Insect infestations in our homes – think thousands of cockroaches or bedbugs – can trigger a host of emotional responses.
In addition to embarrassment, those pests contaminating our living spaces can leave people feeling ashamed, defeated, and tainted.
The age-old clash between bugs and humans drives Dini Miller. The entomologist is impassioned about making life better for anyone tormented by pest infestations. Through her practical research and educational efforts, she is working hard to ensure that insects don’t make us feel like guests in our own homes.
Miller, urban pest management specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension and a professor of entomology in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is conducting a year-long experiment in two states that could all but eradicate German cockroach infestations in multi-unit housing communities and transform standard pest-management protocols.
“Much of my work through the Dodson Urban Pest Management Laboratory is focused on eliminating pest problems in underrepresented communities. I would like to change the way that pest control is handled in public housing. A lot of people are living with a lot of cockroaches, and they don’t need to be. This problem, we can solve,” said Miller.
Each month, she travels to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) communities in Richmond and Hopewell, Virginia, and Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where she is engaged in an assessment-based program to treat homes infested with large numbers of cockroaches.
In Rocky Mount, a sleepy southern town once known for its tobacco and textiles, just an hour east of Raleigh, Miller is working to make life better for residents in 31 test homes. Her success, less than 10 months into the experiment, has made her a champion to residents including Sharon Jones.
Jones resides in a one-story, ranch-style duplex in a Rocky Mount HUD community.
“Once the cockroaches showed up, they multiplied quickly,” said Jones, a retired grandmother who has lived in her home for 16 years. “One Thanksgiving, I was cooking and they were so bad I couldn’t leave the food on my stove for a moment. I had to put everything on a table in the middle of the living room to try to protect it.”
In the middle of the night, Jones would awaken to find hundreds of cockroaches swarming across her sink and washing machine. In the morning, she often discovered the pests in her breakfast cereal.
Jones’ neighbor and friend Tomeika Ferrell experienced such a severe infestation that she feared her lease would be terminated when the number of cockroaches prevented building managers from painting her apartment despite monthly insecticide treatments by a local HUD-contracted pest control company.
“The exterminators made me feel like I was a bad housekeeper, like I wasn’t cleaning,” said Ferrell, a mother of three, whose home is welcoming and lovingly decorated with artwork and textiles. “My daughter has bad asthma and was experiencing an allergic reaction. I cleaned so often that I almost took the paint off of the counters. Nothing helped. Then, when the exterminators sprayed, the problem seemed to get worse, and I worried about how the chemicals would impact my daughter.”
Prior to exterminations, residents are asked to clean their homes, wash dishes, remove trash, and vacuum. They are also expected to remove all of their belongings from closets, cupboards, and other areas targeted for insecticide, such as the top of refrigerators, stoves, and other large appliances.
“Residents have to go through this process routinely, often weeks before the pest control company visits since they don’t know the exact date,” said Miller. “They have nowhere to put their belongings. But, the worst part is that when conditions aren’t perfect, the residents are blamed for the pests. The excuse is always that they didn’t prepare properly for treatment. It’s unfair, and it’s putting the blame in the wrong place.”
Miller’s protocol requires no prior cleaning, no spray insecticides, and is ingenious in its practical simplicity. Best of all, residents are not required to change their living habits in any way.
The entomologist places sticky traps in each unit the day before treatment. The next day, she counts the number of cockroaches in order to quantify how much bait to place in each apartment. She and her team then place bait containing an insecticide throughout the units, focusing on areas where the insects congregate.
“We used this process to save time,” said Miller. “Wax paper squares worked best for massive bait distribution. You can put them into cracks and crevices without contaminating anything. We found that even when attractive foods, such as pizza, are left out in the apartments, the cockroaches still eat the bait.”
Miller’s assessment-based, decision-making methodology – quantifying the number of cockroaches prior to treatment and utilizing a food bait rather than pesticide spray to kill the cockroaches – is innovative. Best of all, it’s working. In Rocky Mount, cockroaches have been completely eliminated in the test units. Hopewell has had a 99.7 percent reduction in cockroaches, while Richmond populations have decreased by more than 98.9 percent.
Although her method requires more time and money at the outset, it offers a greater reward: fewer roaches and fewer treatments over time, not to mention happier residents. This is the message she wishes to impart to HUD officials, apartment managers, and pest control operators. Buoyed by her success, and by the relief of her residents, Miller is now working to develop a new set of standards and a check list for pest control contracts in HUD communities across the country.
