Our intrepid, on-the-ground reporter, Phil Ridley, reports on the biggest event in the US industry calendar in this year: Pestworld 2019.  

“It’s not who you know but who knows you.” This was a grab from the talk given by keynote speaker, Richard Montanez, a high-level Vice President at Pepsico, which stuck in the mind of Marshall Blacklock from CDI Pest Management in Toowoomba, a first-time attendee of the Pestworld conference. It’s quite likely that some of the other 1500 attendees would have taken a different message from his presentation, but this is the beauty of such an extensive and varied conference as Pestworld – there’s something in it for everyone!

Pestworld is the US pest control industry’s main event and is run by their national industry body, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). The Pestworld conference always provides first-class education opportunities, a snapshot on the future of pest control and the chance to meet pest management professionals from around the world.

Pestworld 2019 in San Diego was no different, with delegates from 47 countries in attendance. Whilst the format has evolved over the years, the conference is divided into three main components: general sessions, educational talks, and the supplier exhibition.

The exhibition hall

The conference was opened by speeches from Dominique Stumpf, NPMA CEO and Ildem Bozkurt of Bayer Environmental Science. Ms Bozkurt highlighted that the increasing rate of change – from impacts of new legislation, climate changes and customer expectations – means the industry needs to be increasingly flexible, embracing innovation. Understanding and acting on these changing expectations are the key to success.

Pestworld always invites one or two high-profile keynote speakers from outside the pest control industry to share their experiences. Generally, attendees pick up several good work or life tips from these speakers who are chosen to provide motivational content.

Richard Montanez, a Vice President at Pepsico, recounted his life story from humble beginnings as a poor immigrant from Mexico. Despite being unable to read and write, his invention of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the popular spicy chips, led to enormous success. Mr Montanez avowed that being different was a good thing and that poverty does not have to hold you back; indeed, lack of resources is more than likely to drive innovation.

As always, the conference provides a number of quality talks from expert speakers. On the subject of ants, for example, Dr Robert Puckett from A&M Texas University presented on invasive ants, outlining the increasing problem with the tawny crazy ant (raspberry ant) in the US. Researchers and pest managers are evaluating alternative control techniques, such as using different spray products in combination and the use of baits around the property perimeter to intercept ants entering the yard. Maybe such techniques are worth evaluating in Australia for some of our invasive ants?

Professor Chow Yang, from the University of California, Riverside, discussed the latest developments in ant bait research, highlighting new formulation types (hydrogels) and the evaluation of food ingredients for actives and attractants, such as artificial sweeteners and monosodium glutamate (msg).

Professor Chow Yang presenting on the latest in ant bait research in the US

The extensive exhibition hall with over 150 exhibitors always provides great opportunities to learn and see the trends in the market. Open when education sessions are suspended, attendees can spend time in discussion with suppliers without fear of missing an interesting presentation. The unstoppable integration of technology into pest management services was evidenced by the large number of software companies and suppliers present. Professor Chow Yang also shared how in Asia, apps are being developed for the e-hailing of pest services – think Uber for pest control. Should this come to fruition, it will cause pest control companies to drastically rethink their business models.

Of course, attending an overseas conference is a chance for a bit of relaxation as well, not only as a tourist, but in using the opportunity to socialise with friends, old and new, in the pest management industry. With over 35 attendees from Australia and New Zealand, new relationships were made and cemented in both formal and informal events!

The Australian pest industry was well represented

Regular visitors and first-timers to Pestworld alike gain significant benefits and learnings to take back to their businesses at home. Mr Blacklock, as a first-timer, “found the conference great – lots of different products and ways of doing things. I would recommend for anyone to attend just to see what pest control in the US is like.” For a regular such as Jay Turner, from Laguna Pest Control in Noosa, the message is the same each year. “There is so much to be gained from these conferences, not just new products, new ideas, new information and new motivation, but new contacts and new lifelong friends.”

If you’re thinking about it, next year’s Pestworld will be in Nashville.

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