October 2007 // Volume 45 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW5

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Rapid Delivery of Regional Pest Alerts Using an Interactive Internet Site

A Web site/email-based pest alert system was developed to notify people interested in crop production of pest outbreaks or forecasts of outbreaks. When pest outbreaks are confirmed or predicted, an email notification is immediately sent to subscribers. Links to pest management information are included. In 2006, the service had 465 subscribers and 31,000 Web visits. As a result of this service, an average of 11% of subscribers reduced the number of sprays applied to their crops, and 54% of all subscribers increased field scouting to document pest levels. This system has helped increase the adoption of IPM practices.

Jerry D. Neufeld
Professor and Extension Educator, Canyon County
University of Idaho
Caldwell, Idaho

Steve J. Reddy
Extension Educator
University of Idaho
Weiser, Idaho

Jeffrey S. Miller
Extension Specialist
University of Idaho
Aberdeen, Idaho

Cedric A. Shock
Research Aide
Oregon State University
Ontario, Oregon

Lynn Jensen
Extension Specialist
Oregon State University
Ontario, Oregon

Nora L. Olsen
Extension Specialist
University of Idaho
Twin Falls, Idaho

William Bohl
Extension Educator for Potatoes
University of Idaho
Blackfoot, Idaho

Bryan Hopkins
Extension Specialist
University of Idaho
Idaho Falls, Idaho

Clinton C. Shock
Professor and Superintendent
Oregon State University
Malheur Experiment Station, Ontario, Oregon


One of the largest contiguous irrigated agricultural production regions in the Pacific Northwest is the Treasure Valley of southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon. This valley supports the production, processing, and marketing of many crops. The farm gate value of crop production in the Treasure Valley is approximately $772 million annually. Adding the value of farm gate potato sales from all of Idaho to the total crop production sales in the Treasure Valley totals to over 1.33 billion dollars annually.

Delivery of timely crop production information to growers and field representatives in the Treasure Valley is difficult because of distinct geographical divisions, political boundaries, and the wide diversity of crops and cropping systems. Although effective newsletters are published regularly by Extension educators for onions, potatoes, forage seeds, and other crops, growers and field representatives did not previously have timely access to pest outbreak information (pest means insects, diseases, or any other agent adversely affecting crops).

It is impossible for industry field representatives or Extension educators to have knowledge of all the pest conditions that exist over all the crops produced throughout this area. Therefore, the objective of this Extension program was to create an Internet Web site whereby growers, field representatives, and university personnel could rapidly disseminate information to the production agriculture community regarding pest outbreaks.

Beginning in the 1990's, Internet Web sites and email distribution lists were seen as tools that could be used by Extension faculty to disseminate information about agricultural pests. Web sites like the North Central Integrated Pest Management Center <http://ncipmc.org/index.cfm> contain a great deal of production information about crops and a list of pest alerts. However, you must actively seek the information to use it. Another Web site, <http://www.sripm.org/virginia/> uses a process whereby pest updates are compiled and distributed via email on a weekly basis (Malone, Herbert, & Kuhar, 2005). Again, users must actively access the Web site to get pest information or wait for the weekly email to see if information of interest has been posted.

Educational Program

TVPestAlert.net was designed to be a passive system (very little effort required by the user) informing the user about pest outbreaks immediately as information becomes available. The desired outcome of this effort was to increase communication and provide educational information to growers and field representatives for managing pests. The success of TVPestAlert.net was such that crop producers across southern Idaho asked for the service to be expanded to their regions. The URL PNWPestAlert.net (for Pacific Northwest) was added to the site in 2004 to encourage subscribers from outside the Treasure Valley to join. TV/PNWPestAlert.net is a collaborative effort between Extension educators, specialists, and researchers at the University of Idaho and Oregon State University (hereafter referred to as the "administrative team").