“There are two issues: the practical side (baiting), and the political side (how contracts are written for pest management companies),” said Tim Kring, head of the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology. “Unless HUD requires its managers to adopt the new guidelines, this will be a slow process.
“As people are forced to change, they will change. It’s easy to see that Dr. Miller’s protocol is better. But, it costs more. And, under the current HUD guidelines, spraying is the most economical treatment – but, it has not controlled the problem,” said Kring.
In the meantime, Miller has made life better for residents, whose relief is palpable. Ferrell has not seen a roach in months. She also reported that her daughter’s asthma has improved.
“This process has eased my mind so much,” said Ferrell. “Now, I can have company over and cook without worrying that roaches will jump on them. It’s much happier around here. I finally feel comfortable in my own home.”
Ferrell is joined by a chorus of satisfied residents, including Sharon Jones; Lakeyshia Mayo, a mother of one; and Marcia Simms, a Jamaican-American mother of four – in addition to residents in Hopewell and Richmond, Virginia.
“The change has been dramatic, and I didn’t have to remove anything from my home,” said Simms. “I was skeptical at first when I didn’t see any spray or chemicals, but whatever Dr. Miller is doing is revolutionary. I’m so appreciative to have been on her list. If there’s a Grammy Award, she deserves it.”
Miller may not qualify for a Grammy, but something even better is in the works. This summer, the Urban Pest Management Program received an endowment that will help ensure that work of this caliber will continue for many years to come.
In June, Joe and Mary Wilson, of Fredericksburg, Virginia established the Joseph R. and Mary W. Wilson Endowed Urban Entomology Professorship. Wilson is the former owner of PermaTreat Pest Control, a leading pest control company located in Central and Northern Virginia. The endowment will support urban entomology research – research that promises to lead to the types of discoveries that underpin Miller’s work.
“This gift is truly transformational to our program at Virginia Tech,” said Kring. “There is a void in basic foundational research for urban pest management. We want to expand our program by adding a research component to our toolbox in order to pioneer next-step treatment options for indoor pests. No insecticide lasts forever. So, coming up with a new tool requires research.”
— Written by Amy Painter
Paul Rogers Jr., of Wakefield, Virginia — a former member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and strong supporter of the university’s agricultural technology program — has been selected as state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.
Rogers has had a long and successful farming career and an equally extensive and rewarding avocation as a youth league and high school baseball coach.
Rogers joins nine other individuals as finalists for the overall award that will be announced on Oct. 16 at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Georgia.
A modest individual, Rogers runs a farm encompassing 1,680 acres of open land. He rents 1,122 acres, owns 558 acres of open land, and also owns 499 acres of timber.
“I’m just a humble man who tills the soil,” he said.
Rogers has chaired an advisory board for the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center. He’s on an advisory board for Virginia Agricultural Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) and served on an advisory board for groundwater management in eastern Virginia. He served on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors while president of the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
He has been a director of the Peanut Growers Cooperative Marketing Association, the Virginia Crop Improvement Association, the Virginia Cotton Board, the Virginia Corn Board, the Virginia Corn Growers Association, the Colonial Agricultural Education Foundation, and the Virginia Agribusiness Council. He also took part in leadership programs offered by the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute.
“It is a pleasure to recognize Paul Rogers this year,” said Bobby Grisso, associate director of Virginia Cooperative Extension. “He is a hard-working famer, serves the community, university, and the state, and is a leader whose actions are committed to agriculture.”
Among the crops Rogers raises is Virginia-type “ballpark” peanuts, and he receives premiums for jumbo and fancy peanut kernels. Having coached baseball for more than 50 years, it’s appropriate that Rogers grows ballpark peanuts.
A baseball coach at Tidewater Academy since 2005, his team won a state championship in 2013. He has long been active as a coach and director of youth baseball in Wakefield. Recently, the town named its youth league baseball fields after Rogers, and in 2004, his former players placed a plaque in his honor at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
“My professional goals are more than the bottom line,” he said. He keeps his farm profitable, but said, “I am guided by my passion to be a role model as a father, coach, and mentor and to give back to the field of agriculture. My wife Pam and I have incorporated this passion into our lifestyles.”
