This project helped increase the agricultural community’s understanding and use of biological weed control as a sustainable weed control tactic. The result was achieved through the writing and publishing of articles distributed to hundreds of newspapers and agricultural publications in the four-state project area (Montana, Washington, Idaho and Colorado). Targeted bio-control advertising increased on-farm income and bio-control awareness.
Chemical weed control applicators and dealers lacked interest in alternatives to chemical control, despite significant economic incentives offered through this project, illustrating a strong reluctance to try new control tactics.
Meanwhile, three field days held in Park County, Montana, were resoundingly successful. Participants received fact sheets on biological weed control and hands-on education with live bio-control insects. Each participant received, free of charge, hundreds of bio-control agents for spotted knapweed to try on their own weed infestations.
The use of biological control insects is relatively novel in the agricultural community. Developing markets for the insects requires the education of potential customers, namely ranchers, weed control professionals and agricultural chemical dealers. The objective of this project was to increase the agricultural community’s understanding and use of biological weed control insects as a sustainable tactic. It would do this by developing and implementing a biological weed control education and awareness program.
The anticipated results of this project included:
1. Increase the project coordinator’s farm income by expanding insect sales
2. Increase rancher awareness of biological weed control
3. Increase the number of ranchers using this least-toxic control tactic
4. Reduce rancher reliance on herbicides
5. Encourage ranchers to try raising insects to increase their income
6. Increase the number of chemical control practitioners familiar with bio-control
7. Provide an economic incentive for applicators and dealers who successfully promote bio-control
8. Provide field day participants with both experience and insects
After the first field season, the project was deemed to have increased the agricultural community’s understanding and use of biological weed control. Articles were written and distributed to hundreds of newspapers and agricultural publications in the project target area of Montana, Colorado, Idaho and Washington. Some articles were general in nature, covering the basic practice of biological weed control. Others were specific to a particular target weed, describing the use of currently available biological control insects against host weed species. The articles and accompanying photographs appeared to be well received by the newspaper editors and readers.
During the second field season, emphasis was placed on display advertising targeted to specific communities in the four states. Response, as measured by the Poritz farm’s insect sales, varied widely, with low response in Colorado, high response in Montana and moderate response in Washington and Idaho.
The response of chemical dealers and applicators was disappointing. In the four-state project area, hundreds were contacted and provided with educational materials on biological controls, along with economic incentives for recommending their use. Only two applicators followed up with questions.
“The lack of interest on the part of the chemical control community to alternatives to herbicides illustrates a reluctance to try new control tactics,” said Poritz.
In contrast, three field days in Park County, Montana, were successful. In July 2002, nearly 40 ranchers and farmers attended. All participants received fact sheets on biological weed control as well as 200 to 300 spotted knapweed flower head weevils, at no charge, to release on their own weed infestations.
Two outreach seminars were held in 2003, one in May at the Gamble Ranch in Paradise Valley, the other in August at Wilsall Fire Hall in Shields Valley. Both were well attended by local ranchers as well as a few chemical control applicators. In the second seminar, more than 2,000 knapweed root weevils were provided, free, to participants.
BENEFITS FOR AGRICULTURE
The adoption of biological control methods against exotic range and pasture weeds is significant. Ranchers and farmers who understand and utilize biological weed control tactics reduce their agriculture expenses and use of and reliance on herbicides. Given the vastness of the weed problems in the Western United States, the project provided a small but lasting economic and environmental benefit to producers and society.
“We learned that communities can show strong response to adopt biological weed control when creative writing, advertising and field outreach activities increase public awareness,” said Poritz. “This positive public response has helped in a small way improve our farm’s income and certainly helped build constructive customer relationships.”
The number of landowners and ranchers who use biological control has increased because of the educational activities in this grant. Poritz said he believes that additional producers will adopt bio-control as an alternative to herbicides. However, he remained puzzled that chemical applicators and dealers failed to respond to the project’s economic incentives for adopting bio-control.
REACTIONS FROM PRODUCERS
Poritz says he has received positive responses from producers, newspaper editors and agricultural professionals, evidence his efforts are being well received.
RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
Poritz recommends that others interested in conducting a similar project plan to write news articles and display advertising during the slow winter season, allowing scheduling of publication when weed control is on people’s minds.
In addition to the outreach described above, Poritz has developed a trade show exhibit that presents information on biological weed control. It was used during the winter 2003 Montana and Idaho weed control conferences. Further use was planned for 2004.
Among the headlines on the news articles were these:
Thousand-year-old Weed Control Solution Revealed
Canada Thistle: Our Worst Weed?
Good Bugs vs. Bad Weeds: Weevils Battle Knapweed
Knapweed’s Worst Nightmare