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Using Pest Control Chemicals in an IPM Program

One of the greatest myths involving Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is that it involves no use of pesticides. While IPM advocates natural, biological and cultural techniques in plant and crop production, pesticides, insecticides and fungicides may have to be applied occasionally to control pests in an effort to maintain higher yields and profits.

Growers who practice IPM need to make key decisions and follow important procedures when chemical spraying appears to be the only way to control pests.

Click the links below for more information.

Spraying in a Field

1. When are Pest Control Chemicals Needed?
2. Choosing and Using the Right Pest Control Chemical
3. Pesticide Safety Tips
4. Do's and Don'ts of Using Chemicals in an IPM Program


When are Pest Control Chemicals Needed?

The first step is to carefully scout to determine if spraying really is necessary. Weather conditions, previous pest problems, and soil type and fertility are factors that may be used when deciding if treatments are needed. Pesticides should only be used as a last resort when less risky methods, such as mating disruption, trapping or weeding, don't work.

If you spot a pest, that doesn't mean you should immediately start spraying. You need to determine if there are a sufficient number of pests causing enough economic damage to justify the use of the pesticide. This is called the "action threshold." In an IPM program, you should only apply chemicals when pests reach or exceed the action threshold.

Before starting treatments, know the pest you are dealing with. Make sure the pest is not a beneficial insect that may actually help solve your problem by preying on the pests that are killing your plants.

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Choosing and Using the Right Pest Control Chemical

Once you identify the pest, purchase the proper chemical that can keep the situation under control. Try to use one that is effective, economical, and low in toxicity. Avoid highly toxic chemicals that can harm people, pets, wildlife, beneficial insects, or the environment. Purchase only enough pesticide to do the job and mix only enough to complete the assigned task. If necessary, seek professional advice from your county Extension agent.

Oftentimes, "spot spraying" will work at controlling your pest problems. This means applying the chemical only in the areas where there is the greatest concentration of pests as opposed to spraying all areas where pests may or may not exist. Spraying the entire field or all of your plants is often wasteful and environmentally damaging.

Always read the label directions before buying and applying pesticides, and never use more of the chemical than necessary. Over-application may not only affect human health and the environment; it is also illegal.

Do not apply pesticides on very windy days. Otherwise, the chemical may drift onto non-target areas.

Don't rely on the same chemical for a long period of time. Insects, weeds, and plant pathogens may develop a resistance to the pesticide, reducing the chemical's ability to control pest problems. To delay the development of resistance, it is best to alternate between chemicals with different modes of action. Be sure to keep a written log of pesticides that are used and when they are applied, so you can use it as a reference every growing season.

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Pesticide Safety Tips

Pesticide application generally requires the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as coveralls, gloves, eyewear and/or respiratory protection, which reduces the chances for exposure to the chemical. Always read the pesticide label to determine the minimum amount of PPE that is necessary. Chemicals that are accidentally splashed on the skin could result in burns, dermatitis, or other skin conditions, while inhalation may result in permanent damage to the lungs or central nervous system.

When chemical applications are completed, remove all PPE. If it can be reused, be sure to clean it separately from your work clothing or family clothing. Never re-wear pesticide-contaminated clothing. Thoroughly shower and wash your hair as soon as possible.

Store pesticides in cool, dry areas, and protect them from moisture and temperature extremes. Always keep chemicals in their original, labeled containers. Never store them in soda bottles or food containers.

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Do's and Don'ts of Using Chemicals in an IPM Program



Use chemicals only as a last resort.

Don't automatically use pesticides on all of your plants or your entire field. Carefully scout first, and "spot spray" in areas where pest activity is the greatest.

Identify the pest you are dealing with before purchasing and using chemicals.

Don't rely on the same chemical for a long period of time. Instead, alternate chemicals with different modes of action.

Use personal protective equipment when applying pesticides.

Don't over-apply pesticides. Always follow label directions.

NOTE: This tip sheet is for general guidance only. Contact your county Extension agent, land grant university, local Environmental Protection Agency office or state Department of Natural Resources for more specific information on using chemicals in an IPM program.

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