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Using Monitoring as a Key Component of IPM

Do you have an effective monitoring program to help you identify pest problems early in their development, enabling you to make critical pest management decisions? Many growers start out with good intentions but don't have a dedicated person to follow through or don't fully understand what monitoring means.

An effective monitoring program can save you money by giving you the information you need to determine exactly when, where and how often to spray.

Click the links below for more information to help begin an IPM monitoring program.

Monitoring using a Magnifying Glass

1. Benefits of Monitoring
2. Getting Started
3. Visual Inspection
4. What to Look For
5. Where to Look
6. Magnification
7. Written Records
8. Why Should You Monitor Your Plants?
9. The Importance of Checking Your Soil
10. Using Insect Traps
11. Hiring a Crop Consultant
12. Do's and Don'ts of Developing an IPM Monitoring Program


Benefits of Monitoring

  • Greater awareness of pest activity, including changes in pest populations
  • Up-to-date information on the health of your plants
  • Data that can be used to compare pest outbreaks from season to season
  • Early detection of pest problems, resulting in the availability of more management options

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Getting Started

1. Gather baseline data
This should include basic information on the soil type and fertility levels, the history of pest problems, past control measures (including their timing and effectiveness), and other pertinent information, such as weather conditions that will help you understand the context within which a certain pest problem is occurring.
Tip: Your local Cooperative Extension agent is a good resource to help you collect much of this information.

2. Have access to good weather data
Tools ranging from a simple min/max thermometer to on-site weather stations are available to give you this information. Other sources include your local Extension agent, some Cooperative Extension web sites, or daily reports faxed to you by a weather service.

3. Determine what tools you will need

4. Decide who will do the monitoring
If possible, designate one person to monitor the same area throughout the season. If you are unable to dedicate anyone to this task, consider hiring a scouting service.

5. Keep good written records
Make sure these include the exact timing and location of each pest occurrence. Keeping good records will give you precise data on which to base your management decisions.

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Visual Inspection

Visually inspecting your plants on a regular basis is an important component of an effective monitoring program. Careful, systematic inspections will help you keep track of the health of your plants and identify any potential weed or pest problems.

"Visual monitoring is very subjective," notes Karen Delahaut, University of Wisconsin IPM outreach specialist. "It's important that the same person does the scouting the whole season."

How often you inspect your plants will vary, depending on such factors as the time of year, their growth stage, the type of plant, and the presence of any weeds or insect pests. What's important is that you monitor on a regular basis.

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What to Look For

  • The presence of plant diseases or insect pests. Try to determine the species of the pest, what stage it's in, how many insects are present or the extent of the disease, and how the insect pests or diseased plants are distributed (i.e., general distribution, scattered or localized). Note: Some insect pests are very mobile, and it will be difficult for you to count how many are on a specific plant. In these cases, use of a sweep net or insect trap can help you.
  • Symptoms or damage to the plant. Look at the plant's characteristics, how they differ from the appearance of a normal plant, severity of symptoms, where on the plant the symptoms or damage is found, and how many nearby plants appear to be affected. Also try to determine the cause of the symptoms if it isn't readily apparent.
  • Other insects. In the case of an insect infestation, note whether any beneficial insects are present (natural enemies of the pest). Also note the presence, numbers and distribution of any other insect pests that could cause additional problems.
  • Weather conditions. Note the current conditions (temperature, precipitation, wind speed) and whether there are any obvious variations from what it normally is at that particular time of year. It's also important to look back at weather conditions from the past week or so to determine whether any unusual weather events occurred.
  • Other contributing factors. Note when pesticides were last applied to the plant, and when other practices such as fertilization or irrigation took place.

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Where to Look

When inspecting your plants, be sure to get a good representative sample. That means regularly checking plants in a number of different areas of your nursery, greenhouse, orchard or farm.

One good way to do this is to follow the same zigzag pattern each time you do a visual inspection. Randomly choose plants to inspect along the way. Be sure to mark affected plants for easy identification on your next visit so you can evaluate any changes that may occur.

NOTE: Very specific visual sampling plans are often available to help you decide if and when a pesticide is needed. These plans specify how many plants and which plant parts to examine, what to look for, and what your results tell you.

Your local Cooperative Extension agent is a good source of information on specific insect pests.

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To properly use a hand magnifier, hold the lens close to your eye and move the object you are looking at close until it is in focus.

Magnification is expressed as X. A 20X magnifier shows you an object 20 times larger than life, so be sure to choose the lowest magnification needed for your task. The lower the magnification, the greater the "depth of field" and "field of view." For example, at 2X you may be able to see an entire insect clearly, from the tips of its antennae down to its tarsi (toes). At 10X, you will see either antennae or tarsi in greater detail, but not both at the same time.

