Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Legendary speakers, large crowds and Dr. Michael Potter’s retirement announcement highlighted University of Kentucky 49th Annual Pest Control Short Course.

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November 21, 2019

LEXINGTON, Ky. – “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” – the theme of this year’s University of Kentucky Pest Control Short Course – couldn’t have been more fitting. That’s because the man responsible for leading one of the finest regional pest control conferences in North America, Dr. Michael Potter, is an industry giant himself.

After 29 years managing the short course, however, Potter recently announced his retirement. While a firm retirement date has yet to be determined, it will occur sometime next year, allowing Potter and his wife, Ellen, to relocate to Eugene, Ore., to be closer to their adult children.

“I’ll retain emeritus professor status in our department (a non-salaried position), but will not maintain a physical presence in Lexington, nor day-to-day departmental responsibilities,” he wrote in an e-mail following the conference.

“We didn’t take this decision lightly,” Potter said. In fact, he has been working on a succession plan with the university for two years, culminating in the choice of Dr. Zach DeVries, a protege of Dr. Coby Schal at North Carolina State University, to take over Potter’s role leading the conference. In February, DeVries accepted a tenure-track position as assistant professor of urban entomology at the university.

During the opening ceremonies of this year’s conference, Kentucky Pest Management Association (KPMA) President Keith Smith thanked Potter for his “generous contributions” to the industry, presenting the avid fly fisherman with a trip to Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge in Emigrant, Mont., as a token of appreciation for his body of work in support of the association. The five-day trip includes a guided tour of Yellowstone National Park and the Snake River.

Potter said joining the University of Kentucky “was the best decision of my life” and KPMA members have become his extended family. “Whatever good we did, we did it together,” he said. While Potter said he’ll miss overseeing the conference, the university is in “really, really good hands” thanks to the appointment of DeVries.

“We feel we have (recruited) the top young urban entomologist in the U.S., bar none,” Potter said. “Zach works on all the important critters, so he’s going to be a huge help to this state.”

For his part, DeVries said he’s excited about the prospect of building on Potter’s legacy and continuing “to move the pest management industry forward. I really hope to follow in the footsteps (of Mike Potter) the best I can.”

In other news, KPMA honored Gary Blankenship, owner of Guarantee Pest Control, Lexington, Ky., with its Lifetime Achievement Award. In recognizing the second-generation PMP, KPMA Director Chris Christensen said, “When I think of Gary Blankenship, I think of selfless service to family and industry. Gary has always been a leader in our industry.”

Since 1996, Blankenship has served as chairman of the association’s pest control educational fund. In closing, Christensen said, “Gary and his wife Lucy run a great business and are benevolent benefactors of a great group of employees.”

In kicking off the educational portion of the program, Potter said the topics and speakers for this year’s short course were the “strongest” in his 29-year association with the conference. “It’s possible to see further by standing on the shoulders of giants,” he observed, “and this year’s speakers truly are giants in the pest control industry.”

The leadoff speakers for the three-day event were industry consultant Stoy Hedges, who hosted a “Cockroach Control House of Learning,” and industry veteran Ted Bruesch of Liphatech, who shared “Lessons of a Lifetime” in rodent control.

“I started out in this business as a pest control technician (for Wil-Kil Pest Control),” Bruesch told attendees, so he understands the challenges faced by service personnel on a daily basis.

Bruesch said rodents are formidable foes, but they’re not as smart as many PMPs think. “I hear all the time I’ve got a smart rat, but I don’t consider rodents as being particularly smart,” he said. “Their brain is the size of a lima bean and our brain weighs three pounds,” so humans have a distinct intellectual advantage. Rodents simply have evolved over time, adopting unique behavioral characteristics that have allowed them to survive. Three behaviors, in particular, have served them well, according to Bruesch, allowing them to survive. They include:

1. Neophobia: Rodents are naturally skittish animals. When PMPs introduce something new to their environment, like a bait station, they “are likely to shy away from it,” Bruesch observes. “What can you do to get around this behavior? Pre-bait, kill and repeat,” he said. “I want them to think of a bait station as a food source, not a bait station.”

2. Social Hierarchy: “In a (rodent) colony you’re going to have a dominant male and a bunch of dominant females,” he said. These “alpha” rodents, due to their superior physical characteristics, have access to the most food and the best housing. Subordinates (“betas”) are second in the pecking order and “omegas” are third. “The goal is to take out the alphas” by baiting aggressively, Bruesch said, then eliminating subsequent rodents who fill that void, eventually collapsing the colony.

3. Foraging Territories: By understanding the foraging territories of rats and mice, PMPs will place bait stations in the proper location. “When you’re dealing with mice, you need to have bait stations placed close (together),” he said. “When it comes to rats you really want those stations full (of bait).”

Regardless of the challenges, “I truly believe every rodent problem has a solution. You have to take the fight to the critter,” Bruesch urged. “You have to be aggressive.”

In one of the more informative sessions of the three-day event, Mark Goodman, regional operations manager, Plunkett’s Pest Control, shared a number of interesting case studies in a session titled, “Troubleshooting Tricky Pest Problems.” Goodman recalled one situation where a technician was unable to control a maggot problem in a large egg production facility.

“They called because they had maggots crawling in their production area, a high-stress situation,” he said. Upon visiting the account, Goodman asked the usual questions, but nothing popped out as being particularly unusual until he got down on his hands and knees and began to check the silicone seals along a sterile hallway. “Finally, we found one plate on a wall where there was some loose silicone, leading to a gap that went outside (the facility). Maggots were making their way up a drainpipe from some chicken dung outside and through the seal.” Lesson learned? “Sometimes you need to broaden your scope a little bit,” Goodman said.

Other speakers on the star-studded program included Dr. Austin Frishman, owner, AMF Pest Management Consulting; Tom Myers, owner, All-Rite Pest Control; Rick Cooper, senior director of technical services, Terminix International; Marty Morgan, business development manager, Douglas Products; Mike Holcomb, consulting entomologist, Technical Directions; Pete Markham, president, A-Mark Pest & Bird Management; Ray Johnson, founder, Johnson Pest Control; Dr. Michael Potter, extension professor, University of Kentucky; Stephen Gates, vice president of technical services, Cook’s Pest Control; Dan Collins, regional technical director, McCloud Services; Dr. Zach DeVries, assistant professor of urban entomology, University of Kentucky; and Gary Sigrist, CEO and president, Safeguard Risk Solutions.

Major sponsors of this year’s event included BASF Corporation and Oldham Chemicals. Additional sponsors included AP&G, Nisus, Bell Laboratories, Syngenta, Bayer, and Corteva Agriscience.

Next year’s University of Kentucky 50thAnnual Pest Control Short Course is scheduled for Nov. 10-12. Visit www.kyshortcourse.org for future updates and registration information.

The author is publisher of PCT magazine.