Friday, October 28, 2011

New TDA leadership learning pest control

Yesterday was the first Structural Pest Control Service Advisory Committee (SPCS-AC) meeting since the retirement of Jimmy Bush, and the new leadership showed up eager to listen and learn. Leading the meeting was David Kostroun, new Chief Administrator for Agriculture and Consumer Protection.  Also in attendance was Stephen Pahl (Administrator for Consumer Protection) and Leslie Smith (Director for Consumer Service Protection), who directly supervises Michael Kelly the Coordinator for SPCS.

David Kostroun is one of the good guys.  By that I mean that he's an entomologist and former Extension specialist (:-)).  He has has worked for TDA for 16 years, has little background in structural pest control, but is eager to be better acquainted with the industry.  Leslie Smith has 23 years in pesticide programs, but is also new to structural pest control, as is Stephen Pahl is a former TDA ag inspector. Over the next year or so it's important for all of us to get to know these new leaders, so if you run into any of them at industry functions I know they would like to meet you and learn about your interests and concerns.

Impact of Legislative Session on TDA

Last summer the agency that regulates pest control and oversees the state's agricultural programs was hit by the state legislature with a 40-45% budget cut.  This meant reducing TDA staff by 140 full-time equivalents (FTEs) and forcing the agency to rely even more on "cost recovery".  Fortunately the cuts did not affect inspector ranks, but it did require the agency to raise fees by 57%.  House bill 2742 also reinstated the agency's powers to regulate advertising and soliciting pest control business.

The budget cuts and layoffs spurred the agency to reorganize.  This fall the agency has gone from ten divisions to three: food and nutrition, Trade and Business Development, and Agriculture and Consumer Protection (home of the SPCS, our regulating agency). Jimmy Bush, former agency head who steered the SPCS for the past three years or so, retired at the end of August.  His successor, David Kostroun, has a big job in front of him as he tries to balance a smaller budget against the need to maintain public safety.  His mantra for the agency is "quality, consistency, and efficiency."

Clean Water Permit program for pest control

In earlier blog posts I wrote about the clean water permitting system slated for implementation this year. According to TCEQ staffer Joy Tegbe, the permitting system is scheduled to go into effect on November 2; although a recent article by the Delta Farm Press reports that a possible two-year moratorium is still being debated by Congress.  If the NPDES rules do go into effect, cities and agencies who meet the thresholds in the law will have 90 days to apply for permits to use pesticides that might be applied to, or drift into, waterways.  This will affect pesticide applications made for mosquito control, aquatic weed or animal control, area-wide pest control and forest canopy pest control.

Since my original post, several clarifications have been made about who is required to get a permit.  For one, the thresholds for groups requiring permits have been liberalized.  For example, a permit is only required for entities that apply pesticides for mosquito control, forest canopy pests or area-wide pest control to more than 6,400 acres of land.  A permit for pesticides to control of aquatic animal or plant pests will only be required when treating more than 100 acres of water or 200 miles of stream bank each year. Contrary to early reports, re-treatments of the same land or water are not counted toward the annual acreage count.  In other words, if you treat the same 640 acres ten times, you've still only treated 640 acres--not 6,400 acres as we were originally told.

Now that the cards are all on the table, I believe the new NPDES rules will not greatly affect us in the pest control industry, although some of you may be asked to help explain these rules to large customers, such as municipalities.  The requirement that will affect most people are those for Level II entities.  These are public or private entities that annually treat more than one acre and less than 6,400 areas of land with General or Restricted Use pesticides.  These folks will have to keep on hand a letter of self certification, stating their intention to comply with the state's general use permit.  Failure to have such a letter would put these folks out of compliance with the law.  Golf courses, cities, park systems, and school districts are likely Level II entities and will probably need letters.  Most homeowners and smaller scale pesticide users will be classified as Level III entities and will not self-certify, rather they will only be required to follow label directions and precautions.  More about self certification letters in another blog.

To read the whole permit:
WARNING: this permit is long and dense reading.  If you have questions, I suggest calling a real human such as Joy Tegbe or James Moore at 512-239-4671.

Need for New Members
The SPCS-AC was formed two legislative sessions ago to serve as a sounding board for TDA on structural pest control issues. The committee gets its mandate from Chapter 1951.101 of the Texas Occupations Code, and consists of nine members (two experts in structural pest control application, three public members, one member from an institution of higher education knowledgeable in pest control, one member recommended by the pest control industry, a consumer member, and a designee of the commissioner of state health services).

Almost all of the advisory committee terms have either expired or will expire in February, meaning that the SPCS is accepting applications for most seats on the committee.  If you are interested, call Michael Kelly of the SPCS for an application.  The consumer seat on the committee has never been filled, so if you are a consumer with interest in the pest control industry, this is your chance to get involved.

Bill Stephan in hospital

The empty chair at our Advisory Committee meeting yesterday belongs to Bill Stepan, with Orkin Pest Control in Houston.  Bill is the Branch Manager for Orkin; long-time, active industry member and one of TPCA's appointees to the advisory committee.  We learned that Bill went into the hospital this week with complications due to recent cancer treatment.  He was rushed to emergency on Monday, but I understand from close friend and Orkin colleague, Steve Dogner, that he has improved greatly this week and is in good spirits.

If you would like to send Bill a card of encouragement, Steve asks you to send them to his office and he will see that they are delivered.  Send them to Bill care of Steve Dogner, Orkin Pest Control, 3901 Braxton Drive, Houston, TX  77063.  I don't know if Bill checks his Facebook page often, but you can also leave messages there.

