Economics of Integrated Pest Management Adoption

Economics of Integrated Pest Management Adoption
Pest and Disease Management in Agriculture

Dr. George Frisvold

Professor, Bartley P. Cardon Chair of Agribusiness Economics and Policy, University of Arizona

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Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a set of practices that focus on treating specific crop pests with a holistic approach. This strategy has been successfully applied in various crops, farm sizes, and environmental conditions worldwide. 

Based on Bajwa and Kogan, there are approximately 67 different definitions of IPM, with two of them standing out, based on my opinion. 

“Applied pest control, which combines & integrates biological & chemical control. Chemical control is used as necessary and in a manner that is least disruptive to biological control. Integrated control may use naturally occurring biological control and biological control effected by manipulated or induced biotic agents.” Stern et al. (1959) 

“It is a decision support system for the selection & use of pest control tactics, singly or harmoniously coordinated into a management strategy, based on cost/benefit analyses that take into account the interests of & impacts on producers, society, and the environment.” Kogan (1998) 

It is essential to emphasize that pest control tactics are not synonymous with using pesticides (chemical control). Pesticides could be one control tactic among many, but they should not be the first or the only one to go to.

The problem of pest resistance to pesticides (mode of action)

One of the goals of IPM is to get off the pesticide treadmill. What is the pesticide treadmill? New chemical modes of action are developed by chemical and agricultural industries. These new modes of action (or novel ways to kill the pests) are released to the market and massively adapted and used by farmers with the promise of maximum efficiency. However, this non-conscious way of use (and overuse) soon leads to the pest’s resistance to this particular mode of action. And let’s keep in mind that usually, there are multiple products-pesticides with the same mode of action that automatically become inefficient, giving rise to pest outbreaks and large economic losses. 

As time passes, if these compounds are overused, you also start to collect more scientific evidence of ecological and health facts. So you have a simultaneous phenomenon like your scissors where the compounds become less economical. There’s more evidence of the negative environmental and health effects. Older compounds are replaced by newer compounds, and we have gone into this treadmill of a repeated cycle of a new compound with heavy reliance and then problems both economic and environmental and health and in a move to a new thing. 

IPM also focuses on the costs and benefits and that trade-off. Interestingly the costs and benefits do not refer only to private profits for the farmer. Still, there are also significant impacts on society and the environment, which have real economic and social values even if they are not reflected in market prices.

Berries of adapting IPM on a large scale

●      Short-run / Long-run trade-offs

A critical barrier to convincing many farmers to adopt IPM practices is that there is a trade-off in terms of short-run and long-run payoffs. There is the cost in the short run and benefits in the longer run. Adopting any new practice indeed entails costs. Producers have to apply practices that give rise to immediate and, in some cases, significant costs, while the benefit of these practices often take a few years to accrue and are less certain. As a result, the growers are weighing certain costs against future benefits. A specific barrier of IPM is that it is more information- and time-intensive than the conventional reliance on pesticides. However, the cost of acquiring and managing complex environmental and agronomic information has been falling over time. The types of technologies we have now to monitor fields, the populations of pests, beneficial insects, and other natural enemies are much greater, with higher accuracy (geographical information systems), and more and more economical, making the adoption more complex systems simpler.

We speak briefly about Arizona’s experience applying IPM to whitefly. Whitefly is invasive in the western United States, creating huge yield problems in Arizona and California cotton crops. Arizona farmers responded by overusing synergized pyrethroids leading to very severe resistance problems. So in 1995, at the pick of the problem, the cost of insecticide applications and plus the loss of revenues from yield losses averaged about $600 per hectare. Whiteflies not only reduced yield, but they also reduced the quality of the cotton, making it sticky and, as a result, harder to turn it into textiles. This quality loss resulted in lowering the commercial value of the product. This lasted for several years, even after the pest problem got under control and reduced farmers’ gross revenues by 5 to 8%, which is quite significant, especially for this crop.

As you can see from the graph below that the economic losses from the combination of pest resistance and pest activity reached $100 million in 1995. Economics of IPM

In 1996 narrow-spectrum insect growth regulators (IGRs) were introduced along with an aggressive IPM management program. It came to the rescue providing enormous economic and environmental benefits to the State. This program also had resistance management to maintain the efficacy of the insect growth regulators, but continued monitoring is still needed. 

So Arizona obtained exemptions from the Environmental Protection Agency to use two insect growth regulators. It is essential to remember that IGRs cannot solve all problems simultaneously and have a narrow spectrum. Having this in mind, we can easily understand why sampling and pest population monitoring are essential to succeed in the maximum efficiency of IGRs application in a field. Based on IGRs’ very selective action (narrow-spectrum), there is no significant risk to aquatic life, wildlife, or pollinators, according to the Oregon State models. 

As a result, this is a transition not just from one compound to another but the transition to a new mindset and approach. 

