Integrated pest management (IPM) is a comprehensive and multidimensional approach to pest control. It is widely used throughout the agricultural world and is arguably the most effective and the safest way to keep pests from damaging crops.
Fortunately, IPM can be utilized in the cannabis industry, a world where a multitude of pests (weeds, aphids, gnats, spider mites, deer, rabbits and more) can turn a healthy, thriving crop into a disaster. The cannabis industry is also a realm where, historically, pest management has been piecemeal, lacking, and even environmentally questionable at the least.
Essentially, there are four basic tenets of IPM. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, they are as follows:
- Set Action Thresholds
- Monitor and Identify Pests
Setting action thresholds refers to establishing a threshold where, once breached, you will decide to implement a pest control strategy. In other words, it dictates a predetermined specific point of pest activity at which a grow operation decides it is necessary to take action in order to save its crops. Having this predetermined trigger point prevents unnecessary pest control measures from being implemented when not needed.
Monitoring and identifying pests involves learning the identity and habits of the pests and non-pests in and around a crop. It’s important to understand that not every living creature in a grow op’s ecosystem is dangerous to the crop. In fact, some are beneficial because they help control the real pests.
Prevention is by far the most effective way of dealing with pests. Using IPM principles, cannabis grow op directors can employ several practices to prevent a pest situation from ever starting. One of the most important pest-prevention steps is the design and implementation of a well-thought-out workflow model, which will prevent workers from transporting pests from contaminated areas of a grow op to one that is free of contaminants.
Another important aspect of prevention is plant health. Healthy plants can fight off and withstand pests, which prevents them from getting a foothold and spreading.
If prevention does not work and pest control measures must be implemented, principles of IPM call for the least invasive measures to be implemented first. Put another way, grow managers will want to begin with pest control techniques that have the lowest potential for harm to both non-pest plants and animals and then evaluate. Types of controls include biological (using parasites or predators to kill pests), cultural (techniques used to prevent pests from establishing and reproducing), mechanical (e.g., traps and cages), and chemical (pesticides).
Managers will also want to make sure that workers engaging in implementing these measures have personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary.
IPM is a proven way to protect not only cannabis crops from damage but the ecosystem surrounding the crops as well, including workers and non-pest plants and animals. IPM also promotes better workflow and a deeper understanding of all processes necessary to successfully bring a crop to harvest.