[Technically Speaking] Who Had It Right 20 Years Ago

October 7, 2003

Recently, I was going through a lot of material in my office when I ran across an interesting paper titled "The Next 20 Years." The paper was the proceedings of a workshop sponsored by Pi Chi Omega and the (then) National Pest Control Association, held in Alexandria, Va., Nov. 1-4, 1983.

Like many of you I knew or have known of many of the people contributing to the workshop, e.g., Jefferson Keith, Charles C. Haggerty, Robert Russell, Robert R. Schendel, John R. Beck, Richard Sameth, J. Bryan Cooksey Jr., Robert Caldwell, Richard Keenan, David E. Schneider, Jon Hockenyos and Drs. John V. Osmun, Roger E. Gold, Peter B. Cornwell and Gary Bennett. I thought it would be interesting to share with you their views of the next 20 years. You can judge for yourself how accurate they were and who best got it right.

NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED. Prior to the meeting, Jim Steckel posed a timely question to Dr. Gary Bennett: "How is the pest control industry perceived by the public and what offensive strategy can be developed to promote a positive image?" Sound familiar? Dr. Bennett’s response indicates little has changed today.

• We are an industry of small companies.

• These companies are highly independent and do things their own way.

• They typically do little planning for the future.

• Pests, pesticides and shoddy operations plague our industry.

• It will take several generations to overcome these problems.

• We should do a better job promoting ourselves to young people.

• Educational programs in pest management are dying.

He concluded that pest control is a business of technology and education and those who attain it will enable our industry to meet the challenges of the future. In a service-oriented business, professionalism is essential to a positive image and public acceptance. The key to professionalism is education.

And we thought the Professional Pest Management Alliance was a new idea. It’s not and it is still missing the mark. It’s easy to talk about professionalism and advertise professionalism, but isn’t it about time to start demonstrating it through education, credentialling and industry standards?

PEST RESISTANCE. The prognostications of P.B. Cornwell focused on resistance of structural pests. He predicted by the year 2000:

• There would be a slowed rate of development of resistant species.

• Multiple resistances would increase.

• The "non-degradable" synthetic pyrethroids would almost all be universally obsolete.

• Insect growth regulators (IGRs), chitin synthesis inhibitors (CSIs) and chemoster-ilants will all succumb to resistance.

• Insect monitoring in food products will increase and pesticide application would be predicated on monitoring results. There will be increased use of pheromone traps and electronic monitoring devices.

• Microencapsulation originally intended to extend the life of organophosphate (OP) insecticides would lead to their demise.

• Some new modes of action will be discovered.

• New methods to detect resistance in the field will be developed.

• Boric acid will remain highly effective and remain the major standby of the pest control industry.

Thank goodness he missed the mark on a number of issues. With the advent of baits, physiological resistance has become a non-issue. There has been no documented evidence of resistance to IGRs and CSIs. Pyrethroids have not met their demise; in fact, more are in the works. Boric acid maintains a formidable presence in the industry.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS. Dr. Roger Gold pretty much hit the "nails on their heads." He predicted that there would be a number of changes in techniques and technologies by the more progressive pest management companies. Further, he stated "there will be no ‘magic’ development that will make pests extinct and threaten the need for pest management services." He highlighted several areas:

• Population monitoring will be aided by new procedures and devices. The use of pheromones and attractants will increase and devices to detect pest sounds and motion will be developed.

• There will be no major application equipment developments, however, refinement and specialization will occur, providing more directed placement and ease of use.

• Directed pesticide applications will become the norm.

• Through new formulations, e.g., microencapsulation, current products will be more useful to the industry. New products will come on line that are 1,000 times more active against pests than chemicals that are currently available.

• There will be an increased emphasis on reduced pesticide exposure for the applicator and customers.

Population monitoring and computer utilization took on a new dimension with Dr. Rick Brenner’s precision targeting.

While Dr. Gold may not have been thinking of baits in 1983, they certainly are a new formulation and are directed applications. Considering that most products used in 1983 were applied at 0.5% and some new products are applied at 0.01%, he didn’t miss the mark of a 1,000 fold by much. One only needs to look at the proliferation of regulations regarding IPM in schools and municipalities to appreciate how accurate he was on concerns of pesticide exposure.

The speaker who really missed the mark predicted that houses would decrease significantly in size from the current average of 1,800 square feet to between 750 and 1,200 square feet. Ceilings will be raised from 8 feet to 9 feet, there will be fewer rooms and more multi-functional rooms. More emphasis will be placed on gadgets for the home, new design techniques and energy conservation.

He certainly missed on the size of homes. My guess is that today’s homes are twice the size of 1983 homes and as far as ceilings go why stop at 9 feet — many of the homes I see today have at least one ceiling two stories high. New technologies, such as EIFS and other foam foundations and insulation, continue to plague our industry.

Any guess what the next 20 years has in store for our industry?

The author is technical director of American Pest Management, Takoma Park, Md. He can be reached at 301/891-2600 or rkramer@pctonline.com.