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The Basics of Pest Control

Pests are organisms that damage or spoil food, crops, property or living space. They can also spread disease, cause allergies and upset the balance of nature.

Prevention involves removing food, water and shelter for pests. Regularly scout your field, landscape or property to identify pest problems and assess damage. Monitoring also includes observing natural predator and parasite populations. Visit Our Website Now

Pests can contaminate food, damage property and cause asthma and other health problems. Safe pest control depends on everyone’s participation – residents, building owners and maintenance workers. Residents can help by keeping living areas clean, reporting building maintenance problems to owners and managers and storing food in sealed containers. Building owners and maintenance workers can help by maintaining building structures and by using pest control methods that are effective and non-toxic to people and pets.

Pest infestations usually occur when pests gain access to the inside of a home or building. Often, these entryways are obvious to see and easily corrected. Screening windows, closing doors and repairing leaky plumbing are examples of preventive actions that can be taken to block pests from entering. Other pest entryways are less obvious and require more frequent monitoring, such as inspecting the exterior of a home for holes or cracks, regularly checking trash cans and removing them frequently, and ensuring that drains are free of hair or other debris that may attract insects.

The first step in pest prevention is to remove sources of food, water or shelter, depending on the pest. Keeping garbage cans tightly closed, regularly washing and storing food in plastic or glass containers and filling any gaps around pipes are all effective preventive measures. In addition, preventing the buildup of debris or organic matter in and around drains (such as compost piles) can help to keep pests away.

In food processing environments, pests are a major problem because they cause physical contamination of foodstuffs with rodent droppings, insect parts and intestinal worms; contamination with disease-causing pathogens carried on the pests’ bodies; and direct destruction or damage to equipment and product. Pests also pose a threat to public health because they can carry diseases and allergens that can cause sickness in humans and animals.

Preventing pests is the main goal of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a technique that emphasizes inspection and identification of pests, use of only those control tactics that will be effective for the specific type of pest in question, and treatment only when the risk to public health or the environment is unacceptable. IPM is usually used in outdoor settings where eradication of pests is rarely attempted, although it can be successful in indoor spaces such as residential, commercial or industrial buildings, schools and hospitals.

Suppression

Prevention tactics include modifying the growing environment to create barriers that prevent pests from infesting crops. This includes planting insect-free seeds and transplants, irrigation scheduling to avoid situations conducive to disease development, cleaning tillage and harvesting equipment between fields or operations and field sanitation procedures. It also includes eliminating alternate hosts and sites for insect pests, weeds and pathogens.

When physical barriers and cultural practices fail, or the pest population is above an economic or aesthetic threshold, IPM practitioners must rely on suppression techniques to reduce damage. Suppression tactics include scouting (see our Monitoring page) and using the cultural, physical, biological and pesticide control methods described in this IPM tactic page. When these tactics are used, they should be based on a thorough understanding of pest biology and behavior, limitations placed on the cropping system, tolerance for injury, economics and impacts of the suppression method itself (see “Understanding Thresholds” in the Monitoring page).

Natural enemies provide an essential ecosystem service to crops and other plants, and are responsible for suppressing about half of all insect pest populations in crop fields1. Unfortunately, they cannot be relied on to manage all pests. To increase their effectiveness, growers and green industry professionals can augment the numbers of natural enemies in a field or in the landscape through the release of parasitoids, predators, pathogens and other organisms that attack or suppress pests.

Modern classical biological control programs require extensive testing of host ranges to ensure that the selected natural enemy species attack only the intended pest and not non-target organisms. This process, known as inoculative or augmentation biological control, is often costly and time consuming. It may be necessary to make multiple releases of a given biological control agent over the course of a season to sustain adequate levels of pest suppression.

Commercial products commonly used in augmentation of natural enemies are microbial insecticides that contain living pathogens such as bacteria, fungi and viruses or multicellular predators and predators such as nematodes and fungus beetles. A variety of other products are occasionally employed in augmentation, including flowers that attract beneficial insects to and around the crop or grove and traps that use colors or scents to lure pests.

Monitoring

Pest monitoring is the process of checking crops, landscapes, forests, or buildings to see which organisms are present and what damage they have caused. This information can help determine whether a pest problem is serious enough to warrant control. Monitoring also helps identify which methods will be most effective in controlling a given pest, and the best time to use them.

Different types of pests require different monitoring techniques. Some are able to be monitored using sticky traps, while others must be identified through visual inspection or the use of specific tools for particular species (such as a pheromone lure).

The type of monitoring required will largely depend on the potential pest complex of the crop to be managed. For example, a sticky trap is an excellent tool for detecting the presence of insect mites and leafminers. It can also be used to detect fungus gnats and shore flies.

A good monitoring program will include regular field scouting to check for pests. This will allow pest populations to be detected early and can reduce the chance of an outbreak. Field scouting should be done at critical crop development stages when the potential for economic damage is high.

In addition to regular scouting, it is important that a good understanding of pest biology and environmental factors is acquired. This allows for the identification of the most suitable management strategies, including biological control.

A monitoring program can be improved by having the correct equipment, and making sure that it is being used correctly. A classic example involves the small metal boxes on the corners of doors in a facility that are designed to intercept rodents. If they are propped open with boxes of food, or if they are sitting in a spot that is too warm, the monitors aren’t going to be effective.

Similarly, a monitoring system that has been sitting in the same place for years can be compromised by changes to the site that could affect the level of pest activity, or by simply not being monitored regularly. For example, a plant that began having problems with German cockroaches found that their monitors were being used to store old food and other debris. Changing the location of the monitors and making sure that they are being used properly helped eliminate the problem and saved the company money.

IPM

IPM is an ecosystem-based approach that integrates biological, cultural, physical, and mechanical methods of control to prevent unacceptable damage or annoyance and minimize risks to human health, beneficial insects, and the environment. Regular monitoring and record keeping determine if and when pest control is needed, with chemical treatments used sparingly and only in the least-toxic formulations effective against the target organism. Educational strategies are also an integral component of IPM programs.

A good IPM program starts with a careful evaluation of each pest problem, including the pest’s life cycle, potential damage, natural enemies, and effects of weather on the pest and the plants it affects. This information, combined with the availability of different pest control methods, helps determine which method(s) are best to manage each pest problem.

To reduce the need for chemicals, IPM programs incorporate cultural controls — techniques like soil preparation, planting practices, crop rotations, thinning or removal of diseased plants, and the use of resistant varieties — to create unfavorable conditions for pests. IPM programs also make wise use of physical and mechanical controls — trimming weeds, caulking cracks, and removing debris that provide hiding places or food sources for pests, for example. IPM programs also employ the use of disease-free transplants and agroforestry, where the plants are grown in a way that promotes biodiversity.