Multiple key players are trying to organize IPM broadly across producers, and there are multiple commodities involved. Whiteflies are pests both in vegetables and cotton and so Community Action plans were developed on an area-wide basis for both different commodities. There was coordination between different crop producers. And the multiple tactics they use again avoidance (at the bottom of the pyramid, below), a lot of sampling, and rules to limit the use of chemical insecticides. 

 Integrated Whitefly Management in Arizona Cotton

Source: Naranjo, 2001; Ellsworth & Martinez-Carrillo, 2001

Again things like avoidance and sampling are the very first steps a farmer should take. On the other hand, chemical controls should be the very last step, the last resort. In recent years about half of acres of cotton in Arizona received no sprays for whitefly, and the other half only received about one spray of narrow-spectrum insecticide. And once the IPM program took effect, pesticide applications dropped dramatically by 1995, with 88% of the acres of cotton receiving about seven applications for whitefly alone, not counting applications for other kinds of pests.

So applications and application costs dropped dramatically, from almost 600 dollars a hectare in 1995 to below 100 nowadays. The IGRs were limited to a single application procedure, and other kinds of broader spectrum insecticides were delayed and limited as much as possible.

Economics of IPM

A collective action problem or opportunity

Another barrier is that when pests are mobile, they might require area-wide measures of control. Usually, one single farmer’s adoption of IPM may be insufficient if neighbors are not doing the same thing, so it can become a collective action problem. This revealed that area-wide programs are usually needed. Such a program took place in the United States. Its success was so great that growers actually led in the decision process to determine the management rules that everybody would abide by. So the growers themselves can monitor and enforce the rules of the game, and the government here remains in the background and could monitor and enforce compliance with the grower-approved rules. The government also provides financial and technical assistance. 

This is applied to control the codling moth (Cydia pomonella) in California. In California, the codling moth had developed resistance to azinphos-methyl, insect growth regulators, pyrethroids, carbonates, and chlorinated hydrocarbons. This is an example of the pesticide treadmill, where growers would change from one compound to the next and the next every time a resistance problem occurs. With this strategy, insecticide application rates rose from 0.7 to 2.7 kilograms per acre per year. And even with all these applications, growers still suffered large economic damage from the pest.

Researchers from the University of California demonstrated the effectiveness of using pheromone-based mating disruption with limited insecticide sprays in an area-wide program. It started at first on a modest scale among the most receptive growers in an area where they thought success would be achieved because it was isolated from other farming parts of the State. This program was successful and expanded to other parts of California. In this area-wide program, growers were at the center of it. Still, people from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency Land Grant universities, Cooperative Extension, and private industry provided technological support. So there is a lot of involvement of both public and private entities.

The result of this program is that the codling moth trap captures fell by more than 90%. A single pesticide application reduced damage to less than 0.2% year loss. After the first year of implementation, organophosphate applications fell 70-80%. Within two years, 90% of Bartlett pear acreage entered the program. Many pear orchards went from applying 14 very “high-risk” active ingredient insecticides to applying five to six (primarily organic or reduced-risk compounds). There was a shift from reliance on organophosphates to the mating disruption that saved growers between 250 and $500 per hectare. 

●      Field uniqueness – “My farm is not like other examples.”

The final barrier in trying to get farmers to adopt any practice, let alone IPM, is their skepticism and difficulty in adapting the theory and the general guidelines to their own farms. It is very common to hear farmers mentioning that “the examples are fine and good, but my farm is not like that at all, and my production conditions don’t match the situation that you’re talking about,” making the first step of the implementation hard.

However, the basic scientific principles of IPM do still apply. Evolutionary biology and resistance in the pesticide treadmill happen everywhere in multiple contexts. The effects on beneficial species and ecosystem functions are common. The key, then, is to adapt these general principles to specific locations and demonstrate their efficacy. However, good communication between scientists and farmers at this level is vital. Additionally, it’s important to know what constraints farmers are operating under and not to pretend they don’t exist but to acknowledge them. 


It is true that there is no golden rule with IPM, and there’s no single product or practice responsible for success. Diversity is the key, and all programs applied, rely on multiple decision-making bodies operating across vertical and horizontal networks and public and private actors. Incrementalism is important. Growers are receptive to messages from other growers who have been successful. So an important step is to start small and move from there. And again, successful completion requires long time frames & continued long-term commitment. Unfortunately, sometimes growers are not receptive to IPM until they’ve had some kind of economic and ecological crisis of resistance where nothing is working. Sometimes they often go to IPM as a last resort instead of a first resort after a crisis. We need to work together, inform the farmers and assist them in helping transit to a more sustainable plant protection system.

See Dr. Georges Frisvold’s presentation in the online webinar “Pollinators: Farmer’s Partner for Sustainable Production“.


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