Effective, Sustainable Pest & Disease Control
Adopting an Integrated Pest Management Approach
Just as many vegetables and flowers thrive in the long, warm days of summer, so too do many insects and diseases. Every experienced farmer knows that some pest and disease pressure is inevitable. The challenge is to prevent pests and diseases from making crops unmarketable.
Know What to Expect
One of the benefits of having long farming experience is that you know what kinds of pests and diseases are likely to occur on your farm, so you are always on the lookout for them. For less-experienced growers, there are ample resources on the web to help you understand potential problems and deal with them before they get out of hand.
If you haven't already, check to see if your state has an integrated pest management (IPM) program for vegetables. In many states, the Cooperative Extension Service offers fact sheets, education, and guidance on the most common threats to commercial vegetable crops in that state. Although there are some pests and diseases that are found in all parts of the US, there can be considerable regional differences. So it's smart to read the information for your own state or, lacking those, for a nearby state.
Alternatively, you may find that pest and disease control information for your state is part of a larger "Commercial Vegetable Production Guide." Use that as your search term along with your state name, to see what's available for your geographic region.
What you're looking for is a listing of the most common pest and disease problems on a crop-by-crop basis. Once you know the names of potential culprits, you can learn to identify pests at all life stages, from eggs to larvae to adults, and diseases by the symptoms they cause in susceptible plants. You can find good photographs in many online publications, or, if you want to verify the appearance of a specific pest, check out Insect Images, a grant-funded service offering photos of numerous entomological species of economic interest.This is not as big an undertaking as it may first appear, because most vegetables can be grouped into plant families with similar pest and disease problems. Rotations of vegetable crops should also be based on plant families. If you are not yet familiar with vegetable plant families, see the Referral Chart of Plant Families, a concise guide jointly published by Virginia Tech and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service.
Stay on the Lookout
Once you know which pests and diseases can affect your crops, you can start actively watching for them. If you farm on a small, labor-intensive scale, get in the habit of looking at both sides of leaves when you're picking and weeding, to check for eggs and disease lesions. If you farm on a larger, more mechanized scale, you can set up traps for insects and schedule frequent inspections for other problems. Large vegetable farms often hire IPM consultants to do the monitoring.
Some states have programs to monitor for pests and diseases that are a specific threat to economically valuable crops. For example, Cornell University has set up pheromone traps for sweet corn pests in multiple locations in western New York. The traps were monitored weekly and reports compiled about the presence of European corn borer, corn earworm, fall armyworm, and western bean cutworm. Because the life cycles of those pests are well understood and are dependent on cumulative degree days, extension specialists were able to predict outbreaks based on what they found in the traps. Sweet corn growers in the region can contact the service or check the NY/Cornell IPM website for updates, predictions on pest arrival in their fields, and related information.
If you don't want to be caught by surprise this growing season, take an hour or so now to find out what resources are available to help you be prepared for pest and disease problems. Do an internet search for “IPM Vegetables” and explore the results for your own and nearby states.
Act with the Greatest of Care — 5 Key Elements of an IPM Approach
For nearly every pest and disease problem, there is a hierarchy of responses. The very best strategy is prevention, and much of that involves an integrated approach.
By thinking about likely pest and disease problems early, scouting your plants regularly, and incorporating commonsense cultural and mechanical controls into your practices, you may be able to produce healthy crops with few overwhelming challenges. But sometimes, despite your best efforts, pests and diseases will threaten an important crop. When that happens, you will find a complete line of low-toxicity and organic products at Johnny's.
- Read more: Rotate Crops and Controls: Prevent Resistance Buildup in Pests and Pathogens.
- View all Johnny's Pest & Disease Controls.
- Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles, a fact sheet from the US Environmental Protection Agency.