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Issue No. 2, Article 6/April 1, 2004

National Road Map for IPM: Will Corn and Soybean Producers Use It?

Fourteen years ago, I presented a paper at the 1990 Illinois Crop Protection Workshop titled "Integrated Pest Management in Illinois: A Look at the Last 15 years and into the 1990s." It seems appropriate that I now pause and reflect on the last 15 years, and offer some thoughts regarding the future of IPM efforts in this state.

As I pointed out in the 1990 paper, the first organized Extension IPM project in Illinois started in 1972, with a pilot scouting initiative in Boone County. This first IPM thrust was almost exclusively devoted to scouting for insects and using rudimentary economic thresholds. Within Boone County, 115 cornfields were enrolled in this pilot program, which included a total of 4,268 acres. The following information was collected for each cornfield: (1) field histories were obtained; (2) plant stands were taken; (3) European corn borer whorl feeding was measured; (4) corn rootworm larval counts were obtained; (5) levels of corn leaf aphids were assessed; and (6) records were kept on the abundance of predators, parasites, and diseased insects.

Farmers looking for corn rootworm larvae, early University of Illinois IPM scouting program.

The costs incurred during this coordinated scouting program, including total labor, travel, and subsistence allowances, were estimated to be 50 cents per acre! Pete Petty, Illinois' first Extension entomologist, thought that costs could be reduced over time: "If we continue this pilot program, further refinements may reduce the per-acre cost." In 1973, the University of Illinois College of Agriculture began to receive annual federal support to conduct IPM educational programs. That support continues to this day. Over time, primarily due to inflation, support in our land-grant institutions for IPM Extension programs has eroded. For the most recent federal fiscal year, IPM extension programs in all 50 states have seen their budgets reduced by 10%. I hope that these funds will be restored in the 2005 budget cycle. Will political support for IPM educational programs continue to diminish?

In August 2001, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) issued the report "Agricultural Pesticides--Management Improvements Needed to Further Promote Integrated Pest Management (IPM)." This document was compiled in response to Senator Patrick Leahy's request that the status of IPM adoption in U.S. agriculture be accurately assessed.

In 1993, in response to the Clinton administration, the USDA established a goal of 75% implementation of IPM practices on the nation's crop acres. This 1993 initiative has continued to receive mixed reviews. On pages 11 and 12 of the GAO Report (GAO-01-815 Agricultural Pesticides), sharp criticism is leveled at the agricultural establishment for the continued escalation of pesticide use: "Although some IPM practices have resulted in significant reductions in pesticide use, nationwide use of chemical pesticides in agriculture has not declined since the beginning of the IPM Initiative. Chemical pesticide use in agriculture--which accounts for about three-fourths of all pesticides used in the United States--has increased from about 900 million pounds in 1992 to about 940 million pounds in 2000, according to EPA, even as total cropland has decreased. However, data on total pesticide use aggregates relatively benign pesticides, such as sulfur and mineral oil, with more risky chemical pesticides, including organophosphates, carbamates, and probable or possible carcinogens. This subset of pesticides--which has been identified by the EPA as posing the greatest risk to human health--is suspected of causing neurological damage, cancer, and other adverse human health effects."

There is a silver lining to this cloud. The GAO report also indicates that "use of the riskiest subset of pesticides decreased from 455 million pounds of active ingredient in 1992 to about 390 million pounds in 2000." Despite this reduction, these products categorized as "risky" still represent more than 40% of the pesticides that producers continue to use.

In partial response to the GAO report, a national road map for IPM was presented and published in the Proceedings of the 4th National IPM Symposium, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 8 to 10, 2003. Three broad national IPM goals were articulated: (1) improve the economic benefits related to the adoption of IPM practices, (2) reduce potential human health risks from pests and the use of IPM practices, and (3) minimize adverse environmental effects from pests and the use of IPM practices. General performance measures were listed for each goal.

Will corn and soybean producers find the very general directions of the IPM road map useful? In reality, I realize most producers have never heard of the map. How will it be perceived by the agribusiness sector? Will the IPM road map influence IPM educational programs led by scientists within our land-grant institutions? There are no easy answers to these questions.

In 1990, W. A. Allen and E. G. Rajotte published a paper in the Annual Review of Entomology titled "The Changing Role of Extension Entomology in the IPM Era." They surveyed extension entomologists who were members of the Entomological Society of America and were active from 1972 to 1988. More than 200 responses were received. These extension entomologists believed that synthetic pesticides would play a less critical role in IPM decision-making in the future (defined as 1989 through 2000). They (71.4% of respondents) also believed that scouting and the use of economic thresholds would be very important throughout the 1990s. It appears that they underestimated the future importance and continued use of pesticides and overestimated the adoption of scouting practices and use of thresholds in a field crop setting.

If you disagree, ponder these questions:

What percentage of soybeans grown in Illinois are scouted for the western corn rootworm variant in order to make more-informed soil insecticide decisions on first-year corn?

What percentage of continuous corn acres in Illinois are scouted for corn rootworms in order to make soil insecticide use decisions?

What percentage of corn acres in Illinois will be treated with systemic insecticidal seed treatments this spring for secondary soil insects without any scouting input? For corn rootworms?

Will interest continue to build for the registration and use of systemic insecticidal seed treatments for soybeans to reduce potential bean leaf beetle and soybean aphid infestations despite the sporadic nature of these insect pests?

How much concern exists regarding the potential for substantial numbers of acres of corn and soybean to be treated in the future with insecticidal seed treatments that have the same mode of action? Should insecticide resistance management protocols be developed and recommended for the nicotinioid insecticides?

If your answers to these questions make you feel somewhat uncomfortable with respect to the progress we've made regarding the adoption of scouting and use of thresholds since the University of Illinois pilot scouting program in the early 1970s, you're not alone. If pesticide use remains at current levels on corn and soybean acres and the adoption of scouting practices and use of economic thresholds continue to lag, will federal support of IPM continue to erode? As urban population centers increase in political importance, will federal support swing in favor of those programs that focus on alternative agriculture practices such as organic food production? Time will tell.--Mike Gray

Mike Gray

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