By Brandon Gallagher Watson
Today’s arborists have more knowledge available to them than any other time in history. But whether it’s a new climbing technique, an updated pest treatment protocol, or a new piece of application equipment, how does the scholarly tree guy/gal stay abreast of all the latest relevant information?
The first answer for most folks is the Internet. Many tree questions can be answered these days with a quick Google search. Not sure if chestnut blight has a treatment option? Google ‘chestnut blight treatment’ and you’ll return a plethora of “.edu” and “.com” websites offering info on treatments. Some sites exist to simply disseminate information, others are designed solely to promote and sell a particular option. In general, “.edu” websites are run by universities, and will have solid information on biology of the pest and the host. Images, life cycles, scientific names, biology and history/scope of the problem can all be gleaned from .edu sites on well-organized web pages. These sites are often great places to start when you want to learn the basic science of the issue, and they also give a good snapshot of the current scientific understanding of the management recommendations.
Broadly speaking, university and extension websites shy away from making specific management recommendations as they never want to appear to be endorsing a commercial product or brand name. The industry joke of university recommendations is “fertilize to increase vigor” for every tree health problem. Sometimes they will recommend a certain active ingredient, which can quickly be Googled to find brand names, but rarely will they provide management specifics such as application rates and timing info. Do be a little careful when obtaining treatment recommendations from these sites as they are not always updated with the most current information. For specific application info you can find labels and MSDS info online for pretty much every product available. Many good tree health care manufacturers have quality websites that provide pest and rate information, and might also have application tutorials on using their products. It should be expected that most commercial websites will have brand positioning favorable to their product over competitors products, but being able to filter through marketing claims for the facts is a skill all consumers should employ no matter what product or service they are researching.
The interactive web
Arborist forum websites are a perfect place to ask fellow practitioners about their experiences and get recommendations on practices and services that they have tried. Active message board forums can answer everything from “What’s wrong with this maple?” to “How do I hire quality seasonal help?” and are a great place to share photos and stories with tree folks from around the country. Following manufacturers, tree companies, scientists and writers on Facebook and Twitter is another way to stay up on the most current discussions relevant to arborists. To keep up on any news or new information on a particular issue you can set up Google Alerts to ping you anytime new information is available. Simply type “alerts” into Google, and then you can set any term about which you want new information. Set up an alert for “emerald ash borer” or “oak wilt,” and Google will send you an e-mail with links to sites and news articles that are relevant to your term. This service also helps give a national perspective on these issues as the results come from all across the internet.
Get out and meet people
While the Internet is a great source for learning and staying on top of new advances in the industry, talking with fellow arborists face to face is equally valuable. Attending the national trade shows, such as the annual ISA and TCIA events, are a great way to meet with folks from across the country. These shows have the presentations and breakout sessions to learn from researchers, industry scientists and top arborists. If you can’t make it to the national shows, then definitely plan on attending the regional shows and conferences. Not only are these events great resources for learning and earning the requisite CEUs, but the value of networking with other like-minded professionals cannot be overstated.
Demo days, product spotlights and seminars put on by manufacturers or distributors are sometimes the best resource for practical information you can immediately apply to your business. Although these tend be thinly veiled advertisements, they can also be great venues to learn about products and application techniques from the people who know them best. The better ones contain more operationally relevant information than you would ever get at a trade association conference. University and Extension offices are rich with general management information, but are usually poor with specifics. Few, if any, will provide management information as finite as “use this many ounces of this product in this much water and apply at this time.” Assuredly, you will not receive insight on the going rate to price these services in your area from an academic source, so having an industry expert of whom you can ask these types of questions can be quite valuable.
Get the science from the source
One resource we have not yet discussed for staying current on emerging pest management information is peer-reviewed scientific publications. These sources can found by subscribing to journals relevant to our industry or by utilizing online scientific journal search engines. Many of these search sites will allow you to view abstracts of articles, but to view the entire article you often need to be a subscriber. Google Scholar is an easy way to search for abstracts of papers and — depending on the rules of the publishing journal — full papers as well. Scientific papers are an excellent source for trials that compare products, application methods, rates, timing, etc., from several manufacturers and are, quite often, the latest industry advances available.
There is no shortage of information available these days and certainly no shortage of ways to access it. A tech-savvy arborist can be standing in front of an ailing tree and Googling possible causes and treatments from their phone. However, remember that the client can likely be doing the same thing. Being an arborist is not just about being able to access the information about tree care, but having the education, training and experience to make management recommendations based on this information. Staying current on emerging problems, solutions and management practices is vital to the value you bring to your clients and the value our industry as a whole provides.
Brandon Gallagher Watson is communication director at Rainbow Treecare Scientific Advancements, and is an ISA Certified Arborist (#MN-4086A).