Tomorrow’s IPM — Not Your Granddad’s Jalopy

Vern Crawford

I love to race the freeway and country roads. I’m pretty good at it, according to me. I’m not so sure you would get that same opinion from other people who have ridden with me over the years. I love zipping in and out and knowing the best way to avoid freeway backups with side routes. In my previous life, I was most certainly a handsome, famous NASCAR driver.

There is one thing I hate about driving. It’s other drivers. They don’t seem to fully appreciate the finer skills necessary to get from point A to point B, and often, they’re in my way when I’m trying to do the same thing with more finesse — if I do say so myself.

Driving a car is an integrated endeavor requiring multiple skills, a lifetime of learning, a few hiccups along the way and always the frustration of never getting where you want to go fast enough. It’s almost like Integrated Pest Management. I’ve spent 60 years or so of my life barreling down that road. I’m still involved one way or another in my so-called “retirement.”

When I emerged on the scene in the late ’60s as an ag chemical salesman, there was a lot of buzz about a new way to manage cotton with fewer pesticides and make friends with the “good” bugs — “Integrated Pest Management.” The university guys were into it. Some of the more progressive growers were into it. I was into it because nothing gets my attention more than a cockamamie idea that might work.

The first few years were kind of a disaster. When you give a kid a car to learn how to drive, you don’t start him/her out in a Porsche with a manual written in German. California was not — and still is not — the rest of the Cotton Belt. We’re a little different out here — not so much by choice as by circumstance.

IPM was almost an idea ahead of its time. In theory, it made sense. What grower wouldn’t like to cut bug sprays and utilize beneficials to help fight the war? The biggest problem was we didn’t have the tools or technology — not to mention the expertise — to smoothly transition from concept to practice.

Remember the first time your daddy put you on a tractor? Not one of these new-fangled tractors. I’m talking about the one with no cab, no Alan Jackson playing on the stereo and no air conditioning blasting. The one where you had to figure out what a clutch meant other than hanging onto something that was about to buck you off in the dirt.

In those early days of IPM, trying to make the “integration” part work was tricky. DDT, toxaphene, chlorinated hydrocarbons and other broad-spectrum materials over the top of a cotton crop weren’t exactly “selective,” let alone “integrated.” Mites, in particular, were good at smirking at a passing spray rig.

We had a few pesticides that were touted as “selective.” Back then, part of that message was correct. They were so selective they didn’t kill anything. Or hardly anything. In those first few years, there were growers who lost or almost lost their farms trying the IPM approach. But we kept one foot on the gas and raced forward trying to figure it out.

It’s been 60 years now, and we have a handful of pesticides that are selective enough to make IPM more feasible. We also have GMOs and seed technology that make it easier to integrate other factors. One thing frequently overlooked in IPM is timing. Often, it is more critical than the pesticide’s efficacy. Over the years, a lot of work has been done on pesticide application timing as it pertains to heat units, degree days, weather forecasts and what is happening in your neighbor’s field. 

I still believe the best IPM material we ever had was Temik. It gave us time to delay foliar applications and didn’t upset the beneficials or make the mites mad. We don’t have that option in California now. Many of our options are limited. Looking forward, if we can get something like they have in Arizona to address plant bugs, I think that would unleash some real power of IPM in this state’s agriculture. We just need to introduce common sense into some of California’s legislation. I’ll hold my breath. But not my tongue.

Gotta run! That McFarland exit is coming up and Highway 99 traffic is bugging me. Time to get creativie in getting from point Here to my Wasco home.

— Vern Crawford – “Vern from Kern”

        Wasco, California

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