Clearing the Air

Steven Bell stands beside a truck housing a mosquito sprayer.

IPM helps road crews use fewer chemicals to control mosquitoes

Story by Nathan Gregory • Photos by Kevin Hudson

When most people think of mosquito control, they envision a large chemical tank in the bed of a pickup truck.

Spraying chemicals is actually the last resort in integrated pest management (IPM), a scientific process of preventing invasive insects from reaching adulthood. IPM uses environmentally responsible alternatives, such as habitat removal, structural barriers, and larval control, before using sampling and resistance management to determine treatment plans for adult mosquitoes.

The Mississippi State University Extension Service is working with municipal and county road crews across Mississippi to reduce the amount of chemicals used. Like many others, the Oktibbeha County road department does not yet use IPM techniques, but that will change after Steven Bell brings back what he learns from training with Harrison County Mosquito Control (HCMC).

A 7-year employee of the department, Bell and his colleagues work from the beginning of spring until the first frosts of fall to protect neighborhoods from being swamped by mosquitoes and threatened by diseases they carry. This involves taking extra early-morning and evening shifts beyond their normal daytime hours.

“In the early spring, we try to get a head start by setting out larvicide pellets in areas along the roadsides where there’s standing water, because that’s where mosquitoes like to nest,” Bell explains. “We try to wait until May to start going through neighborhoods in our spray truck.”

Sampling involves mosquito-control professionals using various traps to collect different kinds of mosquitoes in a variety of environments. Once the larvae are collected, they can be sent to the Mississippi State Department of Health for identification. Resistance management is the process of using the most effective chemicals when they become necessary and rotating products to prevent resistance from the targeted mosquito.

“Continuing to use ineffective chemicals is the equivalent of introducing chemicals into the environment for no real purpose,” explains Gene Merkl, manager of the MSU Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program. “We have to sample the mosquitoes to know what we are and are not controlling and rotate active ingredients accordingly to achieve maximum control and promote minimum resistance.”

Bell was the first crew member to earn Public Health Pest Control certification in 2017 after Merkl reached out to Oktibbeha County road manager Hal Baggett about getting one of his workers licensed. In the process, Bell was invited by HCMC director Gene Fayard to work with his crews and learn more about IPM.

Federal and state laws require certification for anyone who applies general-use pesticide products in a commercial situation. Mosquito control is one of 14 Commercial Pesticide Applicator categories for which an applicant can seek certification. Those who earn the license must be recertified every 3 years. The Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program offers applicators online recertification courses to help applicators meet their requirements remotely.

In 2018, Extension educators held 25 workshops that provided recertification to more than 359 commercial applicators.

“What worked well in Steven’s case was a manager who believed in him and a desire to better himself,” Merkl says. “All we had to do was put the technical components in front of him and introduce him to an organization that had the game down and knew how to play.”

Bell sees the training he is receiving as a way of providing the best service possible to Oktibbeha County residents.

“We’re trying to figure out how they do it on the Gulf Coast, so we can bring it home and make it work here,” Bell says. “I don’t think it’s ever been done this way here, but there it’s very popular.”

Filed Under:
MSU Extension Service
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