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Written Records

It's important to keep a written record of what you find each time you do a visual inspection. Your written record should include:
  • The type of plant, its size, location and condition (i.e., the extent of any damage)
  • The date and time the inspection took place
  • Which pests are present, how many, their stage of growth and distribution
  • Identification of any beneficial insects
  • Weather conditions
  • Date of last pesticide application
  • Other contributing factors (such as fertilization or irrigation)

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Why Should You Monitor Your Plants?

Conducting frequent visual inspections of your plants and crops gives you a good indication of pest activity and population, provides you with up-to-date information on the health of your plants, and allows you to make proper pest management decisions. When monitoring, you should check often for insect pests, weeds, disease, weather damage or nutrient deficiencies that may kill or stunt the growth of your plants.

An effective monitoring program also includes keeping accurate written data on soil types, fertility levels, history of pest problems, including the exact timing, and location of each pest occurrence and past control measures. You can keep track of weather conditions by using on-site weather stations and information provided by your county Extension agent or local weather service. Understanding climatic conditions can help you determine why certain pest problems are occurring.

In the long run, monitoring can save you money on pesticides by allowing you to make better decisions on when to spray or not to spray.

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The Importance of Checking Your Soil

IPM monitoring includes making frequent checks of soil conditions. Soil lacking in nutrients, pH and other factors will not be able to support plants. Conducting tests on soil samples will help you determine if it is necessary to apply fertilizer, lime or other chemicals.

Before taking soil samples in a field, keep in mind that your soil will probably not be the same in all areas. There could be differences in soil texture, appearance, wetness or salt content. Therefore, you should break your field down into smaller areas with similar soil conditions, then randomly take 15 to 20 samples from each area. The test results should help you determine the deficiencies in your soil and what action you should take. Be sure to keep a written record of the area where each soil sample was taken for future use. For more information, see our IPM Tip Sheet, How To Take a Good Soil Sample.

Another factor to consider is compaction, in which soil pores are reduced in size by heavy foot traffic, equipment, or excessive rainfall, robbing plants of the air, water and fertilizers they need in order to grow. You can reduce compaction by never working in wet soil, varying the cultivation depth each year, installing flotation tires, dual tires or tracks on equipment, and using shrubs, mulch or fences as borders to reduce foot traffic. For more information, see our IPM Tip Sheet, Testing Soil Compaction.

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Using Insect Traps

The use of insect traps can help you determine the number of pests that may be present. There are several types of traps including pheromone traps in which sexually attractive odors are used to lure male insects, "sticky" traps, "visual" traps that attract certain insects by their color and shape, and black light traps.

Insect traps offer several advantages:
  • They work 24 hours a day
  • They indicate problem areas where pests are present so you don't have to treat all of your plants
  • They help you decide the best possible time to apply pesticides for maximum effectiveness
  • They may reduce your use of pesticides, which can mean lower operating costs and a reduction in health risks and liability if your employees or neighbors are exposed to harmful chemicals

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Hiring a Crop Consultant

If it's not possible to put someone in charge of your pest monitoring program and if you are not able to do it yourself, you may want to hire a crop consultant. But in order to find the best person for the job, there are some important points to consider:

The consultant's responsibilities: Will the person you hire scout your fields once a week, make treatment recommendations to you, and then carry out the treatment? Will the consultant frequently use less experienced employees to do the work, and if so, how much supervision will those workers receive? Furthermore, will the consultant fit your philosophy and managerial style?

Compensation: Consultants may charge by the acre, depending on where they are located. Some growers with smaller fields may pay more for a consultant than those with larger fields. Contact crop consultants in your area, find out the fees they charge for each specific service, then get it in writing. Your local farm co-op or Extension agent may also be able to help you with some of that information.

Experience: Find out the educational background and hands-on experience of each consultant you are considering hiring. According to the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants (NAICC), a Certified Professional Crop Consultant is required to have at least a bachelor's degree and six years of field experience (or five years' experience with a Master's degree or four years' experience with a Ph.D.). A Certified Crop Advisor must have at least a high school diploma and four years of field experience (or three years' experience with an associate degree or two years' experience with a bachelor's degree). Also, find out the types of technology and methodology the consultant will use when making recommendations.

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Do's and Don'ts of Developing an IPM Monitoring Program



Make frequent visual checks of your plants to determine the presence of pests.

Don't hire a crop consultant until you know his/her fees, experience and responsibilities.

Test the fertility of your soil to determine if it can support your crops.

Don't forget to keep written data on your IPM monitoring program.

Use insect traps and sweep nets to capture pests so you will know when it is necessary to apply pesticides.

Don't apply pesticides without first using insect traps, sweep nets, and/or other methods to determine the number of pests you have.

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