We can do something about fire ants - Training Professionals and Developing Teaching Materials in Sustainable Fire Ant Management

Final Report for ES00-050

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2000: $40,155.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $31,775.00
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Kathy Flanders
Auburn University
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project was designed to teach the principles of sustainable, site specific management of imported fire ants. Site-specific management makes the most efficient use of on-farm and public resources. Fire ants affect nearly everyone in Alabama. They can adversely affect our health, our agriculture, our wildlife, and our environment. It has been estimated that fire ants cost Alabamians $175,000,000 per year. Fire ant management is frequently crisis oriented, relying on the use of harsh chemical insecticides. As a rule, people spend too much money, too much time, and use too many pesticides trying to control fire ants. Environmentally safe fire ant products are currently available for use. However, they are often applied improperly. A sustainable approach to fire ant management can make fire ants easier to live with, while reducing social, economic, and environmental costs. The goal of this project is to increase the general level of knowledge about fire ant management by 20-25%. A tiered training approach has been used. In 2000, forty county agents were trained in fire ant management. In 2001, educational publications and teaching materials were developed with input from these county agents (www.aces.edu/dept/fireants). For 2002, we trained the next tier of trainers, who we are calling fire ant management advisors. By teaching those who are likely to pass on their knowledge, we multiply our training efforts and dollars. In 2003, we continued our education efforts in fire ant management. We particularly wanted to get information to the employees at garden centers, and to extend our efforts to Alabama cattlemen. In 2004, participants continued to conduct fire ant education programs. In addition, they shifted their emphasis toward hands-on, field demonstrations of bait-baised fire ant management programs.

The tiered-training system, where project participants train level one trainers, who will then train more trainers (level 2) has been very successful. Our level one trainers take on more responsibility each year, and are finding new ways to use the materials developed in the course of this project. For example, in 2005, several of trainers are organizing a regional fire ant management workshop. 32 Alabama Cooperative Extension System agents are planning fire ant education programs for 2005.

The materials have been so successful that we are continuing to use them, well past the original planned dates of the grant (2001-2003). We are in the process of updating the fire ant video and the PowerPoint demonstrations.We documented that our projects increased the general level of knowledge of fire ant management by 29%, exceeding our goal of 20-25%. We estimate that stakeholders save about $1 million each year, by adopting sustainable fire ant management practices. The quality of life for farmers and for society as a whole has been enhanced by reducing the impact of fire ants on humans, livestock, and wildlife.

Project Objectives:

The purpose of this project was to provide training on sustainable management solutions for fire ants. We had the following, behavior-based objectives:

1) Conduct a hands-on in-service training session for 40 county agents and farmers on fire ant biology and sustainable management. Based on prior in-service sessions, we expected that pre-training and post-training tests would show that that we increased by 20-25% the knowledge level of this first tier of trainers.

2) The major participants and first tier of trainees were to work together to prepare fire ant teaching materials. We expected to develop a video, a slide set, an interactive CD-ROM, educational posters, preserved specimens of fire ants, and a model of a fire ant mound.

3) The major participants and tier 1 trainees were expected to use the newly developed teaching materials to instruct a second tier of trainers and stakeholders, including additional county agents, farmers’ cooperative personnel, Master Gardeners, turfgrass managers, building industry personnel, and Christmas tree growers. We expected to hold approximately 30 training sessions.

Introduction:

“If only you could do something about fire ants.” “Why can’t we eradicate fire ants once and for all?” These are common statements from Alabama cattlemen and homeowners. We can actually do more about fire ants. This project was designed to provide professionals with the information they need to help people manage fire ants.

The accidental importation of two species of fire ants, Solenopsis invicta Buren and Solenopsis richteri Forel, earlier in this century has resulted in economic, environmental, and social problems. Cattlemen and farmers put imported fire ants at or near the top of their list of pest problems. So do homeowners, doctors, grounds maintenance workers, physical plant managers, and turfgrass managers.

