yielding crop. This requires a systems approach of using recommended practices for soil preparation, variety selection and planting dates, followed by a balanced fertility and water management program. These and other cultural practices often interact with one another affecting plant growth and development and can affect the occurrence of pests and the producer’s ability to manage them. Keeping pest damage to a minimum is the main objective of an IPM program. This includes using cultural, biological, mechanical and chemical management options. Cultural practices can impact natural predators, parasites and diseases, which play an important role in the biological control of many cotton pests. Effective cultural and biological control strategies can, in some instances, effectively reduce the dependence on chemical control of pests. To minimize the impact of pests and pest control costs, it is recommended that producers apply pesticides only when needed based on careful monitoring of the crop and pest populations and use the most cost effective and efficacious treatments for the targeted pests. Consideration of the pesticide of choice should also include the potential to induce or intensify secondary pests and resistance. One of the most costly pesticide applications a producer can make is one that doesn’t work. Proper product selection, application timing and spray coverage including droplet size and output volume is essential to ensuring the success of chemical control methods as well as avoiding drift or other off target movement of pesticides. Producers are also responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. It is recommended that the most current information be read and follow all label recommendations before applying any product (National Cotton Council of America, 2007).
Figure 1. Field scouts using a shake sheet (right) or a sweep net (left) to monitor insect beneficial and pest populations (NCC, 2007).
Producers should scout their fields to detect possible pest problems before pest populations reach an economic or action threshold (Fig. 1 and 2). An action threshold is the point at which pest populations or environmental conditions indicate that pest control action must be taken. Sighting a single pest does not mean control is or will be needed. The level at which pests become an economic threat is critical to guiding future pest control decisions. Information concerning scouting techniques, thresholds for specific pests and recommendations for chemical control of pests can often be obtained locally. IPM continues to evolve as new tools become available, but the basic concepts remain economically and environmentally sound. IPM has significantly reduced the cost of production and has helped to drastically reduce the risks posed by pesticides.
Figure 2. A cotton field with a significant population of weeds. Cotton is a poor competitor at this stage of growth. Irreversible loss of yield potential has likely occurred (NCC, 2007).