The pesticide safety specialist would not be a drawing card as a speaker in most states. This is not most states. This is Indiana, and the director of Purdue Pesticide Programs is unique. If you have ever been to one of Fred Whitford’s talks, you know he is unique.
No one sleeps when Whitford is in charge. You’re afraid to. You just might wake up to find Whitford glaring over you, asking you some question on the topic that you have no idea how to answer, with dozens of your friends and farmer peers looking on.
Whitford is featured on the Website this week driving home points about getting better herbicide performance through paying attention to water quality. But there is much more to Whitford than just talking about pesticide safety and effectiveness.
Former College of Agriculture Dean Vic Lechtenberg hired Fred Whitford in 1991, and gave him latitude to develop the pesticide training program. It was not long after the start of certification for farmers to buy restricted pesticides. The Dean charged him with developing a program that was so good it could be adopted nationally. In fact, other states have taken advantage and to some degree copied what Indiana, led by Whitford, has done in this area.
Here are five things you may not know about America’s funniest ag pesticide safety presenter.
1. His mom is a bar maid!
And that’s not all. She is 91 years old, living in Leesville, La. “She still works 40 hours a week,” Fred says. “That’s where my siblings and I learned to work hard - from the example set by my mom. I try to tell her she’s getting too old to do what she does, lifting cases and such. She tells me it’s not a problem, because she gets her customers to do it for her!"
2. 5,000 and counting!
Whitford has delivered 5,000 presentations since he came to Purdue on all kinds of topics related to pesticides. “The Dean gave me a lot of latitude, and I’ve taken advantage of it,” he says. He gives presentations across the country. Any honorariums he receives go back in the Pesticide Program. “It’s my personal choice of how to do things,” he says.
3. He once was a regulator!
One reason Whitford can give so many tips about how to understand and work with regulators is because he once was one. He worked for an elected politician in Louisiana for five years in the pesticide field, carrying out work similar to that largely done in Indiana by regulators in the Office of the State Chemist.
“I didn’t mind working for a politician,” he says. “In that system if there were disputes, the case went before the Commissioner and it was decided. In some ways I prefer to that to a bureaucracy where the parties don’t always have as clear a chance to present their case.”
4. Pickup spy!
To get pictures for a publication he did on safe towing and securing loads, Whitford would walk through parking lots outside farmer meetings, carrying his camera and looking into the back of farmer pickups. He found enough examples, both good and bad, of straps and chains in various conditions to fill the publication. “One farmer saw me looking into his bed one day and taking pictures, and he wasn’t too pleased,” Fred recalls.
5. Fred the author
Whitford has authored or co-authored five books, mostly through Purdue University press, with more coming. This doesn’t count roughly 100 Extension publications he has published on pesticide –related topics. The first two dealt with pesticide topics directly. Since then he has branched into uncovering and capturing the history of key leaders and Extension people at Purdue and throughout the state. Here are books by Fred so far: The Complete Federal and State Compliance Guide for Hoosier Businesses, Purdue press, ’01; The Complete Book on Pesticide Management, Science, Regulation, Stewardship and Communication, Wiley and Sons, ’02; The Grand Old Man of Purdue University and Indiana Agriculture- A Biography of William Carroll Latta, Purdue Press, ’05; The Queen of American Agriculture, A Biography of Virginia Claypool Meredith, Purdue Press, ’08; For the Good of the Farmer, A biography of John Harrison Skinner, Dean of Purdue Agriculture, Purdue Press. In addition, a new book comes out this year. It’s a photo history of Indiana’s early Extension agents. He is already well into his next book on pioneering county agents, which should also come out from Purdue Press late this year.