The horticulture sector in EU-27 accounted for 13,7 % of the agricultural output in 2016 according to EUROSTAT, but accounts for only a small % of the total acreage (around 3%). The vegetable sector is thus characterized by a high added value and as a provider of easily accessible jobs. As in other agricultural subsectors, farmers in horticulture face the challenge of responding to the (mandatory) implementation of the principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

IPM means careful consideration of all available plant protection methods. It follows the subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of populations of harmful organisms. IPM strives to keep the use of plant protection products and other forms of intervention to levels that are economically and ecologically justified while minimizing risks to human health and the environment. IPM emphasizes the growth of healthy crops with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms (definition of the European Commission). IPM stands for a holistic approach to plant health management, based on prevention, monitoring and control.

The principle is that when you are planning a strategy for the management of one or more pests, you should start at the bottom of the pyramid and work upwards. At the bottom of the pyramid are the range of agronomic practices that might be used to prevent colonisation by pests and pathogens such as crop rotation and the use of pest/disease resistant varieties (prevention). Above this are approaches to forecast/monitor any pests or pathogens that do move into the crop, to assist with further decision-making (detection). Moving towards the top of the pyramid are a range of control methods, for example physical or biological control (control). The overall aim is to ensure that all other approaches to pest and disease management are considered before synthetic chemical pesticides are applied.

Prevention within IPM is composed of the application of good agronomic practices such as planting and sowing techniques, crop rotation and the use of pest and disease-resistant varieties. Also, many cultural practices, such as the quick removal of waste from the greenhouse are preventive activities that can improve the phytosanitary status in greenhouse crops. These preventive methods are effective and cost efficient as a basis for a successful IPM-strategy.

Monitoring of environmental and crop parameters is the basis for reliable Decision Support Systems (DSSs) and early warning systems. These tools are of key importance within a successful IPM strategy. Effective implementation of DSSs requires efficient pest monitoring systems in order to assess the actual pest profile and pest pressure at different spatial and temporal scales, as well as the actual population dynamics of beneficials and antagonists. Pest monitoring systems are traditionally expensive, time-consuming and subject to variation. Because of the time consuming and expensive nature of in situ monitoring, the majority of growers are reluctant to invest fully in this part of IPM. Nevertheless, monitoring is vital given the short life cycles of pests and diseases and the potential for sudden outbreaks due to changes in the weather.

Sensing technologies provide non-destructive, objective measurements of crop growth status and the overall health of crops and have the additional benefit of detecting the occurrence of stress prior to permanent damage and before effects are visible, allowing for a fast response. In addition, sensing technologies allow for the application of the right dose and resource at the right time and place. A simple example is the targeted application of pesticides based on plant biomass, as spraying bare soil patches with a full dose of pesticide is unnecessary.

Within the field of image recognition, some commercially available products can record the number of pests caught on sticky traps semi-automatically. Additionally, research and preliminary implementation of wingbeat sensors offer great potential to identify flying insects.

Control measures within IPM are applied based on the results of the DSSs. The control methods need to be chosen appropriately taking into account their effectiveness and the potential risks. Preferentially, control measures should be based on mechanical control (e.g., trapping), biological control or use of highly selective chemical compounds such as pheromones to disrupt mating. The challenge today is still that the efficacy of these control methods must improve significantly to achieve widespread implementation. The use of smart technologies and precision farming techniques can significantly improve the effectiveness of these control methods.

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