Insect Management

This section emphasizes the NOP requirements of IPM and contains general information on insect and mite management strategies for organic growers.

See the Resources section for links to additional information.

Organic growers must integrate a wide range of strategies to maintain plant health. Cultural and biological methods, along with soil fertility management and sanitation, must all be used concurrently in insect and mite management. Beneficial insects, lures, traps, and repellents are part of the organic insect management toolkit. If all these techniques together do not provide adequate pest control, approved pesticide materials may be used, but their use must follow all applicable federal and state laws and adhere to NOP standards.

The first step in effective insect and mite management in organic farming is PREVENTION. Using a wide range of proactive strategies before pests reach damaging levels may reduce the need for reactive management of an existing problem. In addition, prevention may be accomplished without chemical input, but pest suppression once the organism is established may be very difficult or impossible without pesticide use.

Organic insect management and insecticides

Good insect management begins with identification of potential pest species that occur on crops in your area. Identification gives you information about the pest’s life cycle and habitat and allows you to plan prevention tactics, monitor, and implement appropriate management strategies before pests become economically injurious to the crop. While non-chemical methods are both required and the preferred approach in organic systems, pesticides may be used if they are part of your organic plan (click here for the Organic System Plan website). Decisions to apply pesticides should also weigh ecological considerations, such as pollinator safety, soil management, and impact on beneficial organisms which help manage pest populations.

Remember that not all products are approved for use as organic pesticides, even if they bear the words natural, organic, or biopesticide on the label. Check with your organic certifier as well as your state Department of Agriculture to make sure you are using products properly.

A wide range of materials are approved for organic insect and mite management. These range from microbial toxins, plant extracts, repellents, and mating disruptors (pheromones) to insecticidal soaps, sulfur, and some horticultural oils. Because of the vast range of pest-plant-pesticide combinations, we will not address specific management recommendations; however, links to further information are included at the end of this module.

While many of the materials approved for organic production are typically considered less hazardous than conventional pesticides, there are still some risks associated with their use. Always read and follow label instructions, take care to minimize exposure and contact, and use appropriate personal protective equipment when using any pesticide.

Summary of best practices for organic insect and mite management:

Know your crop and its potential problems, including significant insect/mite pests. Know pest life cycles, including conditions that favor development, alternate host plants, vulnerable life stages, and effective management strategies. Use cultural strategies, such as crop rotation, trap crops, crop diversity and intercropping, resistant/tolerant varieties, planting time, cultivation, mulching, sanitation, and other tools, such as beneficial organisms, to minimize pest problems. Maintain plant health using soil, water, and fertility management. Monitor your plants and scout for problems at appropriate times based on pest life cycles. If necessary, a variety of pesticides are approved for insect and mite management in organic systems. However, pesticides are only allowed if other methods are inadequate. Pesticides must be used in conjunction with cultural, biological, and mechanical prevention and control strategies.


Initial compilation courtesy of Lenora Jones

Washington State University Extension