Integrate Your Pest Management

The subject of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has become a popular concept and catch phrase in many modern agricultural discussions and decision-making processes. Our field of apiculture is no different; as we search for new ways to deal with the mounting challenges to our industry, it becomes necessary to consider a new paradigm.

The pervasive and rampant problems of acaricide resistant mites, Terramyocin resistant foulbrood, and contaminated honey threaten modern apiculture’s economic viability and clean wholesome image. Many beekeepers have begun to ask what is IPM, what can IPM do for me, does it really work, or where can I get a gallon of it? Full comprehension of what IPM is and why it works requires the exploration of some terms and a few key concepts.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the verb integrate means “To make whole by bringing all parts together; to unify.” The unification of diverse techniques, and disciplines is pivotal for the success of any IPM program. For example, many beekeepers have tried individual IPM Varroa mite control measures such as screened bottoms or oils, and still have found heavy losses.

This tendency to look for a single silver bullet, or a ”chemistry first” type cure is at the root of many poor hive management descions and the problem of Varroa mite resistance to acaricides. Reliance on one simple measure, or blanket application of acaricides, will never work in the long run. A more integrated approach to Varroa management would incorporate several IPM tools simultaneously with each other; including, but not limited to screened bottoms, resistant queens, oils, regular sampling of mite drop, and when mite populations near the Economic Injury Level (EIL), the limited use of a variety of acaricides.

When used together IPM tools produce a synergy that results in a situation where the whole is greater that the sum of the individual parts. Control of American Foul brood is another area that we beekeepers should be using a more integrated approach. How many beekeepers do you know that put Terramyocin in ever hive they own for years on end, whether they were symptomatic or not? This blanket application represents a very strong selection pressure for bacterial resistance to the antibiotic; a lot like the problems we see in hospitals with over prescription of antibiotics. An IPM approach to AFB would include hygienic queens, periodic comb renewal, and the use of several antibiotics used in a rotational schedule only when hives are symptomatic.

Many commercial operators will be reluctant to incorporate these concepts because of cost concerns, but as Varroa destructor and AFB have been able to evolve resistance to an ever-increasing number of approved treatments there may be no other alternative. IPM concepts are rooted in economics and long-term sustainability. Perhaps the notion of pest management instead of total eradication will offset costs by reducing the number of agricultural inputs and treatment intervals. In other words only treat hives when you have to, not just because it is that time of year. An IPM program can be tailored to fit any size operation and location, a one-size fits all approach will not work due to differing picultural goals, economies of scale, and regional conditions.

When designing your custom IPM program there are several categories of control measures to use, including cultural (screened bottoms, location, physical mite removal, comb renewal, etc.) biological (resistant Queen genetics, mycosis of Varroa), and chemical (approved acaricides, oils, a oxalic and formic acid, semiochemical traps, antibiotics). Each of these categories offers an array of options, which will allow beekeepers to customize a synergistic multi-pronged attack on any hive pest or pathogen. Timing will be critical for the successful implementation of IPM, therefore beekeepers will be required to sample their hives for parasite levels and pathogens. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts with IPM programs. The use of a wide variety of tactics unified in concert will have a beneficial synergistic affect that cannot be achieved otherwise; effectiveness is in the integration. Remember an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a couple gallons of IPM should be enough to treat a good many hives.