John Jackman, 2008 Friends of IPM Award Winner
Extension specialists in the 1970s could count on spending long days in the field after a warm spell signaled the near end of winter. Anticipating the arrival of numerous pest species, growers and Extension personnel began their scouting, preparing for the time those species would reach their thresholds. But in 1977, Texas entomologist John Jackman introduced a tool that would eventually change the way Texas Extension personnel work with growers on their pest problems: a personal computer, complete with software that could help predict when pest outbreaks would occur.
Few Extension offices had access to computers before the early 1980s, much less any that weighed less than 200 pounds. Not only did Jackman find funds to buy 4 IBM 5100s—one of the first portable computers, even before the IBM PC—to house at the campus and at 3 Texas district Extension offices, but he also loaded them with a special cotton bollworm prediction software that he had designed. In addition, he provided training on how to use it. Although skeptical at first, the faculty and staff in Texas A&M’s Entomology Department gradually adopted his futuristic vision, adopting Internet technology years before other universities began to explore it. For his technological talent, training skill and population modeling expertise, Jackman received the first Friends of IPM Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Lifetime Achievement award recognizes a person who has made significant contributions over several years to integrated pest management in the southern region.
Jackman has been dedicated to IPM since the beginning of his career at Michigan State University, where he specialized in population modeling. Rather than solving difficult prediction equations by hand, Jackman explored how he could use a computer to plug in numbers and get results. His experiments were unusual for an entomologist; at the time, most computers were only available by using bulky terminals that filled part of an office and were used by computer scientists but not typically by biological scientists.
When Jackman left Michigan State in 1976 to continue his career at Texas A&M, it was not unusual that the faculty and Extension specialists performed all of their calculations with a hand calculator and used paper notebooks to record field notes. Determined to provide his colleagues with the same ease and accuracy he had found with automating complex calculations, Jackman began exploring ways to bring technology to Extension offices without crowding out personnel.
“I was writing computer applications for personal computers, based on the idea that we would have them in the future,” said Jackman
By the next year several Extension offices had their own “personal computer”—five years before the IPM PC was available for public purchase.
In 1995 Jackman’s automated programs took another turn—towards the World Wide Web. Even the most skeptical of Jackman’s colleagues could see the potential of reaching millions of people, anywhere in the world. Educational websites could provide information about IPM. Divisions within the Entomology Department could market their programs to new students or clients. Even more appealing was the fact that publishing on the Web was relatively inexpensive: the price included a server and part of someone’s time.
“The websites are done on a shoestring budget,” Jackman says. “Everyone contributes content to the website or finances to the web resources.”
Of the 34 websites that Jackman has developed and hosts on his server, he independently maintains only 2 of them: Vegetable IPM and Biocontrol for Weeds. The others are under the care of the group that requested them, after Jackman gives a thorough training on how to edit and update the information. Some of the websites receive millions of visits a year; many of them have received awards. The website for the Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project, for instance, is one of the more heavily visited sites, accounting for at least one-third of the total hits for all of the Entomology Department’s websites.
According to his colleagues, Jackman’s scholarship in IPM and ability to communicate to a broad range of audiences have led to the success of the websites.
“John’s impact on IPM has been through individual contributions in biocontrol of weeds, public education through his books and website activities,” said Marvin Harris, a long-time Texas A&M entomology faculty member and researcher. “[It is] especially important through his collaboration with and facilitation of a wide range of programs, from fire ants to invasive plant species to pecans, where his unique expertise and congenial support were instrumental in the development, conduct and delivery of the research in an IPM context to stakeholders.”
Jackman says that his background in population modeling has played a part in several projects, not only in developing the website but also assisting in developing prediction models. One of those projects involved developing a population prediction model for pecan casebearer—a serious pest for Texas pecan growers. Jackman worked on two separate projects—one with Harris and another with extension specialist Allen Knutson—with the goal of reducing pecan casebearer populations by timing their larval development.
“We’re making changes in how we do prediction,” Jackman says. “We used to start our predictions based on calculations from frost-free days. Allen came up with the pheromone trap. Now we do the biofix based on when we catch moths in the traps, which is not confounded by the weather.”
Although neither the Biocontrol for Weeds nor the Vegetable IPM websites involve forecasting, Jackman says his interest in each in strong enough for him to maintain them himself, despite his dwindling free time to spend on them. The weed biocontrol website includes lists of both rangeland and aquatic weeds, each definition cross-referenced with lists of biocontrol options. The vegetable IPM site includes cross-referenced indexes as well, with lists of publications and resources for homeowners.
When he’s away from his computer, Jackman has a myriad of other interests that keep him busy. One of those primary interests is in teaching, which Jackman can readily do for most nature-based topics. According to Harris, teaching comes quite easily to Jackman. Besides being involved with 4-H programs, Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists Jackman is an expert fly-fishing instructor, emphasizing how insect life stages affect fishing success. He also serves as a pest survey and detection liaison with USDA-APHIS. Harris says that there is not much about the natural world that Jackman does not know.
“John is a premier biologist who understands natural systems and is able to apply them to solve problems to protect human valued resources,” says Harris.
But the quality that makes Jackman stand out from many others is the ease with which he works with people. Harris says that Jackman dedicates himself to whatever project he works on, and when he is familiar with the topic, he contributes significantly to the project. The end result is a Web site that is thorough, easily navigable and pleasant to view.
“When he’s working with you on something, you can be sure that he’s going to deliver,” says Harris.