Leveraging IPM to Grow a Safe, Compliant, and High-Yielding Cannabis CropPest control is a significant concern in the cannabis industry and not all pest solutions are created equally. In this webcast, Todd Statzer and Ellis Smith walk us through some of the critical factors to set up a successful IPM program.
Todd Statzer is the Director of Integrated Pest Management for UrbanGro, a company specializing in professional cultivation products and solutions for the cannabis industry. With more than 30 years of experience in IPM, Statzer brings a wealth of information to greenhouse pest controls processes which are safe and effective. With an education in plant pathology, and biopathology from the University of Illinois, as well as, decades of experience in organic farming and Illinois cannabis inspections, Statzer is passionate about seeing that the industry’s future is clean, green and safe for human consumption.
Top Characteristics of a Successful IPM
1. Understanding the Definition of IPM as a Whole
According to the reagents of the University of California, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, the definition of Integrated Pest Management is as follows:
IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. Pesticides are used only after monitoring indicates they are needed according to established guidelines, and treatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism. Pest control materials are selected an applied in a manner that minimizes risk to human health, beneficial and nontarget organisms, and the environment.
The true definition of IPM is not a “one chemical or one process” magic bullet. Cultivators need to understand there are multiple tools, systems, and processes which play into a success IPM program. Statzer stated UrbanGro tailors a program specific to the needs of the grow operation. Some of the tricks of the trade include:
- Altering the surroundings
- Adding beneficial insects and organisms
- Growing plants which resist pests
- Disrupting pest development
- Disrupting insect behavior
Statzer was quick to point out chemical pesticides can only be used during certain times of the plant’s lifecycle and generally only used in circumstances where there’s an active breakout of a particular pest. “Biologics are more preventative, while chemicals are reactive,” Statzer stated. For example, UrbanGro only recommends using chemicals during the vegetation stages and switching over to biologicals during the flowering stages.
2. IPM is About Systems and Schedules
“Integrated pest management is all about systems,” Statzer stated. What kind of air circulation system is being used? What are the general environmental statistics such as ambient air temperature and humidity?
Understanding the various systems in place can help Statzer and the team at UrbanGro develop a program and standard operating procedure to tackle pest problems before they begin. After answering a questionnaire, UrbanGro clients meet to clarify all the key factors such as the number of plants in a room, the spacing between plants, size of the containers, and timing of harvest schedules. Then, Statzer’s team goes to work to produce a plan of action and best practices for the grow moving forward.
IPM is about prevention and control of future problems, not reacting to an existing issue. Statzer says, “IPM means being on schedule and following through on a plan. People are very reactive – they treat a problem, watch it go away, and then freak out when it comes back. There’ s a vicious cycle.” Investing in a robust IPM program like one from UrbanGro can save time, money, and stress.
3. Mitigating Contamination
Pests come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and even species. Preventing pests from entering your facility can be next to impossible, some insects are barely visible by microscope and can fit through cracks and crevices invisible to the naked eye. In fact, pests and contaminants are frequently carried into a cultivation facility or greenhouse on the clothes, personal belongings, and even on the body of workers coming into the building. For example, in states where home growing is an option, workers who grow at home could easily carry pests and chemical contaminants into the building on their person. Therefore, precautions must be made to control cross-contamination.
Adding clones from other suppliers is also a common way to inherit pest issues and other problems. All clones should be kept in an infirmary or separate room for several days and monitored carefully before adding the plants in with the general population. Additionally, clone domes are perfect habitats for certain beneficial insects such as persimilis for natural prevention of spider mites.
4. Scouting is Vital
Scouting, or individually examining every plant by hand, is critical in a successful IPM program. Statzer recommends scouting should be done at least weekly, while Ellis even recommends daily scouting. However, this isn’t a job which should be taken lightly or done quickly and Statzer recommends staying focused – trying to water and scout at the same time is too complicated.
During the scout, the employee should be developing a list of pests which are present and documenting approximate populations on the plant. Each different pest is going to require a different plan of attack, but by paying attention to actual populations on the plants, you can determine if the number of pests are rising or falling from week to week.
5. Using the Right Products
While gardening centers and hobby stores in the area will likely carry some chemicals which work, the problem is, most are not intended for commercial type growing operations. The products supplied by UrbanGro are all EPA certified and tested for safety and efficacy.
Statzer stated, “When looking at cannabis, we look at the people who are using cannabis, from the healthy guy who wants to have a good time – to the terminally ill or those trying to control chronic pain… we want to make sure they are using the safest chemistries, the safest products, and the safest methods.”
“The reality here with UrbanGro is that we believe our job is to help advance the cannabis, and horticulture, industries by looking at all the scenarios which could happen.” He continued, “We do the whole gamut of components to help our clients across North America resolve their issues.”