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

2003 Annual 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

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


This project was designed to teach the principles of sustainable fire ant management. 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 (Thompson et al. 2002). 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. The first, because they advise so many homeowners on fire ant management. The second, because Alabama’s 4 million acres of grass pastures harbor approximately 160 million fire ant colonies.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The major participants and tier 1 trainees will use the newly developed teaching materials to instruct a second tier of trainers and stakeholders, including additional county agents, farmers and cooperative extension personnel, Master Gardeners, turfgrass managers, building industry personnel, cattlemen and Christmas tree growers.


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. A companion publication, Managing fire ants in cattle production systems was authored by specialists at Auburn University and Texas A&M University, and will be published in spring 2004.

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.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We did not continue pre- and post-testing in 2003, but assume that results were similar to 2002, when we increased the general level of knowledge of our fire ant management advisers by 29%.

We hope that each of our fire ant management advisers will help 20 others manage fire ants in a sustainable way (8800). We hope members of the general public who were trained will contact several of their neighbors (462). Of the 20,000 publications that were handed out, we hope that 4,000 will be read and cause individuals to change their fire ant management practices. This adds up to 13,262 people. Switching from crisis oriented fire ant management to a sustainable approach will reduce the amount of insecticides used to control fire ants. In addition, it will reduce costs per household from $100 to approximately $30. That would result in a cost savings of $928,340 ($13,262 X $70).


Rufina Navasero Ward

Research Assistant Professor
Alabama A & M University
Department of Plant and Soil Sciences
P. O. Box 1208
Normal, AL 35806
Office Phone: 2568584244
Kenneth Creel

County Extension Agent, Madison County
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Charles Stone Agricultural Service Center
819 Cook Avenue
Huntsville, AL 35801
Office Phone: 2565321578
Lawrence (Fudd) Graham

Alabama Fire Ant Management Program Coordinator
Auburn University
Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
301 Funchess Hall
Auburn University, AL 36849-5413
Office Phone: 3348442563
Kenneth Ward

Associate Professor of Forest IPM
Alabama A & M University
Department of Plant and Soil Sciences
P. O. Box 1208
Normal, AL 35762
Office Phone: 2568584249