Looking for a unique pesticide to combat a bizarre infestation? Are your current methods failing to produce results? The Inter-Regional Research Project Number 4 (IR-4) Project (a.k.a. the Minor Crop Pest Management Program) provides manufacturers, growers and consumers with sustainable and innovative pesticide programs, resources and information that promotes the safety and efficacy of pest management. It’s a great way to find out about new biopesticides and reduced-risk conventional pesticides.

What Is IR-4 and Why Should We Trust It?

To some folks, the term IR-4 might sound like some sort of top-secret operation, and to some growers, it is. However, for veterans in the industry, this term might have a more significant meaning. Since 1963, the IR-4 project has played a large part in facilitating the registration of sustainable pest management products and practices. Many trials have been performed on behalf of the IR-4 project in a multitude of arenas, such as greenhouses, Christmas tree farms, nurseries and other non-food specialty crops.

IR-4’s mission is to find shortcuts through the typically extensive Environmental Protection Agency registration process by proving with research that certain pest management programs offer high-quality, low-risk results. The IR-4 project enables growers to have access to low-risk pesticides by reducing the registration period for manufacturers from an average of three years down to about one year. Specialty crops within the program account for about half of the agricultural crop production in the United States, which translates to an estimated $40 billion in annual sales.

The EPA is supportive of the IR-4 project in that research trials are operated by professionals with adequate credentials at universities across the country. These universities have the staffing and resources necessary to perform trials funded by IR-4. Data found in these research trials are presented to the EPA as petitions, often requesting new tolerances for chemicals that yield effective results with few risks. The IR-4 then assists companies with innovative pest management programs through the registration process to help them save time and resources, which in turn provides growers with access to these sustainable practices.

What Are the Options for Safe and Effective Pest Management?

The two main focuses of the IR-4 project are biopesticides and reduced-risk conventional pesticides. Biopesticides are described as pesticides derived from natural ingredients that work to control pests using non-toxic measures. The residual concentrations of biopesticides decompose quickly, greatly reducing the amount of pollutants compared to those associated with conventional pesticides.

A reduced-risk conventional pesticide is a pesticide that may contain non-natural ingredients but is determined safe for growers and consumers compared to existing conventional pesticides on the market. Some of these pesticides may still be harmful to non-mammalian creatures such as bees and aquatic organisms, so discretion is advised depending on your application. The following information provides growers with options for successful, low-risk pest management plans.

Why Choose Biopesticides?

There are many benefits to using biopesticides over conventional pesticides. Because they are derived from natural ingredients, such as plants, animals, minerals and bacteria, they are inherently less toxic than conventional pesticides. One of the concerns surrounding conventional pesticide application safety is the restricted entry interval (REI).

This is a term used to identify the length of time entry into a treated area is restricted, beginning immediately after a pesticide application and ending when it is safe to return to the area. For home growers, this can be a major concern when trying to keep their children and pets out of danger. Restricted entry intervals can also cause delays in the growing cycle as growers themselves may not be able to work in their garden. Biopesticides have little to no restricted entry intervals.

Growing organically has not only become the preferred method among many first-time growers but is also gaining prominence in commercial farming. More than just a growing trend, so to speak, the organic movement has caused a heightened sense of awareness among consumers. Residue management is a huge consideration for consumers looking for safe consumables. Many people are inquiring about the residue leftover on their consumable crops prior to making a decision about which brand to buy.

Biopesticide use gives growers an advantage in this department as well. Say, for instance, a grower is a week or two away from a successful harvest, and they encounter a pest infestation. This is one of the worst nightmares of any grower. Applying a biopesticide will allow the grower to maintain flexibility while controlling the infestation. Once the plants reach the desired level of development, the grower can still harvest the plants quickly, without worrying about residual chemicals that are often associated with the use of conventional pesticides near harvest.

Why Grow with Reduced-risk Pesticides?

Alternatively, the Conventional Reduced Risk Pesticide Program offers assistance to companies attempting to register low-risk conventional pesticides with the EPA. There is a certain amount of stigma associated with pesticides, especially those of the conventional variety.

By bringing low-risk products to the table, IR-4 can alleviate some of these fears, prove a product’s effectiveness, bring the benefits to the foreground and show how the positive gains compare to and outweigh the risks of these products. Candidates for this program are required to offer reduced-risk conventional pesticides free of carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxicants, groundwater contaminants and neurotoxins.

Applicants must address several areas of concern such as potential human and animal health risks, environmental effects, pest resistance and competitive performance. The decision about whether or not a pesticide is considered low-risk is made based on the proposed use of the pesticide compared with the use of existing products. If a pesticide is determined to be low risk, the manufacturer will be able to market their product sooner, providing growers with a variety of safe alternatives.

Integrated Management

Perhaps the most effective pest management program is a combination of both biopesticides and reduced-risk conventional pesticides. Alternating applications between one and the other will improve resistance management. All pesticides, organic or otherwise, can cease to be effective after repeated applications. Insects build their tolerance to these chemicals and eventually become resistant to their effects.

Some target insects develop resistance to certain pesticides quickly, sometimes after only one application. Developing a pest management program tailored to your crop’s needs is facilitated through the incorporation of reduced-risk conventional and biopesticides.

Growers should pay close attention to the pesticides they use on their crops, keeping in mind the safety and effectiveness of the chemicals administered. Just because a pesticide doesn’t qualify as a biopesticide doesn’t mean there are health risks associated with using it. On the same note, finding an effective biopesticide might be the preferred solution for pest management, especially in organic growing.

Ready to find pest management products that meet your needs? Approved registrants for reduced-risk pesticides and biopesticides can be found here.