Fire ants occur throughout the Southeastern United States. Isolated infestations now occur in California and other Western states. Fire ants affect almost every person living in the infested area. They adversely affect our health, our agriculture, our wildlife, and our environment.

Fire ant management is frequently crisis oriented, relying on the use of harsh chemical insecticides. There are horrifying tales of home remedies, all too many involving unlabelled insecticides, gasoline, or other ground water pollutants. Environmentally safe fire ant baits, containing less than 0.09 lb of active ingredient per acre, are currently available for use. However, they are often applied improperly. A sustainable approach to fire ant management can make fire ants easier to live with, while reducing social, economic, and environmental costs. Such an approach requires a system wide assessment of fire ant impact, followed by the development of a site-specific management plan. This sustainable approach does not eliminate all fire ants in an area. Rather, areas that are identified as priorities for treatment receive a targeted bait application. Leaving some fire ants in the area can reduce the rate of reinfestation. That is because fire ants are the most important natural enemy of new fire ant queens. Over the long term, site specific management can enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which our the agricultural economy depends. Site-specific fire ant management makes the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources. It enhances the quality of life of farmers and ranchers, and of society as a whole. It is hoped that eventually, site specific management approaches can be integrated with imported biological control agents of fire ants, for example, decapitating flies.

The goal of this project was to provide training on sustainable, site specific management of imported fire ants. Site-specific fire ant management makes the most efficient use of on-farm and public resources. It takes advantage of natural biological controls, and enhances environmental quality by reducing the amount of pesticide applied. The quality of life of farmers and of society as a whole will be enhanced by reducing the impact of fire ants on humans, livestock, and wildlife.

The project relied on a two tier training system. Core county extension agents and farmers participated in an in-service training and helped develop educational materials. These materials were then used by the principal participants and the county agents to train the next tier of trainers and stakeholders, including additional county agents, farmer’s cooperative personnel, Master Gardeners, turfgrass managers, and others.

Personnel from Auburn University (1862 landgrant), Alabama A&M (1890), the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn University participating) were major participants of this project. Funding from the Alabama Fire Ant Management Program was used to match the proposed funding.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Kenneth Creel
  • Lawrence (Fudd) Graham
  • Kenneth Ward
  • Rufina Navasero Ward

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

A hands-on in-service training session for 40 county agents and farmers on fire ant biology and sustainable managementwas conducted in 2000.

The major participants and first tier of trainees were worked together to prepare fire ant teaching materials. We developed a video, a slide set, two CD-ROM containing PowerPoint presentations, four educational posters, preserved specimens of fire ants, and two types of fire ant mound models.

Major participants and tier 1 trainees used the newly developed teaching materials to instruct a second tier of trainers and stakeholders, including additional county agents, farmers’ cooperative personnel, Master Gardeners, turfgrass managers, building industry personnel, and Christmas tree growers.

Outreach and Publications

2001:
Flanders, K. L., L. Weatherly, and L. Craft. 2001. Getting the most out of your fire ant bait application. Circular ANR-1161 Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), 4 p., revised.

Flanders, K. L., L. C. Graham, K. E. Ward, R. N. Ward, and K. M. Creel. 2001. We can do something about fire ants: training professionals and developing teaching materials in sustainable fire ant management. Poster, Entomol. Soc. Amer. Annual Meeting

2002:
Flanders, K. L., L. C. (Fudd) Graham, V E. Bertagnolli, R N. Ward, K. E. Ward, and K. W. Creel 2002. Teaching materials for imported fire ant training programs. Poster and Display, 2002 Imported Fire Ant Conference.

2003:
Flanders, K. 2003. Imported Fire Ants in Lawns, Turf, and Structures. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Circular ANR-175, Revised.

Flanders, K. L., S. Porter, and D. Oi. 2003. Biological control of imported fire ants. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Circular ANR-1149, Revised.

