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field of crimson clover

Integrated Pest management, or IPM, is the practice of using a variety of methods to manage pests. When used correctly, pesticides can be a great tool for managing pests, but they should not be the first action to manage pest problems.

Remember to do a soil test of your field or garden. Lots of time and money goes into producing a crop, and many problems are related to nutritional deficiencies. All the information for soil testing can be found at your local Extension office.

Improving the soil by adding organic matter helps as well.  You can buy organic matter or compost your own. Growing cover crops when the vegetable crop is finished is also a good idea. Growing crops such as cereal rye or crimson clover during the fall and winter season will keep the organic matter from washing away from the field or garden and adds additional organic matter as well.  If you have room, summer cover crops such as sorghum-sudangrass or iron clay cowpea can be planted in the spring in areas of the field or garden that is not in production. Lots of information can be found on our web site in a publication called “Cover Crops for Alabama”.

When choosing which varieties or cultivars to grow, try to plant ones with disease resistance when possible.  Many diseases can be avoided just by planting disease resistant seeds. These seeds may cost a little more and can sometimes be hard to find, but may be beneficial if diseases can be avoided.

Do not forget about crop rotation. This means you need to be rotating vegetable families. For example, tomato, pepper, and eggplant are in the same family and should be planted together. Next season plant another vegetable family in that spot. The crop rotation information can be found on our web site by typing “crop rotation” in the search box.

Irrigation, mulching, and weed control are three practices that relieve stress on crops. This includes sanitation such as weed control around the edge of the field.

Trap cropping has great potential and is done on commercial farms in Alabama. This is a practice of planting a crop more desirable to certain insects, such as leaf footed plant bugs, than tomatoes.  The insect goes to the trap crop and leaves the tomatoes alone. This information can be found on our web site as well.

My co-workers and I hang several insect traps around the state. I have been trapping for brown marmorated stink bugs in corn and spotted wing drosophila in blueberries and blackberries. These pests can cause damage on crops. We trap in order to know how the insects are spreading and let farmers know when to be scouting for them. I also have vegetable traps on farms to monitor for squash vine borers, fall army worms, beet army worms, corn ear worms, and others. These traps are checked and the insect counts are e-mailed to farmers.

Other IPM practices can include hand removal of insects such as caterpillars from tomatoes, or using barriers to keep cutworm from plants.

Your eyes are an important management tool. Do not forget to scout the field often and identify the pest correctly. You can also send diseased plant and insect samples to our pathology lab at Auburn or Birmingham for an analysis. If you need information on the IPM practices mentioned in this article simply contact your local Extension office.

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