Turf Magazine - August, 2014

DEPARTMENTS

Keeping It Green: Two Issues of Vital Concern

By Ron Hall

Two huge issues with serious ramifications for the green industry are generating calls for regulatory action. One is of national (oops, make that global) significance and the other is a regional matter. While both issues primarily target agriculture, they have the potentional to greatly affect many of our lawn service businesses, as well.

For that reason, both demand our attention. They should also remind us that as environmental stewards (in our case, urban and suburban environments) we must be extremely careful about how and where we use chemical products such as fertilizers and pest controls.

The first issue involves allegations that the use of neonicatinoid insecticides (neonics) is a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and is contributing to the decline of honeybee populations and bee kills in general. The evidence, to this point, is far from conclusive. Factors such as pathogens, parasites and loss of habitat have also been linked to declines in bee populations, and have periodically occurred even prior to the development and use of neonics.

In fact, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of beehives worldwide has been rising steadily since the 1990s. In the United States the number of beehive colonies has remained stable at about 2.5 million a year, even in the face of neonics usage, reports a recent article in Scientific American.

Neonics - so named because they are chemically active similar to nicotine and work on the nervous system of insects - have gained increasing use in agriculture and the green industry since the late 1990s. The neonic imidacloprid is now believed to be the most widely used insectide in the world. Those of us in the green industry know it as the branded product Merit. Other neonics are now used in agriculture and by us.

Because they are effective against a range of economically significant insect pests and show much lower toxicity in birds and mammels, they have largely replaced older and more toxic organophosphate and carbamate insecticides. This we applaud.

Even so, the controversy surrounding their use continues to intensify with efforts by some scientists and anti-pesticide groups to severely restrict or ban their use in agriculture. To this point, they have been most successful in Europe. This past December the European Commission banned the use of neonics for two years.

At our doorstep, anti-pesticide groups that were so successful in hamstringing the Canadian lawn care industry by convincing provincial and local governments to ban synthetic herbicides and insecticides are pressuring regulators there to turn their attention to neonic use in agriculture.

They are being encouraged and joined by activist organizations in the United States seeking similar scrutiny and regulatory action. To this point the U.S. EPA has not responded to calls to suspend the use of neonics. Instead it is continuing its "scientific evaluation on all neonecotinoid pesticides."

Chemical manufacturers, particularly Bayer Crop Science and Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc., are vigorously refuting the claims of anti-neonic activisits and defending this vital class of chemistry as they proactively seek to broaden research into bee health issues (Bayer) and restore bee habitat (Syngenta).

The second issue is a regional concern to the industry and a personal one for me. I'm referring to the incredible algae blooms that now develop and spread across huge portions of Lake Erie each summer.

You have probably heard about the city of Toledo, located in the far western basin of Lake Erie, being without water for a weekend earlier this month due to dangerous levels of toxic algae in its water supply. This is frightening to me.

I live in a small community 35 miles east of Toledo on Lake Erie's shoreline. I have lived practically my whole life within sight of the Lake. I've swam in it, fished in it, boated on it - and our community, like the city of Toledo, gets its drinking water from the Lake.

Thousands of acres of rich farmlands surround the watershed of the Maumee River, the largest river draining into the Great Lakes. Nutrients from these thousands of acres of corn and soybean fields, land that has been farmed since the mid-19th century are being fingered as the cause of much of the Lake's nutrient overload.

Alphabet-soup federal and state agencies have signaled they're going to impliment measures to try to reduce this nutrient overload problem and improve the Lake's health.

While agriculture will be their main focus, they will almost certainly be looking at lawn care as contributing to the algae problem.

We should all be aware of this issues and be ready to speak up before they become disasters for us.






Ron Hall
Editor-in-Chief

Agree? Disagree? Want to share your thoughts on this topic with Turf 's audience? Email Ron Hall at rhall@mrpllc.com.