Flanders, K. L., and L. Graham. 2003. Getting the most out of your fire ant bait application. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Circular ANR-1161, Revised.

Flanders, K. 2003. 2003 Fire Ant Control Materials for Alabama Homeowners. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Circular ANR-175-a.

2004:
Flanders, K. L. and B. M. Drees. 2004. Interstate collaborative efforts to develop educational programs for fire ant management in cattle production systems. Poster, 2004 Imported Fire Ant Conference, Baton Rouge.

Flanders, K. L. 2004. 2004 Fire Ant Control Materials for Homeowners. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Circular ANR-175a. revised.

Flanders, K. L. and B. M. Drees. 2004. Management of Imported Fire Ants in Cattle Production Systems. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Circular ANR-1248.

Outcomes and impacts:

The tiered-training system, where project participants train level one trainers, who will then train more trainers (level 2) has been very successful. Our level one trainers take on more responsibility each year, and are finding new ways to use the materials developed in the course of this project. For example, in 2005, several of trainers are organizing a regional fire ant management workshop. 32 Alabama Cooperative Extension System agents are planning fire ant education programs for 2005.

The materials have been so successful that we are continuing to use them, well past the original planned dates of the grant (2001-2002). We are in the process of updating the fire ant video and the PowerPoint demonstrations.

We documented that our projects increased the general level of knowledge of fire ant management by 29%, exceeding our goal of 20-25%. We estimate that stakeholders save about $1 million each year, by adopting sustainable fire ant management practices. The quality of life for farmers and for society as a whole has been enhanced by reducing the impact of fire ants on humans, livestock, and wildlife.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

2000:
In-Service Training: This program was designed to increase the imported fire ant knowledge base of county Extension agents. The seven hour training session was held in Scottsboro, AL on April 5, 2000. It was attended by 34 county agents and 11 stakeholders. The stakeholders included city or school employees, homeowners, a retired county agent, and military personnel.

Dr. Flanders coordinated the workshop. Sixteen fire ant experts were invited to speak at the training session, in order to provide the participants with the most up-to-date and accurate information possible. The workshop included information on fire ant biology and management, as well as hands on demonstrations on working with decapitating flies, surveying for multiple queen colonies, applying individual mound treatments, calibrating bait spreaders, setting up a fire ant control demonstration, making a mound cast, and indentifying pest ants. The participants were given an extensive collection of reference materials to take home.

Testing before and after the training session showed that the county agents learned a great deal about fire ants. Mean pre-test score was 69%, and mean post-test score was 83%. We have increased the general public’s knowledge about fire ants by reaching 45 county Extension agents and stakeholders from 27 counties. The participants were able to return to their jobs, and use what they had learned to help the general public. Participants rated the workshop as a 4.8 out of 5.0, indicating the training session accomplished its goal of providing useful information on fire ant biology and management.

Participants of the workshop were divided into teams. Each team was given the task of developing a fire ant educational product.

The fire ant videotape was completed in 2000. The videotape was designed by a team of county agents from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). It was then scripted, filmed, and produced by Mario Lightfoote (ACES Communications Department) and Kathy Flanders. Footage from an Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service video was incorporated into the program. That videotape had been developed from federal funds, for use by stakeholders in the Southeast. Copies of the new videotape were be distributed to county extension agents, state legislators, and other educators at other land-grant universities in the Southeast.

2001:
In 2001, our team developed a set of four posters, two types of fire ant mound models, two Powerpoint presentations, and an acrylic mount showing different kinds of fire ants. Twenty-five county Cooperative Extension agents have volunteered to conduct training sessions for other trainers in 2002, using the SARE educational materials.

