GAINESVILLE — The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) will create a new network focused on finding novel ways to manage bugs and pests in homes and businesses, known as the Innovation Hub for Urban Pest Management.
Designed to further position UF/IFAS as a leader in the pest management industry, the initiative will receive strategic funding of $985,000 over three years from the office of UF President Ben Sasse.
The Hub will have two objectives: to develop the workforce in the urban pest management industry and to provide new solutions to urgent pest and public health problems through research and new technology. The initiative is expected to be financially self-sustaining after the currently funded three years.
“The Innovation Hub for Urban Pest Management will not only help create jobs throughout the state, but it will also improve public health,” Sasse said. “This is such a powerful opportunity to enhance our faculty entomology programs for the benefit of Florida’s citizens.”
The Hub will support the training of more pest management professionals and develop tools for those professionals to use against current and emerging pest problems, said Robert Gilbert, the UF/IFAS dean for research.
“The Hub will support this $2.2-billion Florida industry, build the workforce and create stronger industry partnerships, and better control for existing and new invasive pests,” Gilbert said.
The initiative will also support undergraduate and graduate students through tailored internships and additional instructional courses in a new online specialization, which will launch in the fall of 2024. The fully online urban pest management specialization will be offered within UF’s entomology major, preparing students for careers in the industry and providing a foundation in insect biology, applied entomology and business.
“Our department has very strong ties to this industry, and this track was designed with feedback from industry partners who hire our graduates,” said Andrew Short, the chair of the UF entomology and nematology department. “Students on this track may go on to establish their own pest management companies or serve in management or leadership positions in the industry, so having business coursework is especially relevant.”
In addition, certificate programs will allow non-UF students to access the expertise of UF professors, as well as provide industry-wide networking and partnership opportunities.
The Hub will be administered through the UF entomology and nematology department, and it will include faculty from the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center and the Invasion Science Research Institute.
This initiative is particularly relevant in Florida, as recent industry studies on urban pest management have found that there is not enough skilled labor – from certificate-level technicians to future company executives – in the field to meet the demand for pest management statewide.
According to a 2023 Pest Control Technology magazine report, two-fifths of pest control service providers did not have enough workers to meet this demand. As detailed in another report from the magazine, the growth of the pest control industry means more of a demand for urban entomologists’ work – yet the number of scientists has not increased, due to a need for resources.
There is also a constant need for Florida’s pest management professionals to be equipped with the best tools to fight back against an ever-changing host of invasive species in Florida’s notoriously buggy urban environment. The prevalence of termites, tick-borne diseases and pathogens spread from flies, and pesticide resistance from species like German cockroaches, are all concerns that will be researched at the Hub to develop more effective control strategies.
UF already has a stellar track record of innovation and workforce development in the urban pest management industry.
For example, UF is home to the invention of Sentricon®, a termite bait whose creator, Nan-Yao Su, was inducted into the Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame.
The Hub initiative will continue to elevate UF’s position as a research leader in the pest management industry throughout the entire state.