Defining IPM

IPM combines preventive measures, and measures that make a site less attractive to pests. It also employs direct observation, or monitoring, to determine the level of the pest(s), and it assesses the potential for pest damage to inform choice about appropriate actions. Many different methods, or tactics are available, including cultural practices, biological control agents, pesticides, pest-resistant varieties, mechanical methods and physical barriers. These are combined in a framework for decision making that starts with a good diagnosis, and then works through methods that prevent or limit pest damage before moving on to direct suppression. 

IPM is a comprehensive approach dedicated to removing causes rather than just treating symptoms. IPM helps reduce over-reliance on pesticides, but pesticides can complement other methods when used as part of an IPM program, and their benefits can be amplified.

IPM practitioners determine whether intervention is needed and:

  1. When it is needed,
  2. Where it is needed, and
  3. Which pest management intervention(s) will be appropriate.

Integrated Pest Management is defined as a science-based, decision-making process that combines biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools to reduce damage from pests and pest management tactics in a way that minimizes overall economic, health and environmental risks.  –from “A National Road Map for Integrated Pest Management (2018)”.

Integrated means that all feasible types of control methods, tools or tactics are considered and combined as appropriate to solve a pest problem.

Pests are unwanted organisms that are a nuisance to man or domestic animals, and can cause injury to humans, animals, plants, and property. Pests can reduce yield and/or quality in harvested products ranging from field crops, fruits and vegetables, to lawns, trees, and golf courses. They can also harm structures, and spread diseases to animals and humans. The damage inflicted by pests can be merely aesthetic or it may be life threatening.

Management is the process of making decisions in a systematic way to keep pests from reaching intolerable levels. Small populations of pests can often be tolerated; total eradication is often not necessary, or feasible.

The Basics of IPM

There are many ways to define and classify IPM and the concept has spawned much terminology and jargon, that may be useful, but it can also be confusing.  One approach, favored in US agencies, is to summarize IPM into four components: Prevention, Avoidance, Monitoring and Suppression, or “PAMS”. We will use this system here, because it is simple, and it connects pest biology with what we do to limit pest impacts. 


Prevention tactics do just that – they prevent pest introduction, and the ability of pests to develop and spread. Historically, we relied upon this approach, but it’s very easy to forget that many of the practices that we take for granted were originally invented to protect our fields, livestock, homes and families from pest attack. 

Common prevention tactics include: 

  • Using pest-free seeds, transplants or other materials
  • Good sanitation that removes pests and their resources
  • Eliminating alternatives hosts or habitats
  • Cleaning the equipment that we use

Think practically, and get to know what the pest needs before you act – perhaps there is debris or an open waste bin near a school building that attracts mice, or plant material from a previous harvest near your field that harbors pests? 

Remember also that tiny seeds and other pests spread in soil, and equipment may need to be cleaned between fields, or buildings. 

Microorganisms like viruses, bacteria and fungi are spread very effectively on tools and equipment and cleaning these even between the plants you are pruning limits disease spread. 

And that plant cutting or special fruit or seed that you found on your vacation? Many pests and diseases spread from initial introductions at airports or other transport hubs.


If a pest is already present, or it can be relied upon to turn up every year, avoidance tactics make life as hard as possible for the organism – limiting resources, and reducing powers of increase and the ability to spread. Again: we have often forgotten why a common avoidance practice was first invented, and it is easy to lose sight of what it is that attracts pests to our fields, stores, houses, pets and livestock and then allows them to prosper.

It is very hard to appreciate practices that make it unlikely that pest damage will occur – because you are not reminded that the pest is even present. And it is REALLY hard to work out why pest damage returns when you inadvertently stop doing something that worked unseen for weeks, years, or decades. 

Common avoidance tactics include 

  • Crop rotation
  • Selecting pest resistant plants
  • Altering planting and harvesting dates
  • Selecting locations that do not favor pests
  • Optimizing fertilizers and plant nutrients to avoid an excess that favors the pest

If crops are stressed (think plant spacing, poor nutrition or irrigation, poor nutrition) they become attractive to many pests. The same applies to a building that might have leaky windows and doors, debris in the interior, and damp or rotting locations that are attractive to pests. Similarly, in a back -yard, we might have standing water that attracts mosquitoes and allows populations to establish, or we might forget to comb our pets and invite fleas to join us!

MONITORING (See Monitoring and Assessment)

IPM is information-intensive and relies on scouting and monitoring programs for the collection of field data about key factors such as:

  • Pest identification
  • Pest population estimate
  • Disease pressure
  • Weather conditions and degree-days
  • Pest life cycle and current life stage
  • Crop growth stage
  • Presence of beneficial organisms

IPM uses decision support systems for determining if control measures are necessary and what measures are most appropriate, such as: (these terms may be applicable to one type of pest [insects] more than others [weeds])

  • Economic thresholds – the pest population level that inflicts damage greater than the cost of management
  • Availability of selective management options
  • Action levels – pest population level when action should be applied to prevent pest from reaching injurious levels
  • Environmental risk measurements (i.e., impacts on humans, pollinators, groundwater or any non-target organisms)
  • Forecasting systems
  • Aesthetic threshold – the pest population level that ruins the aesthetic appearance of a crop or site

SUPPRESSION (See Taking Action)


IPM Definitions and Resources


Initial content compiled by:

Cornell University Cooperative Extension logo