Natural Resources Conservation Service
NRCS has funded IPM practice adoption for specialty crops in Pennsylvania since 2004 for a total of approximately $1.5 million.
The new Farm Bill and a new Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have supported the better alignment of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) communities and NRCS incentive programs in support of IPM practice adoption, especially in specialty crops. The Pennsylvania IPM Program (PAIPM), a collaboration between Penn State University and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) has promoted and facilitated this interaction. Penn State, NRCS and PDA personnel have been instrumental in its success. Crops have included apples, peaches, pears, Christmas trees, sweet corn, and grapes, but IPM criteria for funding in other specialty crops are being continually developed.
Three different farm bill conservation programs have been used in Pennsylvania to support IPM adoption: Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA), Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), and Conservation Security Program (CSP). While all three programs survive in the new Farm Bill, only EQIP survived essentially unchanged except for a lower income threshold by growers for eligibility. AMA was previously our most important program for IPM and especially irrigation in specialty crops, because it was able to examine financial as well as environmental risks. Modifications to AMA linking crop insurance premiums with grower incentive payments, currently limit this program to specialty crop growers with only small acreages and to field crop growers. Under the new Farm Bill, however, CSP funding has been increased and is no longer linked to targeted watersheds, but available to all growers. In the past, CSP rewarded growers who had already adopted good IPM practices that had environmental benefits and continued to do them. Currently, all 3 programs (AMA, EQIP &CSP) requires growers to implement new practices. Although cost-shares per acre for CSP are generally significantly lower than in the AMA/EQIP programs, there are no acreage limitations for CSP. One of the priorities for the Pennsylvania CSP is the establishment of pollinator habitat strips in agriculture.
There is a need for IPM-knowledgeable people to work with farmers and farm consultants to explain contracted IPM practices through NRCS and their proper implementation. This is especially true in high value specialty crops where production practices are more intensive and IPM programs are more complex. These knowledgeable people can be NRCS employees, university personnel in extension or field research, or private consultants. Conservation Activity Plans (CAPs) are a new facet introduced by the Farm Bill to help provide this expertise to NRCS conservation programs through Technical Service Providers (TSPs). Extensive funding has been allocated to this program and training programs are currently being developed, but currently CAPs are not required for NRCS conservation program contracts with growers. As can be seen below, there are many environmental benefits to IPM in specialty crops in addition to the production benefits to growers. Currently, PA NRCS is trying to target growers who are using intensive pesticide spray programs in specialty crops and where good IPM alternatives exist.
Environmental/Natural Resource Benefits of IPM
- IPM provides multiple benefits to the quality of air, water, and soil as well as improving wildlife habitat/biodiversity and human health.
- IPM improves air, soil and water quality through reduced pesticide and fertilizer inputs.
- Alternatives to soil fumigation such as green manures and alternatives to herbicides such as mulching both increase soil respiration and ecosystem functioning to improve soil quality
- Improvements in wildlife habitat, biological pest control and alternative pollinators through cover crops, windbreaks, and wild flower strips that also help prevent soil erosion.
- Reductions in air pollution and offsite pesticide contamination are attained by using improved “smart sprayer” agri-technology for more targeted pesticide applications.
- Substitution of non-pesticide control (e.g. mating disruption dispensers or increased biological control) for pesticide inputs.
- Substitution of environmentally safer, low rate, reduced risk pesticides in place of broad spectrum neurotoxin insecticides.
- Improved safety to pesticide applicators and workers should be considered.
- Reduction in pesticide residues on food is an important outcome.
- IPM is a critical component of multidisciplinary environmental stewardship (i.e. sustainable agriculture) when combined with other farming practices.