“Less application, more education” is a familiar mantra at Carolina Exterminating in Charleston, S.C. After being thoroughly trained themselves in safe pest management practices, service technicians teach their customers what they can do to help protect their families from pests while minimizing the need for pesticide applications.
It’s an approach owner Drew Leilich adopted as he watched his son Liam crawling around the house and putting his hands everywhere. “I thought about residue that could be left on the floor after certain applications and started really rethinking how we were applying products,” he shares. “Since then, our focus has been on treating outdoors as much as possible and educating customers about measures they can take to help us control their pests as naturally as possible.”
Customer education is particularly important to programs using green products, Leilich says. In fact, his company’s website details some of the actions customers must commit to when selecting a green service. “We are very clear with customers who want an all-natural solution that they play a critical role in the program’s success,” he explains. “We go out and walk the property with them to identify action items and then provide them with a detailed list that can include things like cleaning the gutters, disinfecting trash cans and recycling bins, raking back foliage, cutting back trees and shrubs, sealing entryways and even power washing the house. Those who are strongly committed to going the green route agree to hold up their end of the deal. Others might find these tasks overwhelming and choose a conventional program instead.”
Whether they choose an all-natural or a more traditional IPM approach, ongoing communication is key, Leilich adds. “We make sure every customer understands where, when and why we apply as we do. We want them to have the peace of mind in knowing that we are thoughtful and intentional in our approach.”
Where Natural Products Are Doing the Most Good
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PMPs choose eco-friendly solutions for a variety of accounts and purposes.
While green pest control products continue to be used primarily in residential accounts, PMPs also rely on them for a variety of commercial and sensitive accounts. What’s most notable about usage in the 2020 State of the Naturals Market study is that a growing number of pest management professionals are turning to green products for prevention efforts, with usage up 12 percent since 2018 (from 47 percent to 59 percent), and as a primary means of control, up 10 percent since 2018 (from 33 percent to 43 percent).
In terms of which insects are most commonly controlled with natural products, opinions vary. Bobbie Terry of The Bug Lady Pest Control gets great results using a green product for spiders, which is especially helpful to her in sensitive marina areas, while Jeff Rea of 1st Response Pest Control prefers to use conventional pesticides on spiders. “We have a lot of oak trees, and that means heavy spider activity, here in Southern California,” he says. “The green products I’ve tried take too long on that particular pest. We have been successful using green products on crickets and ground beetles, though.”
Spiders are, in fact, one of the two pests (along with mosquitoes) to move up in the ranks of the “Insects Most Commonly Controlled” list in the 2020 State of the Naturals Market study. According to PCT research, the use of green products to manage ants, cockroaches and occasional invaders has remained relatively consistent over the past five years, but the percentage of survey respondents choosing mosquitoes as a “top three” pest for green products has more than doubled from 2016 to 2020 (from 15 percent to 34 percent), while the inclusion of spiders has climbed 8 percent (from 24 percent to 32 percent).
Jack Fimple of All Natural Pest Elimination says that the key to achieving success with green products on any insect is to teach technicians about the mode of action of these products, which is different from that of synthetic pesticides. “Since natural products work on an insect’s exoskeleton rather than its central nervous system, the process of eradicating an infestation is different. You can’t count on a strong residual or on treated pests to take the pesticide back to the nest; that means your technicians need to be comfortable in the role of problem-solver, being able to identify the right product and apply it so that it will be as effective as possible.”
In a Green State of Mind
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New research points to growing interest and engagement in the green evolution.
As demand for green pest management solutions continues to rise, pest management companies are prepared to deliver. With 86 percent of respondents to PCT’s 2020 State of the Naturals Market survey describing the customers in their market as very or modestly environmentally conscious, it’s becoming clear that green solutions can be important to competitive strength.
“People are all about being green in and around our Austin, Texas, market. Fortunately, today we have natural products that get the job done,” says Bobbie Terry of The Bug Lady Pest Control. “When I first started using them, close to 20 years ago, green pesticides weren’t very effective. They could repel, but today they also kill and have a longer-lasting residual effect. Green pest control is much easier to sell today because you know you’re going to be able to protect your customers’ homes.”
Many PMPs agree with Terry, as nearly a third (30 percent) of survey respondents say there has been a dramatic improvement in the efficacy of green products over the past three to five years. Half say they will choose a green product over a traditional pesticide if it has proven to be equally effective, and more than a fourth (27 percent) say they increased their purchases of green products in 2019.
