Four University of Georgia Extension agents have been collectively awarded this year’s Urban Agriculture Education Award from the Georgia Urban Ag Council, a statewide association for professionals involved in all sectors of the urban agriculture industry.
The award is typically given to one UGA Extension agent who developed and implemented an innovative and successful educational and applied research program to support the professionals in Georgia's urban agriculture industry. Together, the agents developed Green University, an annual program targeted at green industry professionals in northwest Georgia.
Northwest Georgia agents working together
Agents who planned the training event include Keith Mickler, agricultural and natural resources agent and county Extension coordinator in Floyd County; Rolando Orellana, agricultural and natural resources agent in north Fulton County; Paul Pugliese, agricultural and natural resources agent in Bartow County; and Mary Carol Sheffield, agriculture and natural resources and county Extension coordinator in Paulding County.
The joint training venture was Sheffield’s idea. “I’ve been hosting green industry updates for several years in Paulding County, but we revamped as ‘Green University’ a few years ago to help give the training a clearer connection to UGA Extension and the university research behind the trainings,” she said.
The agents decided to focus the training on pesticide safety, selection, handling and proper application after receiving numerous homeowner samples from within their respective counties indicating injury to landscapes by pesticide applications made by industry professionals.
“Home landscapes are a valuable asset to home values, and homeowners don’t always understand the complexity of managing them. Urban ag professionals who invest the time to attend trainings are more able to help educate their clients on important management practices and are less likely to make mistakes or cause damage to homeowners’ landscapes,” Sheffield said.
Teaching the proper way to use pesticides
The Green University, held Jan. 15, 2014, focused on the effects of phenoxy herbicides (like 2,4-D) on trees and shrubs, detailed the potential for injury and highlighted possible liability should these herbicides be used incorrectly.
“When it comes to weed control, green industry professionals get a lot of information from product marketing,” Sheffield said. “To make sure they know the latest research-based information, we taught them how to choose appropriate pesticides for turf weed management and to rotate active ingredient and pesticide classes to maximize weed control.”
Thirty-one professionals from seven metro-Atlanta and northwest Georgia counties attended the training. Of those, 19 received Georgia commercial pesticide applicators' continuing education credits, one received Alabama commercial pesticide applicators’ continuing education credits and nine received continuing education units for International Society of Arboriculture arborist certifications.
Pre- and post-tests show the attendees are now better equipped to reduce injury to trees and shrubs from turf-applied herbicides, to reduce the potential for resistance in weeds through proper herbicide selection, to practice safe work habits and to use soil testing appropriately in northwest Georgia landscapes.
Participant and certified arborist Randy Cooper admitted thinking pesticide damage from phenoxy chemicals was caused by aerial drift. “I did not consider that phenoxy chemicals could harm plants through root absorption. This class added to my knowledge and diagnostic skills as an arborist and a consultant. To me, this is Extension as it was intended to be,” he said.
For information on trainings offered by your local UGA Extension office, call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.