Key Elements of Ecological Pest Management

Ecological Pest Management relies on preventive rather than reactive strategies. your cropping program should focus primarily on preventive practices above and below ground (#1 and #2) to build your farm’s natural defenses. Reactive management (#5 and #6) is reserved for problems not solved by the preventive or planned (#3 and #4) strategies.


  • build the strengths of natural systems into your agricultural landscapeto enhance its inherent pest-fighting capacity.
  • enhance the efficiency of your farm, including cycling of nutrients, flow of energy, and/or the use of other resources.

These broad strategies and the individual practices that follow result in systems that are:

  • self-regulating — keeping populations of pests within acceptable boundaries
  • self-sufficient — with minimal need for “reactive” interventions
  • Resistant to stresses such as drought, soil compaction, pest invasions
  • Resilient -- with the ability to bounce back from stresses

1) Crop management: above ground habitat conservation and enhancement of biodiversity within and surrounding crop fields. Use a variety of practices or strategies to maintain biodiversity, stress pests and/or enhance beneficial organisms.

  • Select appropriate crops for your climate and soil
  • Choose pest resistant, local varieties and well adapted cultivars
  • Use legume-based crop rotations, alternating botanically unrelated crops
  • Use cover crops intensively
  • Manage field boundaries and in-field habitats (ecological islands) to attract beneficials, and trap or confuse insect pests
  • Use proper sanitation management
  • Consider intercropping and agroforestry systems

2) soil management: below ground habitat conservation and enhancement. Build healthy soil and maintain below ground biodiversity to stress pests, enhance beneficials and/or provide the best possible chemical, physical, and biological soil habitat for crops.

  • Build and maintain soil organic matter with crop residues, manures and composts
  • Reduce soil disturbance (tillage)
  • Keep soil covered with crop residue or living plants
  • Use cover crops routinely
  • Use longer crop rotations to enhance soil microbial populations and break disease, insect and weed cycles
  • Maintain nutrient levels that are sufficient for crops but do not cause imbalances in the plant, which can increase susceptibility to insects and diseases
  • Maintain appropriate ph
  • Control soil erosion and nutrient losses
  • Avoid practices that cause soil compaction

3) Planned supplemental pest management practices. The following practices can be used if research and farmer experience indicate that -- despite the use of comprehensive preventive management as outlined above -- some additional specific pest management practices will still be needed:

  • Release beneficial insects or apply least environmentally harmful biopesticides
  • Prune to reduce humidity in the canopy and deter fungal infections
  • Cultivate for weed control based on knowledge of critical competition period

4) Planned supplemental soil practices to reduce crop stress and/or optimize yield and quality

  • Maintain adequate soil water content (i.e., with careful irrigation scheduling)
  • Mow rather than incorporate orchard cover crops, leaving a mulch cover
  • Undersow legumes in cereals

5) Reactive inputs for pest management

If, after following preventive and planned management practices (#1, 2, 3, and 4), pests are above threshold levels and beneficials populations are low, release beneficials or apply selected biopesticides with low environmental impact.

6) Reactive inputs to reduce plant stress

  • Use chisel plow or subsoiler to alleviate soil compaction
  • Apply nutrients to soil or foliage in response to plant deficiency symptoms