Bug on a Leaf


There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to protecting our food from insects and weeds. Each farmer works with other experts like agronomists to build an integrated pest management plan that uses minimal resources and provides the healthy, affordable food for consumers.

Think about a small indoor or outdoor garden. You might have to spray a pesticide to protect your plants from insects, like aphids, and monitor them to make sure they’re continuing to grow. You also might have to remove dead leaves and pull the weeds so your plants have room to grow. All of these actions would be part of your integrated pest management plan.

Building an integrated pest management plan takes into consideration six principles:

  1. Acceptable pest levels: Farmers and scientists don’t want to wipe out entire insect populations, but they do want to control them so we’re able to have safe and affordable food. Determining what level of pests will still allow farmers to grow food is an important first step.
  2. Prevention: Sometimes, farmers can prevent insects and weeds from taking control by selecting the best plant varieties for the local growing conditions. The better they grow, the less susceptible they will be to insects and weeds. Here in Illinois, many different plant varieties grow well in our soil.
  3. Monitoring: Observation is an essential part of any integrated pest management plan. Farmers regularly observe their fields, either by simply looking at them or using a tool, like a drone, to capture an aerial view. This allows them to see where potential damage is to crops that could be caused by insects or weeds.
  4. Mechanical controls: Another effective way for farmers to control pests is by physically disrupting the insects and weeds by tilling the soil or using a machine to pick the weeds.
  5. Biological controls: Farmers might be able to introduce a different, beneficial insect to fight off the disruptive pests. More commonly used biological controls are plants that are genetically modified to naturally protect themselves from insects and weeds.
  6. Pesticides: This important tool is one of the most effective for reducing environment impact and controlling insect populations. Pesticides are used at very specific times and quantities. Farmers must be certified and follow instructions for pesticides carefully to ensure they are safe for the environment and people.

Each piece of an integrated pest management plan works together. Keeping a careful eye on crops can help catch insects and weeds before they destroy too many crops. Mechanical controls, like tilling, can be damaging to the soil, so biological controls, like GMO’s, and pesticides can help conserve soil health. No matter what a farmer’s plan looks like, their goal is always to put safe and affordable food on your table.