Integrated Crop Management (CPA Book)

The Way Forward

Most people have heard of Integrated Crop Management (ICM)  but how many can say confidently they know what it means? More importantly, where do farmers and advisors find help and guidance on what is involved? Is ICM yet another catch phrase for a method of farming that is best left to others? In truth, ICM is something that affects everyone - not only farmers but also consumers - and it presents a realistic solution to many of the problems facing agriculture.

In the Western World we are fortunate enough to have a plentiful supply of wholesome, high quality food at affordable prices. Spectacular improvements in agricultural efficiency and productivity over the last 50 years have made this possible. Faced with the challenge of an increasing demand for food and a steady loss of productive land to industrial and urban growth, farming methods have become more sophisticated. By the skilful adoption of new technologies in machinery, plant breeding, fertilisers and pesticides, farmers have matched supply to demand.

...the price of progress

Some would argue that there has been a price to pay for this success. People see surplus production as wasteful of natural resources and money , but few would opt for the alternative - shortage - which is so evident in other parts of the world.

Nevertheless it cannot be denied that mistakes have been made and the march of agricultural progress has left its scars. hedgerows and other wildlife habitats have been removed to accommodate the use of bigger, more powerful machinery which, in turn, has sometimes damaged soil structure and drainage. The original Common Agricultural Policy encouraged the trend towards monoculture with the result that over-use of fertilisers and pesticides has contributed towards a reduction in biodiversity. Enhanced levels of nitrates and some pesticides are turning up in drinking waters, albeit at levels far below those likely to cause any damage to health.

...caring for the environment

The result of all this is that, with a full belly of food taken for granted, the public's message to farmers is that they must take more care about the environment of which they are custodians. There is nothing reprehensible about this: indeed it is to be welcomed as part of an overall drive against the depletion of finite natural resources.

Sit John Harvey Jones is right when he says that "the pursuit of better, more environmentally friendly, methods of production will bring business rewards in their own right". Although his words refer to all businesses, they could not be more true for farming. In practice, agriculture has been addressing these issues for years and industries like machinery, plant breeding and pesticides can all point to significant technological advances. The problem is that farming is not well understood by the general public and it is certainly not appreciated as being the provider of produce on the supermarket shelf.

...meeting the challenge

The challenge to agriculture is to find a means of getting the message across. Adverse public opinion is a powerful influence on politicians. In response to this pressure, countries like Sweden, Denmark and Holland have imposed mandatory reduction targets of 50% in the use of pesticides. Denmark and Belgium have introduced taxes to reduce pesticide use. At Community level there is already a Directive in place (the Nitrates Directive) that requires Member States to limit nitrates coming from manures and inorganic sources. In the UK this has resulted in the designation of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones.

If British farming is to avoid the imposition of draconian and impractical restraints that may win votes but ignore sound science, then it needs to meet its critics by showing that environmental responsibility can sit hand in hand with profit and productivity achieved by the judicious use of inputs. This is Integrated Crop Management.

...definitions and meanings

What the words mean:

  • Integrated: a site specific management system for the whole farm
  • Crop: involvement of all aspects of crop husbandry - not just crop protection

  • Management: planning, setting targets and monitoring achievement.

There are plenty of definitions of ICM (see end of chapter), but common to all of them are phrases like 'environmental responsibility', 'social acceptability' and 'ecological sensitivity'. But there is more to it than this. ICM is a system that balances these features with running an economically viable business. Food production must go on, and that requires a healthy and profitable agricultural industry.

Integrated is a key word because ICM is a combination of farming practices, including the use of rotations, appropriate cultivation's, choice of variety and the judicious use of fertilisers and pesticides, with measures to preserve and protect the environment. It involves everything that happens on the farm, but it starts with the farm itself and therefore is site specific. Whatever else may be changed, the features of the farm in terms of topography, buildings and climate cannot be altered. Some of these factors will influence what can be achieved so a through survey of the site is an essential starting point.

Crop appears in the title because ICM involves all aspects of crop husbandry, such as variety selection, cultivation, drilling date, harvest and storage methods and marketing. It is not just crop protection, which is often referred to as integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is just the crop protection part of ICM.

Above all, ICM is a systematised approach to farming that requires management in the form of planning, setting targets and monitoring achievement.

...critical self-examination

We all get into bad habits with habitual tasks such as driving a car. Some people recognise this and go back for some lessons or take an advanced driving test. For most people, however, bad habits can become the norm and, unless they lead to trouble, they are seldom questioned. Farming is no exception.

