It was 50 years ago in October that four visionary professors at the University of California planted the seed that helped to change the face of agriculture around the globe.
The four, Vernon Stern of UC-Riverside, and UC-Berkeley faculty members Ray Smith, Robert van den Bosch and Kenneth Hagen – all now deceased, proposed the concept of integrated pest management in a research paper published October 1959 in HIlgardia, a publication of the university’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. In the 20 page paper, the professors urged the farming community to recognize that agriculture was part of the overall ecosystem, that pesticides be used only when necessary and that growers should use chemicals with an eye toward protecting beneficial insects.
"In essence, they laid the foundation of all integrated pest management methods that we use today," Peter Goodell, an IPM advisor with the university’s Parlier, Calif.-based Kearney Agricultural Center, said in a video released by the university. "The concept is so fundamental, we haven't added much to it. We've just nibbled around the edges and refined it for individual crops and pests."
The findings and recommendations of the professors arrived nearly simultaneous with the farming community’s recognition that the growing use of the then-new synthetic chemicals for insect control resulted in negative by-products.
“What was thought to be the panacea of solving pest problems quickly became a false promise,” Goodell said in the video. “Many new problems arose with the broad spectrum control of insects.”
Those problems and the guidance of the professors evolved into new disciplines within the integrated pest management concept and new pest-fighting chemicals, said integrated pest management entomologist Walter Bentley.
Bentley, who early in his career worked with Stern, said the development of selective insecticides that at low rates of application would kill problem pests without affecting beneficial insects was an important theory introduced by the professors.
“The concept of hiring an entomologist to monitor the level of pests in the fields,” was a result of that theory,” Bentley said.
Today, entomologists, or pest control advisors, work throughout produce growing states and make recommendations to grower-shippers on the rates of chemical applications necessary to eradicate harmful insects.
The integrated pest management concept also has been embraced by city dwellers, Cheryl Wilen, an integrated pest management horticulturist based in San Diego County, said in the video. But the approach requires some education for most homeowners.
“When a homeowner or non-ag person comes to me, they want to know what they can do right then,” she said. “I explain to them that the IPM concept is a sustainable program.”
In most cases, she is able to teach the homeowner how to use the integrated pest management approach to control problem pests and to keep infestation from recurring, Wilen said.
The university does not plan any ceremonies to mark the golden anniversary, but the significance of the 50 year old paper continues to reverberate among today’s entomologists.
"I am just amazed that work done in the mid-50s, and published in 1959, listed worker safety and the almost-unheard-of potential for litigation," Bentley said.