Maine’s producers have a long tradition of using practical, least-risk farming methods. When it comes to producing our food, organic and conventional farmers alike rely on a wide variety of techniques for stacking the deck in favor of a healthful, pest-free crop. 

In agricultural circles, this anti-pest approach is called integrated pest management, or IPM for short.

 Recent legislation takes another step forward in ensuring Maine-produced food is grown by healthy and sustainable methods. LD 975, An Act to Require Certification of Private Applicators of General Use Pesticides, adopted this year, requires Maine produce farmers to be trained and licensed in order to apply pesticide — even organic pesticides. 

The leaders of Maine’s agricultural organizations — Maine Farm Bureau, Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, Maine Potato Board, vegetable grower groups and others — all spoke in favor of more training for their members in pesticide handling.

This is good news for consumers. In the past, only a few pesticide applicators were required to be licensed. 

Beginning in 2015, all Maine produce growers with annual sales of $1,000 or more will be required to have a valid pesticide applicator’s license before they can apply either organic or conventional “general use” pesticides. These “general use” pesticides are readily available to the public for use on their home vegetable gardens. 

This new license requires commercial food producers to demonstrate satisfactory knowledge about pest problems and an understanding of pesticide label instructions and warnings. Licensing also requires the applicator to get periodic training. Pesticide applicator training programs focus on IPM education and emphasize non-chemical pest management methods along with essential guidance for pesticide safety.

 IPM methods rely on preventing and avoiding pests, such as planting select disease-resistant cultivars adapted to our climate and soils, or delaying planting until the threat of an insect pest has gone by. 

Farmers sometimes keep insect pests out by covering the crop with light polyester cloth that allows in water and sunlight but keeps out insects. They use traps and weather data, and scout their fields weekly to be alerted before pest numbers reach damaging levels. 

IPM allows farmers to drastically reduce, sometimes eliminate, pesticide use. When pesticides are needed, growers can select ones that are pest-specific and safer for beneficial insects, people and the environment. 

Recommended IPM methods are based on research, and they evolve as new equipment becomes available, new pests arrive or new seed varieties are developed. Crop rotation, cover-cropping, trap-cropping, mulching and cultivation are just some of the many methods our growers use to avoid the need for pesticides.

 For generations Maine farmers have adopted new farming methods such as IPM to enhance their stewardship efforts to produce safe and healthy food. They stay up-to-date by attending conferences and seminars during the winter, reading newsletters or getting on-the-farm advice from experts. 

The strong support of Maine’s agricultural community for LD 975 demonstrates its continuing commitment to education and training on innovative and evolving pest management methods such as IPM. 

Kathy Murray is an entomologist, specializing in integrated pest management.

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