The awards keep coming for Dr. Mike Merchant as he received the District 4 Texas County Agricultural Agents Association’s Specialist of the Year Award during its annual meeting.
Merchant is a professor and Extension entomologist currently working at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas. He began his career as an entomologist in 1989 in District 4, which includes the Dallas area, where he started many outreach projects and programs in urban entomology.
Merchant was the original author of “Texas Two-Step” method of controlling fire ants that was developed in the early 1990s by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Since then, the publication has been the most frequently requested publication and is currently recognized as the most effective control program available in the nation.
In 1993, Merchant was chair of the statewide School IPM Advisory committee and was the principal drafter of the regulations that established the Texas School IPM program. Since then, he has created video training tapes and a handbook for school IPM coordinators.
Merchant and Dr. Don Renchie were awarded in 2001 with a multi-state grant to develop the Southwestern Technical Resource Center for IPM in Schools and Daycare Facilities. This grant helped to develop training materials and courses in integrated pest management for schools.
Merchant also led a team of entomologists to identify a new insect pest that was attacking crape myrtles in the southern United States in the past decade. He showed that neonicitinoid soil drenches controlled the scale and research has focused on the safe, effective, and economically feasible control solution that wouldn’t harm pollinators that use the plants as a source of pollen.
In addition to crape myrtle scale, Merchant has created an interactive website called Mosquito Safari to teach homeowners and businesses about proper mosquito control and has worked with Dr. Sonja Swiger to develop a statewide outreach program on controlling mosquitoes and prevention of the Zika virus in Texas.
Their efforts in control educational programming resulted in 339 educational events, training more than 140,000 people and making more than 2 million media contacts. More than 76,000 people received the Zika informational newsletters and 11,000 printed copies distributed throughout the state.
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.
“Mike is the very best Extension writer I’ve ever read. He provides the scientific information that is essential for credibility in an incredibly readable format. When he attends a conference and provides a recap, I feel like I was there taking notes,” said Laura Miller, County Extension Agent in Commerical Horticulture for Tarrant County. “His patience with questions is one of the best qualities an Extension Specialist could cultivate, and even though he is very busy, he takes time to address emerging insect issues from mosquito transmitted diseases to hackberry caterpillars.”