Musings on the Friends of IPM Award

We weren’t sure what would happen when we started the Friends of IPM Award two years ago.  An award program was a little different from the grant programs we managed, and many of the IPM professionals we worked with were just too busy to type up a two-page description of their own or someone else’s work. We figured we’d try it for a couple of years anyway.

The first award presentation I made was for the Kentucky Wheat Science Group.  The group consisted of one specialist from each discipline–entomology, plant pathology, weed science, breeding, soil science, etc.–located in Princeton, KY, two hours from the university. They wanted the award to be given during their Wheat Field Day, in front of their Extension agents and growers.

It was on that day that I realized what the award was about. Originally, we had figured that it could be a news opportunity, since we’d have an event to include in a local newspaper. Sometimes that was the case, sometimes it wasn’t. But what the award really did was it gave the award recipients visibility among their peers. Their Dean helped to set up the presentation. Their Extension Director took notice. And the growers they worked with watched a regional, federally-funded Center laud them as “exceptional.”

 The visit was also mutually beneficial. After the award presentation, I was able to talk to many of the team members and see what they were working on. I saw, firsthand, their research work in the field. Most of my job is done at my desk or in meeting rooms, so the chance to see the work actually happening was amazing.

This year we had more individual awards than team awards. A few winners told me that being able to include the award in their impact reports helped them maintain their funding when their department was seeking to reduce staff. Others have been able to buy equipment with the meager $2,000 that we provide with most of the awards (as a reimbursement) that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to buy. The winner who has continually reminded me of the possible impact of the award program is Chris Mills, a school IPM specialist in North Carolina. He was so moved by the award that he has gotten involved in regional school IPM efforts, has been a leader in part of a grant given by EPA, and is now part of our regional school IPM working group. He now wants to be part of the national school IPM effort.

It can often be discouraging when nominations trickle in during the weeks leading up to the nomination deadline and it seems as if we won’t have very many to choose from. Last year we had a flood of applications right after we extended the deadline. I’m hoping that this year the excitement will continue.

I’ve talked to several IPM specialists that I personally would love to see win the award. Of course I can’t nominate anyone, but I know that we are not “tapped out” of outstanding people who practice, teach or promote IPM. I always look forward to meeting a new group of those people every year. It’s one of the things that truly makes my job worthwhile.

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