Powerpoint Presentations and Slide Sets: Powerpoint presentations are available at each county Cooperative Extension Office. These presentations are useful for civic clubs and similar organizations. They are also useful for middle school and high school-age students. There are extensive notes that provide background information for use in making the presentations. There are two different presentations:
Managing Imported Fire Ant Problems in Agricultural Areas (38 slides)
Managing Imported Fire Ant Problems in Urban Areas (37 slides)

Posters: Posters (36″ X 42″) are available at 14 county Extension Offices. There are four posters, each covering a different topic. These posters are useful for civic clubs and similar organizations. They are also useful for middle school and high school-age students. They work well as fair exhibits, because they are self explanatory. The four posters are:
Fire Ant Biology: Colony Establishment
Fire Ant Biology: Life in the Mound
Biological Control of Fire Ants Using Phorid Flies
Using Baits to Manage Fire Ants

Models of a Fire Ant Mound: The mound models are useful for various presentations and exhibits. They work extremely well in presentations to elementary school children. Felt models (27″ X 36″) are available at 8 county Extension Offices. Program participants can apply the appropriate labels to different parts of the mound, and position queen and worker ants in different spots around the mound. Three-dimensional models of a fire ant mound are available at 7 county offices. These models are made of clear plexiglass, so one can see underground, by peeling away the “dirt.”

Fire Ant Circles: Fire ant circles are 1.5 X 3″ acrylic mounts containing examples of the different kinds of adult fire ants. Five county Cooperative Extension offices have an ant circle.

In-Service Training Session: At the request of the county Cooperative Extension Agents, we conducted an In-Service training session in June 2001. The topic was how to conduct a fire ant demonstration. A makeup session was held in July 2001 for agents who were unable to attend the June training. Participants received hands on training on how to establish and evaluate field demonstrations in their county. In total, 29 county agents attended the training sessions.

The Effect of the April 2000 Fire Ant In-Service Training Session: Results of the One Year Post-training Evaluation
County agents who attended the fire ant in-service training session in April 2000 went back to their counties and conducted fire ant education projects. They were guest speakers at meetings of civic clubs, AARP, the Christian Women’s Association, and an extended day program. Special programs organized by the county agents reached elementary school children, master gardeners, 4-H students, cattle producers, and the general public. These agents trained at least 4000 people about fire ants in the year following the in-service training session. Newspaper articles and radio spots reached an estimated 25,500 people. 16 of the 19 agents indicated that their fire ant educational activities had increased in the year following the in-service training. The county agents were given the same test that they took before and immediately after the April 2000 training session. After one year, the knowledge level of the county agents was 12% higher than before the April 2000 training.

Training Activities by the Project Participants in 2001: The project participants (Flanders, Graham, Ward, Ward, and Creel) conducted two In-Service training sessions for county Cooperative Extension agents. In addition, Dr. Kathy Flanders used the SARE felt mound model to train approximately 60 supervisors and continuing education coordinators from nursing homes in southeastern Alabama. She used the PowerPoint presentations to teach fifty Certified Crop Advisers (CCA’s) about fire ants. Copies of the presentations and the SARE fire ant videotape available to those CCA’s who wanted them. The mound model was used at a training session at the Alabama Association of Urban Foresters, which was attended by 10-15 Urban Foresters. The SARE posters and the SARE felt mound model were also used at the Winfield Agorama, attended by 300 members of the general public, and at the Ogletree Elementary School’s Bug-Out, attended by 300 elementary school children. Since the beginning of the SARE project in June 2000, Dr. Lawrence Graham has been invited to teach the following groups of trainers and leaders about fire ants: Natural Resources Conservation Service Research Committee, the Alabama Pest Control Association, the Alabama Vector Management Society, the Alabama Turfgrass Association, the Small Cemetery and Funeral Management Association, and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents. He has also made presentations at the Progressive Farmer Farm Safety Day Camp in Lineville, Alabama, the Montgomery Co. Natural Resources Planning Committee Annual Natural Resource Tour and Fish Fry, the Auburn University Turf Unit field day, the Auburn Rhododendron Club, and at fire ant education meetings held in Limestone, Morgan, and Marshall Counties. The SARE posters and the ant circles were part of a fire ant exhibit used at the Alabama National Fair, the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo, and the Auburn University College of Agriculture Ag Roundup.