New Web site users subscribe to TV/PNWPestAlert.net without cost by choosing the "Join Mail Lists" feature on the home page. New users enter their name and email address and then select crops of interest to them. Subscribers are automatically sent email notices whenever alerts have been posted concerning crops they have chosen. Only then do they need to visit the Web site.

The pest alert process begins when a message about a pest is received by either telephone, facsimile, or email at the Idaho or Oregon Cooperative Extension office of an administrative team member. The message is then routed to the administrative team member responsible for the crop mentioned in the message. Next, the information contained in the message is verified, and, if needed, more information is gathered. Following verification, an alert is written and uploaded to the homepage of the Web site, and email notices are automatically generated and sent to the appropriate subscribers. Alerts are posted on an as needed basis, not on a calendar basis.

The software used for the TV/PNWPestalert Web site is a custom Web-based application written in the PHP programming language. The application utilizes the sendmail functions built into PHP. The program generates a list of email recipients from a back-end database store of user email addresses and preferences (e.g., location, crop selection) that utilizes the MySQL database engine. It uses the Web-server's mail-transfer software (Qmail) to distribute the emails to their end-points. To date, the authors are not aware of any problems with spam filters sending email alerts to "junk mail" folders. However, there is the possibility this could happen depending on the practices for identifying "junk mail" used by each Web site subscriber.

Each alert provides basic information on the pest and may provide short, concise pest management recommendations. For additional management information, the user is referred to reference pages that have been developed for that particular pest. Reference pages contain educational information such as the pest's common name, scientific name, life cycle, identification, and research-based control measures. Reference pages are updated annually by the administrative team to ensure the pages contain the latest management information and links to additional Web pages containing science-based information on pest management.

Alerts can confirm verified pest problems (Figure 1) or provide forecast information on anticipated pest problems (Figure 2). Confirmation alerts list the crop affected, the pest, the general location, and information about the pest problem. Forecasting alerts, based on growing degree-day models inform growers about pest problems that are predicted to occur in the near future.

Figure 1.
Alert Confirming a Pest Outbreak

Figure 2.
Alert Forecasting a Pest Outbreak


During the 2001 growing season, there were 114 Web site subscribers and 5,899 Web site visits. By the end of 2006, there were 465 subscribers and nearly 31,000 Web site visits. Approximately 71% of the Web site's subscribers are either commodity growers or involved in the allied agricultural industry (Figure 3).

Figure 3.
Percentage of TV/PNWPestAlert.net Subscribers by Occupational Category

Following the 2003 growing season, the authors began distributing an annual electronic survey through the Web site. We ask subscribers to describe the impact the Web site has had on their pest management decisions. On average, 10.6% of Web site subscribers were able to reduce the number of sprays applied to their crops (Table 1). In addition, 54.0% of Web site subscribers increased their use of field scouting to document pest levels before implementing control measures. These evaluation numbers indicate TV/PNWPestAlert.net is increasing the number of growers in Idaho and Oregon who are employing IPM practices into their agricultural operations.

Table 1.
Crop Management Actions Taken by TV/PNWPestAlert.net Subscribers after Receiving Pest Alert Information

I increased my field scouting to document the pest level in my fields.51.0%60.4%50.654.0%
A spray I applied was more effective due to the timeliness of the application.32.7%22.4%28.227.8%
I was able to reduce the number of sprays applied to my crops.10.2%10.3%11.310.6%


Timely awareness of pest outbreaks creates more opportunities for growers to explore the available resources available for pest control. From an environmental, worker safety, and production standpoint, TV/PNWPestAlert.net is creating more judicious use of crop protection chemicals. Overall, Web site subscribers are using more IPM practices, and pesticide stewardship is being enhanced by the implementation of this project.


Malone, S., Herbert, D. A., & Kuhar, T. (2005). An online survey process for assessing impact of an email-delivered pest advisory. Journal of Extension [Online], 43(5) Article 5RIB2. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2005october/rb2.shtml