Educating four generations of pest control professionals

Gregg Henderson  |  8/10/2012 2:00:15 AM

Gregg Henderson

In the spring 2001 issue of Louisiana Agriculture, R. Larry Rogers, then LSU AgCenter vice chancellor, noted that “agriculture is more urban than you think.” Today, urban dwellers represent the majority of people living in our state. As a professor in the Department of Entomology and with expertise on insects that enjoy living in our homes as much as we do, my mission is to educate by providing results of original research and through teaching and outreach programs.

One outreach program that has always given me special pride in my university is the long-standing summer education program provided to pest control operators (PCOs). The role the AgCenter has played in the urban arena is no better exemplified than by teaching professional pest control operators how better to serve their clientele: homeowners, business owners, park visitors, golfers and others who like to partake of the benefits urbanization brings to our state.

The LSU AgCenter boasts of one of the longest histories of activity in urban entomology in the United States.

Starting in 1971, entomology professor William T. Spink began a series of summer classes to help pest control operators learn the newest information on insect biology, control methods and available products. At the time, he utilized prepared information provided by E.T. Pappas, who has been called the “oldest pest control operator in the world.” Pappas remarked that early in the history of the pest control profession, his chosen profession was thought lesser than even that of a “honey-dipper,” someone who cleaned overflowing septic tanks using a large ladle. Dr. Spink also had the help of many local pest control people, including Lois Stevens, now Lois Caffey, who helped create the Lois Caffey Termite Training Center

Spink had a special affection for the pest control industry and the class he initiated. He once remarked to me that teaching the LSU Summer Institute was the most satisfying aspect of his entire professional career. Thanks to Dr. Spink, the AgCenter helped change the image of the pest control operator (now also known as a pest management professional). He and his graduate students also studied Formosan subterranean termites and published some of the first scientific research reports on this invasive insect in the continental United States.

Integrated pest management (IPM) is stressed in the LSU/LPMA Summer Institute because to deliver the best service, the pest and the environment need to be considered first before any treatment measures are employed for control. Everything from stored-product pests and wood-boring beetles to Formosan subterranean termites and the newest invading ant species are examined in the classroom. Laboratory exercises in which insects are literally “put under the microscope” are ultimately the key to providing a proper treatment service. In addition, the best products and the best service to the customer are discussed through seminars from PCOs active in the field.

The association Dr. Spink had with the Louisiana Pest Control Association (LPCA, now known as LPMA) was long and lasting and one in which both benefited. For example, LPCA provided funds for a graduate student every year in those early days. At the time that cost was $800 per year. (Of course, a new Shelby Mustang only cost a couple thousand more.)

Upon Spink’s retirement, Jeffery La Fage took the urban entomology position at LSU AgCenter and assumed management of the LSU/LPCA Summer Institute. He sought speakers from all over the United States based on their professional experience and technical abilities. Faculty members from universities, technical experts in chemical companies and experienced PCOs were included as teachers. Dr. La Fage was rewarded in many ways for his services to the industry, also receiving graduate student funds, as well as being made honorary member of LPCA. In addition, a grant system was developed where PCOs paid an extra fee ($1) to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) for wood-destroying insect reports that every mortgage company requires before purchase of a home. Starting in 1979 and still in existence today, the LDAF awards funds based on urban entomology grant initiatives to the tune of $30,000 per year.

Most of La Fage’s research was on the Formosan subterranean termite. He was murdered in the New Orleans French Quarter in late July 1989 after making a presentation to the French Quarter association about an area-wide treatment and baiting strategy that was going to start the very next day.

I was hired into the position in December 1990 and took over the role of “dean” of the LSU/LPMA Summer Institute, having now taught it 21 times in 21 years. Even in this short tenure, I have had the pleasure of having three generations within a family of PCOs in my classes. As before, the mutual respect and benefits from collaborations among the AgCenter, LDAF and LPMA have paid off in many ways. The appreciation shown by the students of the class who sit and learn for eight-hour stints at a time is amazing. These are students who know what they want and absorb almost everything they are taught. I now understand exactly what Bill Spink told me so many years ago.

Just as for La Fage and Spink before him, the LDAF provides funds for research. And more recently in 2007, the LPMA generated enough funds to create an endowed professorship for which my position is named – the Paul K. Adams Professorship in Urban Entomology. Adams, who founded Adams Pest Control in Alexandria in 1946 and later expanded to offices in DeRidder, Marksville, Natchitoches and Leesville, La., and Jasper, Texas, was a significant supporter of the Louisiana pest control industry.

From a research perspective, again, the Formosan subterranean termite trumps the pests that need research conducted and information transferred. Though of late the bed bug and the hairy crazy ant are making my life a little crazier. But in a good way.

Gregg Henderson, Paul K. Adams Professor of Urban Entomology, Department of Entomology, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

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