Rogers said he has matured as a farmer and business owner by serving on many boards and organizations. He appreciates his family for keeping the farm running during his absences.
As the Virginia winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Rogers will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida; a $500 gift certificate from Southern States cooperative; and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner.
Previous state winners from Virginia include Nelson Gardner, of Bridgewater, 1990; Russell Inskeep, of Culpepper, 1991; Harry Bennett, of Covington, 1992; Hilton Hudson, of Alton, 1993; Buck McCann, of Carson, 1994; George M. Ashman Jr., of Amelia, 1995; Bill Blalock, of Baskerville, 1996; G.H. Peery III, of Ceres, 1997; James Bennett, of Red House, 1998; Ernest Copenhaver, of Meadowview, 1999; John Davis, of Port Royal, 2000; James Huffard III, of Crockett, 2001; J. Hudson Reese, of Scottsburg, 2002; Charles Parkerson, of Suffolk, 2003; Lance Everett, of Stony Creek, 2004; Monk Sanford, of Orange, 2005; Paul House, of Nokesville, 2006; Steve Berryman, of Surry, 2007; Tim Sutphin, of Dublin, 2008; Billy Bain, of Dinwiddie, 2009; Wallick Harding, of Jetersville, 2010; Donald Horsley, of Virginia Beach, 2011; Maxwell Watkins, of Sutherland, 2012; Lin Jones, of New Canton, 2013; Robert T. “Tom” Nixon II, of Rapidan, 2014; Donald Turner, of North Dinwiddie, 2015; Tyler Wegmeyer, of Hamilton, 2016; and Robert Mills Jr., of Callands, 2017.
Virginia has had three overall winners, Nelson Gardner, of Bridgewater, 1990; Charles Parkerson, of Suffolk, 2003; and Robert Mills Jr., of Callands, 2017.
Farming analogies roll off Inga Haugen’s tongue like hay bales off a baler.
“I love baling and stacking hay bales. Do you have any that I can stack? Sometimes I just miss it!,” said Haugen, the University Libraries’ liaison librarian for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Baling hay, milking cows, and enjoying wide-open spaces are part of Haugen’s history.
She grew up with her two brothers, Olaf and Thor, on Springside Farm near Canton in southern Minnesota. Her father, Vance Haugen, was an Extension agent for the University of Wisconsin, and her mother, Bonnie, ran their 100-head dairy farm. Her family also owns a 160-acre farm near Oklee in northern Minnesota, a century farm that has been in the Haugen family for more than 100 years. “It’s called Apocalypse Acres, because my dad always said we’d get crops off of it three years out of 10,” joked Inga.
As a library liaison for the college, she provides workshops and services for College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty, including those in the Agricultural Research and Extension Centers (AREC) across Virginia. Throughout the year, she visits the ARECs to provide updates from Newman Library and offer information about research data management, new library resources, and potential collaborations with Haugen’s library colleagues in digital libraries, research impact, data services, and the library studios.
“I love them best, these are my people,” said Haugen. “I understand their needs and can help them with their important work. Growing up on the farm, I saw first-hand the importance of ARECs. The information that they provide farmers could mean the difference between a red bottom line and a black bottom line in a farm’s checkbook,” said Haugen.
Haugen’s recent travels took her to Hampton and the waterfront Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center (VSAREC) where the Hampton River opens to the James. There, she taught a workshop about the new search tool Discovery Search, digital object identifiers to track impact of published research, citation management tools, and opportunities to collaborate with the University Libraries’ studios, such as the data visualization studio.
In turn, she learned about the latest research being conducted in their labs. Graduate student Sam Ratcliff described his research in shrimp reproduction that could potentially cut hatchery costs in half for the ornamental shrimp industry. The VSAREC is known for its conservation projects, seafood quality and safety expertise, and applied marine hatchery research and extension that all directly support the Virginia seafood industry — a growing industry that employs close to 7,000 Virginians.
Her second stop of the two-day trip was the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SPAREC) in Blackstone. There, center director Carol Wilkinson, Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics faculty member Ford Ramsey, and Haugen discussed a collaborative research project that utilizes the center’s 30 years of data about flue-cured tobacco, also known internationally as Virginia tobacco.
Haugen’s goal is to take that data, currently in paper form, and transform it to digital files stored in VTechData in order to make it more accessible for future researchers.
