50 Years of Flattening the Curve: Lessons from IPM in Horticulture
Dr. Saber Miresmailli
Founder & CEO
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1948 was awarded to Paul Hermann Müller “for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods”. 14 years later, Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, brought awareness to the dangerous side effects of chemicals like DDT and started an environmental movement that led to the formation of EPA in 1970. Inspired by these events, the term and concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was first used in agriculture in early 70s and it soon became the new norm. Over the past 50 years, IPM has been widely used in agriculture and horticulture industry.
One of the core principals of IPM besides identification and monitoring of pests and disease species, is establishing an action threshold for each pest. The goal is to flatten the pest and disease population curve below the economic injury level at all times. Through use of biological control agents or other agricultural methods growers try to avoid the widespread pesticide applications. The goal is not complete eradication of the issue ( you need to leave some food for your beneficials) , but to maintain an equilibrium at which economic damage and excess use of pesticides can be prevented. This requires constant monitoring and course correction which is something we refer to in horticulture as scouting.
On March 12, 2020, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Soon after, the concept of “Flattening the Curve” became a prevalent talking point for politicians and news anchors.
Around the globe, countries, public organizations and private businesses developed and implemented policies to flatten the curve which, in most cases, have been fairly successful. We now see restrictions gradually being lifted and businesses are slowly reopening. In some places, people are going about their life as if this issue has been fully resolved, prompting concerns about a second wave of infections in future. So how can IPM help us in this context?
Flattening the curve once does not mean that the job is done. We need effective monitoring tools in place and just like IPM, we need better ways of identifying the disease.
We need to pay close attention to numbers and trends and try to understand under what conditions those trends change. For example, we know hot and dry conditions make plants more susceptible to spider mites. Is there an optimal condition for corona virus? And if we see the trend of pest pressure is projected to exceed the injury threshold tomorrow or next week, then it may make sense to take action today rather than waiting for it to happen.
We established several safety protocols in greenhouses as part of our IPM practice and everyone is following those protocols while they are in greenhouse. Similar protocols were established in response to COVID19 (hand washing, wearing masks, social distancing) which to some degree we need to continue to implement as part of the new normal.
Just like IPM, early detection and preventative measures are the key to success. If you feel under the weather even if you are not sick (many vectors don’t have obvious symptoms), start wearing your mask in public, maintain your social distance and wash your hands frequently. The preventative practices can go a long way.
As we do in IPM, we need to scientifically assess the results of treatments and take note of what worked and what didn’t. In the early days of the pandemic, lots of home remedies and untested treatments were offered on the internet. Even if some of these remedies work, in the absence of proper note taking and trials, we will never know.
IPM successfully helped growers around the world produce healthy food for half a century. COVID is teaching the world that our safety is not a one-time effort, but a way of life. Sustained monitoring, record keeping, and course correction, just like we do in IPM, are required to balance public health and economic prosperity both in the greenhouse and in the world.
Dr. Saber Miresmailli
Founder & CEO