Dr Phil Ridley reviews PestWorld 2023, the annual pest conference run by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) in the US.
PestWorld is generally considered to be the leading pest industry conference globally, partly due to its size, but partly because, as a general rule, many innovations are launched in the US market first. PestWorld is an experience and learning opportunity, and all Australian pest managers should certainly consider attending at least once. Hopefully this review will give you a flavour of what PestWorld is all about.
Due to its grand scale of operation, PestWorld has the opportunity to provide conference activities that smaller conferences can only dream of. With over 3000 delegates, including 600 from the nearly 200 exhibitors, the conference has a significant budget to provide a wide range of events and educational sessions. Being the 90th anniversary of the NPMA, they wanted to put on a good show this year in particular.
As always, PestWorld opened at lunchtime on the first day. In addition to the formal speeches, the opening ceremony featured an impressive cultural display from traditional Hawaiian fire knife dancers. This was immediately followed by the opening of the exhibit hall in what was probably the busiest day for suppliers, as the majority of delegates headed to the exhibition hall to see what’s new and catch up with old friends.
Although there were nearly 200 exhibitors in attendance, the Hawaii conference is always a bit smaller than conferences on the US mainland. Nevertheless, all the main suppliers were present as well as a range of medium-sized and smaller companies, from the US and around the world. Although there is always the anticipation that there will be a number of new products or pieces of equipment on show, the conference this year seem a bit lacking in innovation. What was apparent was the large number of software companies present, covering a wide range of services – business management, scheduling, marketing and more.
Speakers and educational sessions
PestWorld normally invest one or two keynote speakers. Typically the speakers are not from the pest control industry, often being some kind of motivational speaker. With the US currently seeming to admire everything Australian, it was perhaps no surprise that one of the keynote speakers was Sebastian Terry. Born in Sydney but now living in Los Angeles, Mr Terry spoke about his background and how he arrived at his bucket list brand, 100 Things. His key message was that passion inspires passion, in what he calls “the passion effect”. Committing to goals you believe in or are passionate about is essential for success. Sharing these goals and working together significantly increases the chances of success. He encouraged delegates to set both personal and business goals and not put it off until tomorrow. Commit!
At PestWorld no educational sessions are held when the exhibition hall is open, so suppliers and delegates alike have the opportunity to attend the talks. When the educational sessions were running there were often six streams, so delegates were certainly spoilt for choice. There were a range of talks from university academics, industry experts and suppliers on pest behaviour and biology, control techniques and business management. Here are a few highlights from some of the talks.
The latest on bed bugs
Professor Chow-Yang Lee from the University of Riverside in California presented on bed bugs – still a big issue in the US and increasing globally. With insecticide resistance a very serious issue in bed bug populations, Prof Lee covered the various resistance mechanisms and outlined which products appeared to be the best options for bed bug management. Pyrethroid/neonicotinoid combinations deliver the best results, but it is essential to add piperonyl butoxide (PBO) to the mix. A range of new innovations were also presented. Of the pyrethroids, the newer pyrethroid metofluthrin, with its fluorinated carbon ring, appears to overcome the kdr resistance mechanism. The number of dust products on the market is increasing, with one option – ChinChex, which is based on silica – delivering 100% control of resistant bed bugs.
In terms of innovations in the termite market, fluid or semi-solid baits that can be injected into workings are in development. The idea here is that the bait can be delivered to the feeding sites quickly without the need for unsightly above-ground bait stations, which continually remind customers they have a termite problem.
Improving misting best practice
From an equipment point of view, there was an interesting presentation that focused on the use of battery-powered misters, instead of petrol-powered misters, for mosquito control. They are proving to be lighter and more accurate, meaning less insecticide use and less drift, as well as savings on petrol and oil. From an environmental standpoint they create less noise pollution as well.
From a regulatory point of view, it is always interesting to keep tabs on what is happening in the US, as changes there may impact the Australian market in the future. Spray drift from mosquito misting applications is firmly in the sights of regulators. Spray drift from mosquito applications can impact non-target animals, including pollinators, and contaminate water bodies. Technically speaking, if the application drifts onto a neighbouring property, you are applying a pesticide without their consent. Being aware of wind speed and applying to hedges at an angle (rather than perpendicular, when it could more readily pass through to the other side) and applying larger droplets at a reduced velocity help to minimise spray drift.
Rodenticide review – in progress
Of particular regulatory importance is the ongoing rodenticide review by the EPA. A proposed interim decision (PID) regarding 11 rodenticides under review (three first-generation anticoagulants, four second-generation anticoagulants and four non-coagulant rodenticides) was issued at the end of 2022. It included a range of health and environmental mitigation measures. The suggested mitigation measures included a range of actions regarding access and application, but also required increased PPE for handling loose formulations and the need for carcass removal, both of which are seen as problematic. The industry has provided feedback on the proposed interim decision and a final interim decision is expected sometime between now and September 2024.
AI and ChatGPT
A number of talks focused on business management with the talks on marketing and AI particularly well attended. The clear message for pest management companies was to embrace AI, keep up to speed with the new technology and learn how to use it – ignore it and you will be left behind. Learning to use ChatGPT is a good starting point, but it’s not the only option to help create content i.e. copy, photos and video. The key word here is ‘help’. AI can help businesses, but users need to know how to use it correctly, review content for accuracy, modify as appropriate and ensure it does not infringe any copyright.
Of course, conferences aren’t all work; a range of social events both formal and informal took place. Formal events included the International Reception sponsored by Orkin, where a large number of the 400 international delegates (from 50 countries) attended; the “In the Mix” reception – just an excuse for a get-together at Maui Brewing Company (sponsored by Target Speciality Products, FieldRoutes, FMC and Corteva); and also the closing party hosting by MGK. The Hawaii conference is always well attended by Australian and New Zealand delegates, so the socialising continued long after the formal events had finished!
Next year’s PestWorld is in Denver from 22-25 October. It may not be as warm as Hawaii, but it’s certainly a great place to visit and is an ideal opportunity to combine business with pleasure. There’s no need to wait for PestWorld to return to Hawaii.