OSU researchers use Twitter in the field

June 2, 2009

AURORA, Ore. – The tweet came as a text message from what a growing number of nursery owners know as "the shop of little horrors."

"Honeylocust plant bug nymphs found today. The cryptic green bugs hide well."

Cryptic, yes, but nursery workers in the field know what to do next. Short and pithy, this Twitter message that came in under the limit of 140 characters had just enough information to alert Oregon nursery workers – most who are toiling far away from a computer – to look for evidence of the nymph and to search online later for descriptions and photos.

Oregon State University pest expert Robin Rosetta sends tweets on a daily basis to alert her fellow researchers and growers in the Pacific Northwest about plant pests. The OSU Extension Service horticulturist calls her work with pesky insects "the shop of little horrors."

Rosetta, who works at OSU's North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, introduced Twitter less than two months ago and now has a modest but growing following of 27 subscribers in the nursery industry and related fields. While in the field or a lab, they can check their cell phones and use the free social network to communicate quickly about the latest pest problems. Their tweets often are like these:

  • "Speckled green fruitworm is dining on plants currently."

  • "David reports aphids on dwarf Alberta spruce."

  • "Woodburn weevil feeding damage showing up on lower leaves. Anyone spot adult black vine weevils yet?"

  • "Might be good to check for pear leaf blister mite, which is active."

"It's hard for a talker like me to use Twitter," Rosetta said with a laugh, "because it is the ultimate editor" with its 140-character limit. Her followers are all novices to Twitter, but she hopes they will continue to describe what they find in the field and take quick action to prevent pest problems.

OSU entomologist Jim Young is sharing his observations and appreciates the tweets of others. "It's is good to know quickly what is happening on the pathogen side as well as the concerns of the nursery industry," he said.

Jay Pscheidt, OSU Extension plant pathology specialist, is an active subscriber. "People get a good laugh when my phone dings and I say I have a twitter from Robin," he said. "Many times our OSU disease garden farm is the first to see the development of particular plant diseases. Getting that information out quickly allows others to scout for the disease and take action before the problem develops on their farm or nursery."

Nurseries in the area are becoming familiar with the new Twitter Web site @PNWNurseryIPM for brief alerts and the more extensive Pacific Northwest Nursery IPM Web site for the latest on IPM practices. IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management, an approach to pest control that encourages sound, effective practices while minimizing damage to the environment.

"I'm finding Twitter really speeds up and enhances communication on pest activity," Rosetta said. "It is so helpful to catch things early while there are more options for control and less damage. We will see if this new technology is a fad or a keeper soon enough.

"It will be interesting to see if it can be used for more than just banalities," she laughed.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Robin Rosetta