The Department of Entomology would like to congratulate Professor and AgriLife Extension Specialist Dr. Mike Merchant for receiving the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Superior Service Award for Distinguished Career during a ceremony in Bryan on January 9.
Merchant received the award for his outstanding service and commitment to the field of urban entomology for 28 years serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He started as an entomologist in 1989 in the District 4 offices and has been instrumental in starting many important outreach projects and programs in urban entomology.
His career highlights started in 1993 when Merchant was named Chair of the statewide School IPM Advisory Committee. As chair, Merchant served as principal drafter of the original regulations establishing the Texas School IPM program. Since then, he has created video training tapes and wrote a handbook for school IPM coordinators, and a training conference.
In 2001, Merchant and Program Leader and Extension Specialist Dr. Don Renchie were awarded a multi-state grant in to develop the Southwestern Technical Resource Center for IPM in Schools and Daycare Facilities. The grant also allowed Merchant to hire Extension Program Specialist Janet Hurley to help create the Texas School IPM Team, which gained national recognition for their outstanding work developing training materials and courses in integrated pest management for schools.
“The fact that school IPM has been around for over 22 years as an unfunded mandate and still has positive impacts to show is impressive,” Hurley said. “Again he was very instrumental in the rules, but also developed the ABC’s of IPM videos, which are on YouTube.”
In the early 1990’s Merchant was the author of the original fact sheet for the “Texas Two-Step” method of controlling fire ants that was developed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The sheet was the most frequently requested publication from 1995-1997 and is now being used by commercial fire ant bait manufacturers and is recognized as the most effective control program available in the nation.
Over the past decade, Merchant led a team of entomologists to identify a new insect pest of crape myrtle, officially named the crape myrtle bark scale or Eriococcus lagerstroemiae. The scale has now spread throughout the southern U.S. Merchant demonstrate that neonicotinoid soil drenches controlled the scale, and his research has focused on safe andeffective methods of controlthat are also safe, economically feasible, and do not adversely impact pollinators who use crape myrtle as a source of pollen in the late summer.
In 2003, Merchant along with colleagues Drs. John Jackman and Carlos Bogran developed the Master Volunteer Specialist in Entomology program. This training consists of a course which offers in-depth training in entomology to Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists and created an online outreach tool for professionals and general public called Insects in the City. He also oversaw the renovation project in 2016 that eventually became the Texas IPM House, which is a hands-on training facility for pest management professionals to learn about IPM and pests that invade homes or used structures as a source of food and shelter.
Merchant also created an interactive website called “Mosquito Safari” to help teach homeowners and businesses about proper mosquito control. During the emergence of the Zika virus, Merchant worked with Dr. Sonja Swiger to develop a statewide outreach program to educate about controlling mosquitoes and prevention of Zika in Texas. In 2016, they enlisted the help of several Extension agents, specialists, and program specialists to create and distribute materials.
Their efforts in mosquito control educational programming resulted in 339 education events, directly training nearly 140,000 people plus over 2 million media contacts engaged with the programs. In addition, 76,400 people received newsletters with Zika information and more than 11,000 printed copies were distributed throughout the state.
“Mike is patient and kind and one of the best mentors I have ever had,” Hurley said. “There are times Mike and I agree to disagree, but that is rare. He is a friend, a mentor and a coworker and someone I am so blessed to call a friend. I truly want everyone to know that Mike has done a lot over his career with AgriLife Extension.”