Defining IPM: A Collaborative Effort
Teams of agricultural producers, Cornell IPM experts, and food industry representatives met in 1996 to pin down what it means to practice IPM in upstate New York and to commit it to paper as the "Elements of IPM."
Ever since the term "IPM" was coined in the 1950s, its definition has been ambiguous. With the advent of the federal government's National IPM Initiative, integrated pest management is increasingly in the spotlight. More people want and need to know just what IPM is:
- State and federal agencies often search for a list of practices that constitute IPM. They need to determine which growers qualify for cost-sharing under programs that fund environmentally sound agricultural practices.
- Marketing surveys have shown that consumers are more interested than ever in pest management and the affects it may have on food safety and the environment.
- Growers who practice IPM welcome the means to document their practices.
Fortunately for all of these constituents, IPM practices, called "Elements of IPM," are now being committed to paper in New York. What are these Elements? Crop-specific lists of recommendations for preparation of a field before planting, use of pest-resistant plant varieties, monitoring for pests, and use of weather data to forecast pest attacks. The Elements also touch on issues not so directly linked with pests, such as the addition of nutrients to a crop or the handling of a crop after harvest.
Many New York growers have been adopting the Elements by modifiying the way they grow their crops. Often this is accomplished over a two- to three-year period. Some of the changes require a new investment, mostly in a grower's management time. But growers often realize a net profit by adopting IPM.
The Elements are not static; they are reviewed annually and often revised. As research reveals more about a crop and its pests, as new pests surface, and new management options are developed, the Elements are changed to accommodate the new information.
It is often impractical for growers to use each individual Element in every year. Growers need to take into account unpredictable weather conditions, significant changes in the U.S. economy, or new government regulations affecting agriculture.
Fresh-market sweet corn was the crop chosen for the first set of IPM Elements. The sweet-corn model was then used to develop Elements for six processing vegetables in upstate New York: beets, carrots, kraut cabbage, snap beans, sweet corn, and peas. The same model is now being applied to certain fruit and field crops in New York and to processing tomatoes in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
Defining IPM for specific crops is a new concept - as is the process of developing these definitions - because it involves new partnerships. The fresh-market sweet corn Elements were written through a collaborative effort among several stakeholders: food industry representatives, agricultural producers, and Cornell IPM experts. A food processor, Comstock Michigan Fruit, joined the partnership when it was time to define Elements of IPM for the six canned and frozen vegetables.
After identifying the Elements, these partners prioritized them and developed forms and procedures by which to verify adoption of them. "This was a learning experience for everyone," commented Curt Petzoldt, vegetable IPM coordinator and leader of the Cornell portion of the partnership. "The growers added some Elements that the rest of the partners would not have thought of. In some ways they made things more demanding for themselves."