n Jan. 2, 2017, in Amarillo, Texas, four children died and five others were hospitalized after a pesticide, previously applied, was sprayed with water under their mobile home, which produced a toxic phosphine gas.
Accidents like this and many others can easily be avoided if Texas’ residents are properly educated on correct storage, use and disposal of pesticides.
In an effort to begin to properly inform Texans on safe use of agricultural and household pesticides, the Texas Department of Agriculture has partnered with Texas Tech University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources from 2018-2020.
Texas Tech was a natural choice…
The TDA-funded project, Pestisafe: Developing a social marketing campaign promoting Texan’s safe use of pesticides, was brought to Texas Tech by alumnus Dan Hunter, who serves as assistant commissioner for water and rural affairs for TDA.“Texas Tech was a natural choice because of the ties to agriculture and the great work they are doing in agricultural communications,” Hunter said. “We want to make sure that there is greater public awareness of how to handle and take care of pesticides. The incident near Amarillo highlighted the need for this campaign.”
Texas Tech’s CASNR has included their students in this project by using the campaigns class in the senior-level, agricultural communications block. The 51 block students were broken up into 10 different groups to create campaign plans for pesticide outreach and education tailored to various target audiences. Some of these target audiences include pesticide disposal for crop producers, pesticide use and storage for suburbanites, and pesticide education for ages 10 and under.
Erica Irlbeck, Ed.D., campaigns class professor and assistant professor of agricultural communications, said TDA is glad to have students involved in this project.
“TDA is excited about getting some young ideas into their marketing efforts,” Irlbeck said. “They’re really pleased to have students helping them with this because [the block students] have really great, fun ideas.”
Irlbeck has been teaching campaigns as a service-learning class, which means that students work with a client in the community, for the past 10 years. During the spring 2017 and 2018 semesters, the classes have created campaigns for the department of agricultural education and communications to assist in meeting marketing needs. This semester is different because TDA is not a local client.
“I think it’s a neat opportunity because they’re getting to work with a state agency,” Irlbeck said, “and that’s something that we haven’t done before. It also helps the students to understand a state agency.”
Irlbeck said this semester is also different and special because she has 51 students in the class.
“There are so many of you,” Irlbeck said. “In the past two semesters, there were only five or six groups, and I nearly doubled that. That’s a lot of really cool ideas. [TDA] won’t use everything we send them, but there will be plenty of stuff and ideas to choose from, so that’s exciting.”
Nan Li, Ph.D., assistant professor of agricultural communications, is one of the Texas Tech leaders of the Pestisafe project. Li said she thinks this is a unique chance for agricultural communications students.
“We are trying to be a little creative in a sense that, number one, we want to turn this into a long-term social media plan to really help TDA establish some central themes, cool messages and videos that they can send out to a wide audience,” Li said. “We also want to turn this into a learning opportunity for our students because you guys are terrific. You have the knowledge. You have the skills. You know how to do things.”
Students are using their design skills in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Lightroom to create pesticide educational and promotional materials. They are also using their knowledge of writing, video, photography and research to create an efficient campaign marketing plan for TDA.
Irlbeck said she thinks students will greatly benefit from the research component of the campaign plan. For students to develop their plan, Irlbeck and Li said they will be distributing a survey to Texas residents composed of questions derived from student’s research to help students better understand public perception and knowledge of pesticides.
“It’s important for students to know that conducting research in some capacity is really important for any campaign,” Irlbeck said, “because if you’re not making informed decisions about your campaign, then you’re investing a lot of money based on anecdotal evidence. It’s really important to collect some data with your target audience before you spend the money to purchase design or any other activity.”
After research is conducted, students will begin to use their other skills to produce educational and promotional materials. Irlbeck said her expectations are high for her senior-level, agricultural communications students.
“The main thing is creative and innovative ideas,” Irlbeck said. “I’m expecting a cohesive package from the students targeted at whoever they’re supposed to target. I just want some new and different ideas that TDA hasn’t thought of doing before.”
Once research, educational materials, surveys and campaign plans are completed, the products will be shared with TDA.
Hunter, assistant commissioner for TDA, said he hopes that because of this project, accidents, like the one in Amarillo, will be avoided.
“My expectations for this project is that we will have a heightened awareness for pesticide safety,” Hunter said.