When Haugen learned about Ramsey’s research interest, she suggested that he visit the SPAREC and meet Wilkinson. Haugen knew about the unique and precious data he was searching for because she was making plans to digitize it.
Wilkinson and Ramsey discussed the best way to gather information from the tobacco production data and explored possible research collaborations. “I met Inga and mentioned my interest in studying historical tobacco variety trials. Someone in my position would never think to come out here. This is invaluable,” said Ramsey.
Wilkinson and Haugen have worked together on a variety of projects, including new areas of research in industrial hemp.
“The University Libraries is central to anything I want to do,” said Wilkinson. “All of a sudden I have to learn about hemp. ‘Inga, where do I find information about industrial hemp?’ Her answer is always ‘I can help you with that.’ Inga has broadened my horizons about all of the things my librarians can do.”
– Written by Ann Brown
Twenty miles east of Senegal’s capital city, hundreds of guests arrived in Senegal’s newest city, Diamniadio, for the grand event.
Youth photographers snapped pictures of the guests before they strolled down the green carpet. In fact, the stars of this event included the entire guest list — the dedicated volunteers, leaders, partners, and participants who support the engagement of Senegal’s youth in the country’s economic growth.
On May 22, the Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED) officially launched its newest project, Feed the Future Senegal Jeunesse en Agriculture (Youth in Agriculture), at the Centre International de Conférences Abdou Diouf in Diamniadio.
Funded by USAID, the five-year, $4 million project will carry on the work of the CIRED-led Education and Research in Agriculture (ERA) project in Senegal by expanding 4-H clubs across the country and institutionalizing positive youth development (PYD) nationally. The project will also work with vocational training institutions to strengthen their connections to private-sector actors and markets, including the piloting of innovative approaches for creating entrepreneurship and income-generating opportunities for youth.
Youth who work with the ERA project hosted the ceremony, which featured adult and youth speakers representing Virginia Tech, USAID/Senegal, and the government of Senegal, as well as Senegalese agricultural institutions and women’s food processing platforms. Guests were also treated to video highlights, commemorative photos, and a “wall of fame,” a display in which participants wrote messages in support of the project. Staff from Virginia Cooperative Extension were on hand to provide support for many of the activities.
“With a focus on the next generation of farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs, Feed the Future Senegal Jeunesse en Agriculture will help build a prosperous future for all Senegalese,” said Kitty Andang, USAID/Senegal deputy mission director, during the ceremony. “Jeunesse en Agriculture will increase youth participation in Senegal’s economic growth by implementing a positive youth development program, already launched as part of the first phase of Feed the Future in Senegal.”
In 2015, the 4-H Senegal PYD program was established in Toubacouta, south of the capital of Dakar, as part of the ERA project. Modeled after the 4-H Youth Development program of the Cooperative Extension Service and land-grant university system in the U.S., the 4-H program in Senegal has already attracted more than 600 members.
“With the launch of Feed the Future Senegal Jeunesse en Agriculture, CIRED redoubles its commitment to helping youth around the world to become thriving, confident, and skilled actors in economic growth,” said Van Crowder, executive director of CIRED, part of Outreach and International Affairs. “Jeunesse en Agriculture is another testament of CIRED’s commitment to link Virginia Tech to the world through innovative research, partnership, and collaboration.”
“This project fits squarely within the priorities of the government of Senegal and of USAID, both of which realize the importance of engaging young people in positive youth development and agricultural entrepreneurship. As a result, this launch event has generated a lot of buzz, and expectations are high,” said Tom Archibald, project director and assistant professor. “We really look forward to achieving meaningful positive impacts in the lives of thousands of young people across Senegal, which can also provide lessons to share with other development projects across West Africa and around the globe.”
Fatou Diouf, a student at the Institute for Advanced Agricultural and Rural Training in Bambey, Senegal, and a member of 4-H Senegal, delivered an impassioned speech during the ceremony. “We are proud to celebrate the launch of the project, because we remain convinced that a project cannot be more useful than one that serves humanity,” Diouf said. “This ambitious program, implemented by passionate and unselfish actors, is a model for the path to development.”
Jeunesse en Agriculture will remain housed under ERA during the project’s first year. Subsequently, the project headquarters will be embedded within the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation’s new offices in Diamniadio as well as in the regional offices of the national PYD program within universities.
– Written by April Raphiou