Bill, here's to seeing you back on your feet soon.  Godspeed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How much would you pay for a bed bug?

Bed bugs (Photo by Bart Drees)
I was speaking with the Greater Tarrant County Pest Control Association (Fort Worth/Arlington) last night and we began discussing how much people pay for live insects.  My audience was amazed to learn that I will be paying more than $2 apiece for bed bugs for an upcoming project. I could see the wheels turning in every head, calculating "if I had $2 for every bed bug I've killed!" And I had to admit that getting paid for both removing and delivering bed bugs sounds like a pretty good deal in this tight economy.

My bed bug-requiring project is an insecticide trial; and I need insects of a certain life stage, of guaranteed health and known lineage to ensure that results are consistent and can be replicated.  Field caught bed bugs typically vary in age and life stage, and can be damaged during collection.  They also are more likely to be  genetically variable (making results more difficult to analyze), are of unknown pesticide susceptibility, and can not be easily re-collected by another researcher who might want to reproduce the results.  For these reasons, you can't just scoop up a few bed bugs and turn around and sell them on Craig's List (at least for research purposes).

It surprises most people to learn that there are a number of companies (called insectaries) that make money raising and selling live insects for something other than pet food or fish bait.  If you have a need for silverfish or cockroaches, cat fleas or house flies, chances are you can find a reputable seller (like my friend Bill Donahue's Sierra Research Labs) of these and other pest species.  Bed bugs are reared not only for research labs, but also to keep canine handlers supplied with fresh bed bugs for bed bug sniffing dogs.

In addition to pest insects, there are dozens of "beneficial insectaries" that sell beneficial insects for use in biological control programs.  They are represented by a trade group called the Association of Natural Biocontrol Producers.  Most of the insects produced by ANBP member companies are probably of little use to PMPs unless your company also controls insect pests of interiorscapes (indoor live plants) or greenhouses, where biological control has proven most effective.  One biological control agent exception is for cockroach parasites, especially tiny parasitic wasps that control brown banded cockroaches. Beneficial nematodes are another example of a non-insect predator that can control some difficult to control soil inhabiting pests like fungus gnats (to give an indoor example).

Finally, consider the butterfly rearing business.  There are a growing number of people who rear butterflies for profit. A few weeks ago I paid a visit, with an eager class of master volunteers learning about insects, to a small business in the Dallas area called Butterflies Unlimited.  Owner Dale Clark explained that the butterfly business is still growing as public and private gardens, museums, and even weddings are incorporating butterfly releases into their events.

There appears to be a lesson for all of us in this. There's more than one way to make a living off of insects.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Structural Pest Control Advisory Board to meet this month

Leslie Smith, new TDA Director for Consumer Service Protection (and replacement for Jimmy Bush), has announced the next Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee to be held on Thursday, October 27th, in Austin, Texas.  This will be the first meeting of the committee since last spring, and the first opportunity to hear first-hand from the new director about changes at the Texas Structural Pest Control Service since massive agricultural department budget cuts this year.

Anyone interested in the activities of the SPCS is welcome to attend this meeting.  Since the merging of the old Structural Pest Control Board into TDA three years ago, this is the only regular public venue for agency to hear and respond to public comments about its programs and plans.

The committee will meet at 9:00 am in Room 1003A of the Stephen F. Austin Building in Austin, Texas.  Anyone who wants to make a statement about anything can sign up to do so at the beginning of the meeting.

The Texas Structural Pest Control Service is the TDA division that regulates structural pest control in the state of Texas.

Fall and winter is growing season for PMPs

The Texas State Fair is open.  We've had three days of rain and cooler temperatures.  I think I finally believe that summer is done for, and fall is here. I thought Dallas had it bad this summer with over seventy 100 degree days, beating the previous north Texas record heat wave of 1980.  But Wichita Falls, TX crushed their previous (1980) record of 79 days with 100 days of triple digits this summer.  Add to all of this the exceptional drought and add some of the worst wildfires in history--it's enough to put 2011 in the record books.

The Fall 2010 IPM Seminar in Dallas drew over 300 pesticide
applicators for their required annual training.
Besides relief from the heat, the end of summer means a busier time for us on the education side of things. In October my Extension colleagues and I generally start a new round of CEU courses around the state.  I look forward every year to the chance to see many of you Texas readers again in the coming months.  Here are some of the meetings in Texas and around the country you might want to check out.

An increasing number of PMPs are getting certified and learning about the educational opportunities of participating in the Entomological Society of America's annual conference.  The largest scientific society devoted to entomology in the world, the ESA annual meeting may be just the kind of challenging educational event you've been looking for.  Swarming with Ph.D. entomologists and eager graduate students with an enthusiasm for insects, there are always dozens of presentations and posters on urban entomology subjects.  This year's meeting is in Reno, Nevada. Click here for more information.

The National Pest Management Association's annual meeting, Pest World 2011, is in New Orleans, October 19-22.  Serveral thousand PMPs, industry experts and entomologists attend this prestigious meeting each year.  I've always found this meeting to be entertaining and informative.  Many of the new products for the year are also introduced at this meeting.

Cirque du Insecte

I've been feeling guilty about not posting more in the past two months, so to make up to my Insects in the City subscribers I thought I'd broadcast a link to this very clever YouTube video posted a couple of days ago by SnapDragon Cell phones.

After watching the video I wondered what kind of person gets to come up with these fantasies and make them a reality?  Since this is advertising, I assume it wasn't just done by someone with too much time on their hands.  To whoever's responsible I say, "Congratulations on figuring out a way to have so much fun and get paid for it."