Of course, selecting the right treatment protocol is critical as well.
“An effective green pest management program is about more than product choices; it’s a way of thinking,” says Laura Hammon Nunn of Bozeman Pest Control in Bozeman, Mont. “As we look toward controlling pests while protecting the planet, we need to make sure every service technician is aware of how their actions can impact the local environment. It begins with really thinking about the pest they’re trying to control so they can choose the right product, whether green or conventional, and apply it before an infestation requires a heavier application or multiple applications. Being strategic in how and when we apply is every bit as critical as what we apply.”
Nunn is among the PMPs who report that their technicians are becoming more knowledgeable about green solutions, and that they are communicating their benefits to customers more effectively. “We’re fortunate to have highly qualified technicians who go into accounts and accurately assess the proper service given the broad range of product options we have today,” she says. “In fact, we’re glad to see the entire industry moving on from the ‘spray and go’ mindset to one of thoughtful IPM. As customers become increasingly environmentally conscious, they expect more thoughtful service and equally thoughtful conversation. They’re beginning to recognize that this is a collaborative journey.”
While PMPs employed sanitation (48 percent) and exclusion (44 percent) in their toolkit of ant control services, 91 percent relied on pesticide application as the primary ant control measure, found the PCT survey. On average, ant bait accounted for 44.7 percent of these applications.
PMPs apply bait indoors and outside near ant mounds. PMP Daniel Schoeneman baits the outer fenceline if he sees bigheaded ant activity in neighbors’ yards. This helps draw the ants away from his client’s house and intercepts those coming from next door.
PMP Tom Saccomanno prefers baits with a mix of sugar, fat and protein “because there’s times of the year that (ants) change their feeding habits.”
For exterior perimeter treatments, PMPs in follow-up interviews said they typically use non-repellent insecticides since repellent products can trap ants in the structure. Sam de Jong, owner, Wow Pest Control, Bakersfield, Calif., applies a non-repellent and insect growth regulator to homes with a history of Argentine ant problems in early spring to help prevent infestations. He rotates products seasonally.
Control of fire and harvester ants requires rodding mounds and/or applying granular insecticide. Juan Fernando Sanchez, owner, Python Strike Services and Pest Control, San Antonio, Texas, also walks 10 acres of sports fields each week looking for activity to spot treat. The safety of young athletes is a big concern; so is the “mom with the phone,” he said.
Wesley Parker tracks odorous house ants to their nests and destroys them using a shovel and diatomaceous earth.
For carpenter ants, PMP Charles Fyfe finds and treats nests, as well as cuts back bushes and trees, and fixes moisture issues for an additional fee. “Chemical in and of itself is not the way to do it. Think holistically and involve the homeowner in the process,” said Fyfe. This provides better results and enhances your reputation, he said.
Also, clearly identify the ant. “Knowing what species you’re dealing with is critical because they all have different habits,” reminded Jennings.
Although ants are annoying, you have to hand it to them for being a persistent part of our lives — and of your businesses. The pest management professionals (PMPs) surveyed for this State of the Ant Market report confirm this trend; compared to last year, 98% of them expect their company’s revenue from ant control services to remain steady or increase this year.
This is just one of the many findings that show how impactful ant control is for our industry. For instance, PMPs ranked carpenter ants and odorous house ants as some of the most challenging species to control, driving home the importance of staying informed about current and future ant market developments.
Syngenta is proud to once again sponsor the 2020 State of the Ant Market report with PCT magazine. On the following pages, you’ll get the latest ant control updates from PMPs around the country, including trends on revenue, callbacks and control methods. We’re certain these results will bring you valuable insights for how to enhance your business’s ant control services.
At Syngenta, we’re committed to helping you achieve your ant control goals. Our proven solutions were developed with your needs in mind to manage ants across a variety of accounts and situations:
Advion® Ant and Optigard® Ant gel baits, two of the leading ant baits in the industry, are highly palatable to all major ant species — including sweet feeders
Advion WDG, Demand® CS, Optigard Flex and Tandem® insecticides are residual, sprayable products that can be used for preventive maintenance and large-colony ant control
NEW: Advion Insect granular bait, which will be launching to the market in the late spring, features a highly attractive bait matrix that is very effective against ants and ideal for areas that can’t be sprayed, like large mulch beds
Ants may be stubborn, but our industry won’t back down from the challenge. We’re privileged to support your mission to provide ant-free environments for your customers.