Controlling pests, especially when protecting crops, is far more complicated than you’d think.
Suppose a Palo Alto pest threatens a field of crops, and you have a pesticide. You use it, the pests perish, and your crop flourishes. Naturally, though, you won’t have killed off all the pests, and the few that remain will likely be genetically resistant to the pesticide. Those resistant pests will then father the next generation, which will all be resistant to the pesticide. Next year, the pests win, and your crop perishes.
Perhaps it’s better to introduce a natural predator. The California praying mantis will do – in fact, you can order whole cases of mantis eggs. The adults are devastatingly effective in eliminating pests. The downside, however, is that they eliminate almost every other insect, including the beneficial ones that nurture and sometimes pollinate your crops. It’s best not to use too many of these.
There’s always the option of planting crops that are resistant to Palo Alto pests. This, however, poses the same risk as pesticides – the small percentage of pests that can overcome the resistant crops will form the genetic basis for the new pest population. Without additional options, you’d simply be breeding a more efficient and dangerous problem.
If you’re thinking California ‘pest control is difficult,’ you’re correct. The situations we just listed might make it seem impossible – but farmers, of course, have been successfully overcoming these problems for centuries, and all through one very simple and obvious principle – use more than one method. If you stick to just one, you lose. If you alternate, you win.
Integrated Palo Alto Pest Management is this simple principle, worked out in dozens of more complicated and detailed ways. The underlying assumption is this – you’ll never permanently get rid of all pests. They’re small, resilient, and numerous. If you’re going to miss some of them – and you will – your best option isn’t planning for elimination, but control. Keep pests to certain levels, and you can prevent their population from runaway growth.
The best way to keep California pest populations to certain levels? Alternate techniques for fighting them. You wouldn’t win a boxing match with one repetitive punch, and you won’t control pests with the same technique each year.
Every good IPM system will make use of any number of the following options – natural and chemical pesticides, natural Palo Alto predators, barriers, resistant crops, alternating crops, or biodegradable surfactants. That last one is, simply, soap – if it’s the right kind, it’ll suffocate the smaller pests, and biodegrade over a week or so. The rest are fairly self-explanatory. Natural predators include wasps and pest-specific bacteria (bacteria targeting caterpillars has been used for over 70 years now). Barriers and resistant crops slow down a pest population’s growth. If a pesticide is used the next year, the population won’t have time to adapt, and remain at acceptable levels.
Again, the concept is simple – manage California pest levels. Don’t eliminate them, because you can’t. Just find a way to keep them in check, and vary your method while keeping your crops healthy.
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