Selected Examples of How SARE Training Materials Were Used by County Agents in 2001: The fire ant video was used by County Extension Agent Jimmy Jones in Henry County, to make presentations to the Extension Homemakers, two groups of senior citizens, and a neighborhood association.The Powerpoint presentations were modified by County Extension Agent Henry Dorough in Talladega County for use in teaching high school students and Kiwanis Club members about fire ants. As more county agents have access to computer projectors, they are able to customize materials for their particular audiences. We plan to provide county agents with 35 mm slides for each presentation, if they request it. But we anticipate many agents will be like Mr. Dorough, and create their own PowerPoint presentations based on the materials we have provided. County Extension Agent Jay Conway in Cullman Co. used the fire ant posters and the felt mound model for presentations to 2,300 4-H members in 68 club meetings. County Extension Agent Marla Faver in Baldwin Co., assisted by her Master Gardener volunteers, created an exhibit booth at the county fair and at two coastal living seminars. She used the ant circle, the posters, and the felt mound model in the display.

Interstate Cooperation: We distributed the fire ant video to fire ant researchers and educators at the 2001 Imported Fire Ant meeting in San Antonio, Texas, in February, 2001. The meeting was attended by representatives of all the fire ant infested states. The Texas Imported Fire Ant Management Plan adapted our videotape for Texas, and issued it to all the county Cooperative Extension offices in Texas. The SARE materials were presented at the national meeting of the Entomological Society of America in December, 2001. At that meeting, the PowerPoint presentations and electronic copies of the poster were provided to fire ant educators and researchers from Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Hawaii.

2002:
All fire ant training aids were finished by January 2002. Actual products, or their descriptions, are available on our fire ant web site, www.aces.edu/dept/fireants.

In spring 2002, the SARE fire ant materials were presented at the 2002 Imported Fire Ant meeting in Athens, Georgia, in March 2002. Electronic copies of the PowerPoint presentations and the posters were distributed to representatives from each red imported fire ant-infested state.

We have shared our educational products with fire ant workers in all fire ant infested states. Our fire ant video, Fire Ant Control Made Easy, was translated into Spanish by the Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Education Plan.

Training Fire Ant Management Advisers: Between January 1, 2002 and December 31, 2002, 812 trainers participated in 26 trainer-oriented workshops. Educational materials used included slide sets, videotapes, posters, mound models, and publications. Master Gardeners, Master Cattle Producers, pesticide dealers, turfgrass managers, environmental biology students, city employees, botanical garden directors, horticultural inspectors, and pest control operators and NRCS personnel were trained in sustainable fire ant management. 202 members of the general public participated in 7 other workshops. Twelve county agents and two specialists participated in training fire ant management advisers. Three county agents and two specialists participated in staffing fire ant booths at the Alabama Peanut Festival and the Alabama National Fair. More than 10,000 fire ant publications were handed out during these events.

Stakeholder groups that allowed us to conduct training sessions were the Alabama Turfgrass Association, the Southern Chapter of the Horticultural Inspection Society, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service East Team, and the Southeastern Association of Botanical Garden Directors. Results from pre- and post-testing showed that we increased the general level of knowledge of our fire ant management advisers by 29%.

2003:
Between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2003, project participants conducted 22 educational sessions for trainers. An average of 22 people attended each session. Educational materials used included slide sets, videotapes, posters, mound models, and publications. Master Gardeners, cattle producers, turfgrass managers, garden center employees, city employees, county agents, garden club members, and civic club members were trained in sustainable fire ant management. Seven additional sessions were conducted for the general public. County agents from 14 counties (Mobile, Baldwin, Randolph, Lee, Houston, Shelby, Monroe, Etowah, Madison, Montgomery, Colbert, Lauderdale, Marshall, Chambers) of the Alabama Cooperative Extension participated in the various training sessions, along with the principal investigators. Videoconferencing was used to bring the expertise of two Extension specialists from Texas A&M University to county agents and cattlemen in three Alabama counties. The presentations prepared for this training session were re-recorded by the Texas Cooperative Extension Service and distributed on DVD.

