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Annual Reports

1999Letter from the Director, Frank Zalom

Opportunities for the Future

Photo of Frank Zalom Although it is only a calendar event, the close of 1999 naturally brings reflection on significant events of the past and on promises and uncertainties of the future. This is true of pest control and IPM as well.

Farmers and urban dwellers have been facing devastating pest problems throughout recorded time. For example, pest problems, including locust plagues and grape diseases, were mentioned in the Bible, and of course the plagues of the Middle Ages were transmitted by fleas and lice. For most of the millennium, farmers managed pests by crop rotations, crop diversity, sanitation, the few available inorganic or botanical pesticides, and physically removing pests. A farmer's success in pest control often depended as much on luck as on hard work. Sulfur, still the most widely used pesticide in California, was the primary intervention used for control of many plant diseases during this time. Advances in technology during the early part of the twentieth century made materials such as whale oil, arsenic, kerosene, copper compounds, and nicotine staples for controlling pest outbreaks. Successful introductions of parasites and predators to control certain introduced pests also made biological control an important emphasis of research within the University of California.

Synthetic organic pesticides, which were introduced in the 1940s, allowed farmers to reduce pest abundance and pest damage to levels that were not previously possible. In some cases, especially in weed control, synthetic pesticides allowed growers to reduce labor costs as well. Pesticides were one of the elements, together with plant breeding, fertilization, and irrigation, that enabled California agricultural production to be transformed to its current intensive and often highly mechanized state. Arguably, this transition has been beneficial in that fewer people are needed on the farm to produce the food and fiber products required to sustain an ever-growing population. The cost of food and fiber remains low as a proportion of income, and food supplies are relatively stable. Unfortunately, the widespread use of pesticides has resulted in documented cases of pest resistance and pesticide-induced pest outbreaks, and has led to public concerns about environmental contamination, worker exposure, and residues on food.

University of California scientists recognized these concerns as early as the 1950s and introduced the concept of "integrated pest management" (IPM). IPM initially focused on the integration of multiple tactics for controlling insects with an emphasis on preservation or enhancement of natural enemies to address pest problems, and on monitoring pest and beneficial populations as a necessary prerequisite to pesticide intervention. IPM became an established paradigm, but was slow to be embraced by a majority of UC scientists or the agricultural industry.

IPM research and extension activity increased dramatically with increased federal funding in the 1970s, and the state of California began licensing pest control advisers (PCAs) to assist growers in their pesticide use decisions-an important step in building an infrastructure for pest monitoring. IPM evolved in California to encompass a more comprehensive "systems" view of pests in the context of the agroecosystem. It no longer focused solely on insects, but also on opportunities for controlling weeds, diseases, nematodes, and vertebrate pests in a manner that presented less impact on the environment and human health. The UC Statewide IPM Project (UC IPM) was initiated during the 1979-80 budget year to facilitate IPM research and extension efforts within the University of California.

Since its inception, UC IPM has sponsored hundreds of research projects that have served as the basis for a number of important IPM tactics. Its publications and World Wide Web site are the most widely utilized "how-to" materials for IPM available. Its extension staff has often played a key role in providing coordination and technical support for UC Cooperative Extension academics and stakeholders in partnership projects that adapt and implement IPM practices in the field. The Pesticide Education Program has trained thousands of California applicators and workers in safe handling and disposal of pesticides, as well as IPM options that could reduce the need to apply more toxic pesticides. This annual report provides some current examples of such UC IPM achievements.

As we approach the next millennium, research has presented us with the possibility of managing pests with new technologies such as bioengineered plants, new classes of "reduced risk" pesticides, microbial pest control agents, and semiochemicals, to name a few prominent tactics. The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) and other regulations are driving the rapid substitution of some of these tactics as well as other classes of conventional pesticides for older, broad-spectrum pesticides, many of which were developed over 40 years ago. Dangers are presented by this chemical substitution approach, some of which became apparent following the initial introduction of the very pesticides now being phased out of use. Our challenge, then, is to integrate the new technologies into IPM systems that are economically viable, yet safe for the environment and human health. UC IPM stands ready to play a role in this transition.

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Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
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