Insect Management on Organic Farms

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Insect management presents a challenge to organic farmers. Insects are highly mobile and well adapted to farm production systems and pest control tactics. On organic farms, where the focus is on managing insects rather than eliminating them, success depends on learning about three kinds of information:

  • Biological information.What the insect needs to survive can be used to determine if pest insects can be deprived of some vital resource.
  • Ecological information. How the insect interacts with the environment and other species can be used to shape a pestresistant environment.
  • Behavioral information about both pest and beneficial insects. How the insect goes about collecting the necessities of life can be manipulated to protect crops.

This knowledge can be used to craft a management plan that incorporates many different elements to suppress pest insects. No single tactic, employed alone, is likely to give satisfactory control of chronic pest species. Certified organic farmers can use a wide range of practices to create an integrated pest management approach that complies with the standards of the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP): www.ams.usda. gov/nop/, (202) 720-3252. The standard states that a farmer must use management practices to prevent crop pests, weeds, and diseases, including but not limited to these: crop rotation and soil and crop nutrient management practices; sanitation measures to remove disease vectors, weed seeds, and habitat for pest organisms; and cultural practices that enhance crop health, including selection of plant species and varieties that are suitable to site-specific conditions and resistant to prevalent pests, weeds, and diseases.
According to the organic standard, insect pest problems may be controlled through cultural, mechanical or physical methods; augmentation or introduction of predators or parasites of the pest species; development of habitat for natural enemies of pests; and nonsynthetic controls, such as lures, traps, and repellents. When these practices are insufficient to prevent or control crop pests, a biological, botanical, or chemical material or substance included on the National List of nonsynthetic and synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be applied to prevent, suppress, or control pests. However, the conditions for using the material must be documented in the organic system plan.

H. M. Linker
D. B. Orr
M. E. Barbercheck
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service