By Scott Meers, Insect Management Specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
My role as an entomologist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development consists largely of counting insects. We monitor the populations of seven different species on a provincial scale and several more on either an ad hoc or regional basis. We also carry out surveillance for potential new insect pests in crops. It is important to note that Alberta is a relatively large place, ranging 1066 km south to north and is 466 km at the widest. There are over 10,000,000 ha of land devoted to crop production. We do our monitoring work with two permanent staff and 2 to 3 summer students.
The first thing that becomes obvious is that we can’t do this work by travelling the entire expanse of the province. So we must communicate with those that are out in the fields and capture the results of their “footprints in the field”. Through various reporting systems we have had good success in developing a representative monitoring system. Check out our homepage at www.agriculture.alberta.ca/bugs-pest.
So where does Twitter fit in? In the two years that we have been using twitter we have collected nearly 800 farm related followers. Twitter is a great place to announce the results of our findings. If a set of traps or online reporting systems are reporting a concern we tweet it. The impact is instantaneous and widespread. Followers retweet (it is common for our in-season tweets to have 5 or more retweets), they ask questions, they check their fields and they let us know if their findings match ours. Talk about impact and talk about a reality check, it is awesome. We can then improve the quality and accuracy of the information we present.
We announce our new extension materials on Twitter. If we have a new You Tube video, radio broadcast (weekly during the growing season), new web page or even a chnage to our homepage, we tweet it. It is at least part of the reason we have over 2,000 hits on how to put together our Bertha Armyworm traps (we only put out 200 sets of traps across the province in 2012).
A big part of integrated pest management is the timing of insect activity. We have models for some insects and when they are supposed to be in their active scouting stage we tweet about it. Again instant feed-back! This helps us adjust and time our monitoring efforts to maximum efficiency. For those insects we don’t have models for we suggest timings based on experience. Agrologists and farmers tell us when they start seeing them. Again, awesome! Through Twitter we know when and where insects are showing up across the province. I am happy to retweet any credible source on insect activity and give credit where credit is due. A couple examples of this revolve around an outbreak of bertha armyworm (BAW) (Mamestra configurata) in central Alberta in 2012.
One case involves a comment about BAW in corn which is very unusual, partially because we have very little corn, and partially because BAW generally feeds on broadleaved plants. The conversation drew the attention of neighbors that were growing corn and they asked to see the field while we were inspecting it. The bottom line: the BAW laid their eggs on lambsquarters which was uncontrolled under the canopy. The neighbors that had control of the lambsquarters had no BAW. Thanks to @landrashewski.
The second case was BAW in field peas, another relatively rare situation. The pictures tell the story though. There was substantial damage. If we have another BAW outbreak we will be sure to encourage producers to check their pea fields as well. Thanks to @Klams81.
Surveillance is where Twitter really shines. Last year I didn’t keep track of the requests for ID via Twitter but it was constant throughout the summer. There was a trend and repeats to the requests and there were questions about insects that we seldom see but were more common in 2012. Twitter gives us a chance to be in fields virtually. This a huge advantage because we can’t always be there in person.
We have also used Twitter to help us find fields to survey and to get permission from producers to access their fields. In addition we have recruited help from agrologists and farmers through Twitter. When we ask they are often happy to help us because they have been following us and the work we are doing. We also have several examples of people joining our monitoring network because of finding us on Twitter.
In short, Twitter is a valuable tool for monitoring insects in our program. We use it extensively. We welcome everything from the virtual coffee shop conversations to the private requests for identification. Twitter is, and will continue to be, an integral part of how we monitor insects in Alberta crops. It is good to be a part of the community and to give and receive in equal measure. We are looking forward to seeing what Twitter will bring in the new crop year!