Pests have been a part of agriculture throughout its history. These include insects, diseases, weeds, rodents, birds, nematodes, and more. Stories of locusts and subsequent famines date back to biblical times. As contemporary agriculture has intensified in recent decades to support a growing population from a shrinking land base, the structure of agriculture has shifted in ways that increase potential pest damage. These shifts include changes in scale (large fields of one crop), loss of biodiversity (continuous corn production), and introduction of exotic insects, diseases, and weeds that cause economic loss.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was developed as an approach in the mid-20th century to address the emerging problems with excessive use of and reliance on synthetic pesticides for pest management. IPM aims to minimize economic loss and environmental impact by integrating biological, physical, and chemical pest control practices and strategies. CSANR has focused its pest management work within WSU on approaches and practices that are more biologically based and/or that are allowable for use on organic farms.
Biological pest management starts with an understanding of the pest itself (life cycle, vulnerable stages) and its interaction with crops or livestock (host resistance, economic thresholds, etc.). Resistant varieties or crop rotation that deprives a pest of its host plant, represent key biological practices for farmers. Increasing biological control by natural enemies is more complex and requires a higher level of knowledge to lead to consistent success. Biocontrol may entail the release of beneficial insects (e.g. lady beetles), adding brassica seed meal to soil to control pathogens, putting bird houses or raptor perches around fields, or increasing overall farm biodiversity through multi-species buffer strips. The published research on biological pest management is extensive and well-known success stories exist. However, much remains to be learned about specific pests, specific pest-crop combinations, the influence of environment, and how to build reliable biological pest management for a given farm.