County agents from Houston and Henry Counties placed a fire ant exhibit at the Alabama Peanut Festival. 160,000 people attended the festival and had the opportunity to view the exhibit. Master Gardeners staffed the booth. County agents from Fayette and Lamar counties prepared an exhibit for a health fair at a farmer’s market. Two project participants staffed the fire ant booths at the Alabama National Fair and the Sunbelt Ag Expo, where an additional 10,000 publications were distributed.

2004:
In 2004, the final year of the project, principal investigators and county Extension agents continued to train new fire ant advisers. Educational programs were conducted for master gardeners, cattlemen, garden club members, civic clubs, youth, and other Extension agents. Fire ant management was also discussed at some restricted-use pesticide training sessions.A new fact sheet, Fire Ant Management in Cattle Operations, was published as a joint publication of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Texas Cooperative Extension Service. Results of a March 2004 survey of retail stores were published in April, “2004 Fire Ant Control Materials for Homeowners.”

Streaming video versions of fire ants videos produced in Alabama, as well as from other states, were added to the web site this year (www.aces.edu/dept/fireants). PowerPoint Presentations on fire ant biology, and on ant identification, were produced in cooperation with Alabama A&M University. They were sent to all county Extension offices, and to stakeholders at other southeastern Universities. These presentations have been used by the county Extension agents in fire ant education meetings, along with those produced in previous years.

Information packets on fire ants were sent to 690 stakeholders who had attended our fire ant train-the-trainer meetings in FY2002 and FY 2003. These stakeholders included master gardeners, certified crop advisers, cattlemen, and pesticide dealers. These packets provided the latest updates of our fire ant fact sheets.

On July 19-20, 20 Alabama Cooperative Extension System agents and five other stakeholders attended an In-Service Training that emphasized a bait-based approach to fire ant management. The workshop provided updates on new fire ant control materials, and information on how to set up a fire ant management demonstration. Most of the time was spent on getting the most out of a fire ant bait – application timing, choosing the right product, and most importantly, how to calibrate the bait spreader to deliver the correct amount of bait. Eighteen seeders are now available in Alabama for Extension agents and other stakeholders to use in applying fire ant bait.

Youth programs that featured fire ants and their management were conducted in Bullock and Baldwin, counties. Field demonstrations were conducted (Cleburne Co, Tallaposa Co., Etowah Co., Houston Co. (2), Henry Co. (2), Lee Co. (2), and Calhoun Co.) at sites such as nurseries, festival grounds, botanical gardens, pecan orchards, home lawns, and cattle ranches. All of these demonstrations used a sustainable, bait-based, approach. Agents prepared newspaper articles and conducted radio spots on fire ant management

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The tiered-training system, where project participants train level one trainers, who will then train more trainers (level 2)has been very successful. Our level one trainers take on more responsibility each year, and are finding new ways to use the materials developed in the course of this project. For example, in 2005, several of trainers are organizing a regional fire ant management workshop. 32 Alabama Cooperative Extension System agents are planning fire ant education programs for 2005.

The materials have been so successful that we are continuing to use them, well past the original planned dates of the grant (2001-2003). We are in the process of updating the fire ant video and the PowerPoint demonstrations.We documented that our projects increased the general level of knowledge of fire ant management by 29%, exceeding our goal of 20-25%. We estimate that stakeholders save about $1 million each year, by adopting sustainable fire ant management practices. The quality of life for farmers and for society as a whole has been enhanced by reducing the impact of fire ants on humans, lovestock, and wildlife.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.