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New Texas A&M AgriLife facility trains pest control pros

by Gabe Saldana, Texas A&M AgriLife

A new training facility for pest management professionals has opened its doors at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Dallas, where entomologists converted a graduate student dormitory into what they now call “ground zero for pest control training in Texas.”

The facility is called IPM Experience House after the science-based approach to pest control known as integrated pest management.

“When it comes to ridding your home of pests, there are two risks,” said Dr. Mike Merchant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service urban entomologist, Dallas. “There are health and safety risks from pests and there are potential health risks from pesticides.”

The goal of integrated pest management, he said, is to use scientific knowledge about a pest’s biology to get rid of it while keeping people and the environment safe.

IPM Experience House is designed to lead pest control technicians through problem-solving scenarios in mock commercial and residential settings. Studying alongside AgriLife Extension entomologists, students learn about pest habits, habitats and biology. Classes review the best practices for controlling pests using methods beyond pesticides – methods that consider human health and environmental impacts.

“With all pests we usually have multiple ways to address the problem,” Merchant said. “For example, with bedbug control, we use heat, vacuuming, steaming and barriers. It’s not the old way of just coming in with a sprayer; it’s a lot more sophisticated today.”

He said the developing facility will soon feature working examples of a commercial kitchen, a nursing home patient room, a restaurant dining area, a hotel room, a residential living room and outdoor structures for termite treatment education, including a landscape of diverse regional plant life.

Trainees at the facility visit each “station” in groups, arriving at a microscope bank, where a worksheet-guided exercise prompts them to identify common, regional insect pests.

IPM Experience House came online in part through donations by pest control businesses and trade organizations. Major teaching goals revolve around accurate identification of pests, control needs at specific sites and the importance of integrated control measures, Merchant said.

“Training for many in the industry largely comes from books and PowerPoint,” he said. “There has not been a lot of hands-on, university-sponsored training.

“Texans invite pest control professionals into their homes all the time with the assumption they’ve hired someone who knows what they’re doing. We want to see the industry better justify their customers’ confidence.”

Merchant, himself a former pest control technician, said many industry professionals, especially those entering the trade, receive little if any training beyond what they learn on the job.

“I remember a week of driving around with a fellow technician being shown what to do and then I was on my own,” he said. “A lot of it is sink or swim.”

He pointed out many companies provide in-house training, some of which is “very good,” but that IPM Experience House provides a “systematic, biology-based approach to training”.

“New technicians work in an environment designed to teach pest biology and pesticide chemistry and to provide a better understanding of products and techniques than they would just by having their buddies train them,” Merchant said. “It’s a real-world setting where new pest control technicians can hone their skills and learn about how to use pesticides and pest control techniques safely and around people, their pets and kids,”

The facility is developing a new course catalog, which includes training on general household pest control, termite control and mosquito control. A course series titled “Rodent Academy” will begin later this year; new curriculum remains under development.

“We’re still letting the industry know we’re here,” Merchant said. “Hopefully, as word gets out that we have a nice industry resource, we’ll get more companies to send their employees to us throughout the year.”

For training information, contact Merchant at Michael.Merchant@ag.tamu.edu or visit http://ipmhouse.tamu.edu for upcoming events.

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