The first stage of implementation of an ICM system is to step back and take a hard critical look at existing practices. The LEAF environmental audit is an excellent and painless ways of doing this because it is arranged as a series of self-assessment forms. Not only can it help to identify the bad habits but, if carried out annually, it provides a means of monitoring progress.

LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming)

  • A charitable organisation committed to the concept of a viable agriculture that is environmentally and socially acceptable;
  • Funded by over 60 industry bodies and companies together with farmer members;

  • Promotes the responsible and economic use of the best of traditional and modern farming methods;
  • The LEAF environmental audit helps farmers to carry out a self assessment of current practice and identify a farm environment management strategy;

LEAF is based at the National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh, Coventry, Warwickshire (Telephone: 024 76413911).


Advanced driving is concerned with a through knowledge of the rules and regulations, awareness of the impact of your actions on others and looking and planning ahead for possible hazards. ICM requires the same qualities - it is the advanced driving test of farming. It is not a set of hard and fast rules but a set of guidelines to follow in the particular and unique circumstances of any particular farm. It not only addresses the fundamentals of best practice, but it is also concerned with attention to detail. This includes, for example, crop rotations, soil and cultivation practices, crop nutrition strategy, crop protection, wildlife and landscape management, energy conservation, pollution control and waste disposal planning.

...accountability and transparency

Change is necessary in order to gain public and political confidence in the way our food is produced. In order to allay public concerns, farmers and growers must not only act responsibly, but must be seen to do so. Transparency and accountability are the building bricks on which public confidence can be built. Considerable strides towards this have been made in a joint initiative between the National Farmers Union, the major retailers, including Sainsbury's and food processors to set protocols of practice which growers have to adopt, notably in the way they manage their pesticide programmes in most fruit and vegetable crops.

Adoption of the principles of ICM adds professionalism to an already skilled industry. It enables its practitioners to show how modern farming practices can produce quality food and ensure a thriving and healthy environment.

But ICM is not a recipe for wholesale change. Most farmers are already well down the road towards adoption of ICM principles and it is now a case of fine tuning. What it requires is the courage and flexibility to look at everything that happens on the farm - some of it the habits of a lifetime - and ask the question: 'Could it be done better?'.

In a nutshell, ICM is skills-intensive, rather than input-intensive farming. This does not suggest that inputs must necessarily be reduced, but they should certainly by optimised to achieve maximum benefit with minimum impact. As with any system, it is essential that it is achievable and measurable. Detailed practical advice is a key element.  In recognition of this the Crop Protection Association has sponsored a complete resources pack on ICM for any one involved in training. It was made with strong financial and technical support from ATB-Landbase, LEAF and Sainsbury's. It examines all the main areas of farming practice in nine detailed modules.

...providing a better understanding

In this booklet the key points are discussed and elaborated. The intention is to provide a guide for those who wish to have a better understanding of arable farming and to gain a grasp of the scope of ICM, what it involves and some of the problems its practitioners have to face.

Integrated Crop Management - some definitions

  • The efficient profitable production of crops in harmony with nature for our benefit and that of future generations;
  • An holistic pattern of land use which integrates natural resources and regulation mechanisms into farming practices to achieve a maximum but stepwise replacement of off-farm inputs to secure high quality food and to sustain income;

  • A whole farm policy, combining rotations with targeted use of pesticides and fertilisers, cultivation choice, variety selection together with a positive management plan of landscape and wildlife features;
  • A comprehensive system of modern husbandry practice;
  • Balancing economic production with environmental responsibility;
  • The choice of a balanced crop rotation which can reduce pest, disease and weed problems whilst maintaining soil structure and fertility;
  • A cropping strategy in which the farmer seeks to conserve and enhance the environment while economically producing safe, wholesome food. Its long term aim is to optimise the needs of consumers, society, the environment and the farmer;
  • A combination of responsible farming practices which balance the economic production of crops with measures which conserve and enhance the environment;
  • The concept of a viable agriculture which is environmentally and socially acceptable and ensures the continuity of supply of wholesome, affordable food while conserving and enhancing the fabric and wildlife of the British countryside for future generations;
  • A proven crop rotation backed up by judicious management whose aim is to keep inputs to a minimum while maintaining profitability at conventional farming levels;
  • A concept which blends the best traditional farming methods with the environmentally sensitive use of modern technology;
  • A management system which employs controlled inputs to achieve sustained profitability with minimum environmental impact, but with sufficient flexibility to meet natural and market challenges economically.
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