Industry Advocate: The threat the uninformed could play to the green industry

October 23, 2022 -  By
Bob Mann headshot

Bob Mann

Anyone who applies pesticides for a fee must be licensed, and once you’ve attained that license, you must complete a certain amount of recertification training in order to maintain that license. Ongoing training is vital to keeping our industry on the cutting edge of horticultural advancements, the latest in technology and reinforcing safety when using pesticides.

Quite often, someone like me will speak at training events to emphasize the importance of being an advocate for the green industry. Folks in the green industry take tremendous pride in creating and maintaining landscapes for their customers to enjoy. And because of our training, we understand how to accomplish this in an environmentally responsible manner.

Uninformed policy

Unfortunately, we live in tumultuous political times. Mind you, I do not care where you fall on the political spectrum, nor do I care for whom you vote. Those two things are entirely your business. My concern is for the consequences of policy, not only for our industry but for agriculture in general. The sad fact is that the overwhelming majority of the American public has no idea how their food arrives at a supermarket.

As our nation became less agrarian and more urban during the 20th century, we have arrived at a point where we rely upon just a little more than 1 percent of our population to feed the other 99 percent of us.

While the number of farms declined sharply during the twentieth century, the number of acres in farming remained relatively stable. It’s what farmers have been able to do with those acres that allowed our society to thrive. Total agricultural output and productivity nearly tripled in the post-World War II era due to advances in equipment and technology, including the development of genetically modified crops, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Now, you know from attending recertification training that there are few commodities in the U.S. more strenuously regulated than pesticides. I know this firsthand in my work, traveling all over the country attending conferences where state and federal regulators interact with fertilizer and pesticide manufacturers, agricultural commodity groups, scientists and educators. These people are highly competent and care deeply about what they do, and I respect them greatly.

Not so silent minority

But there is a small and very loud minority of groups that vehemently oppose the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Despite the mountain of peer-reviewed research to the contrary, they dedicate every breath to the complete removal of these commodities. Those consequences can be catastrophic.

The nation of Sri Lanka decided to eliminate the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, causing a precipitous drop in crop yields. This calamity was so profound that it caused the government to topple. Policy really does matter because the consequences to society can be painful.

Recently, opinion pieces targeting lawns and their maintenance have been popping up in major newspapers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. While anti-lawn activism is nothing new, there are two things that are different about these latest salvos.

First is timing; usually, diatribes about lawns come in the spring in the form of things like “No Mow May” or pleas to save the dandelions. What was different this time was the inclusion of both political and socio-economic arguments that focused upon summer drought conditions and water use, raw appeals to emotion, as well as calls to remove lawns from American life in a time of climate emergency.

I disagreed with what they had to say but was very much impressed by how professionally the pieces were produced. But make no mistake, these opinion pieces have no balance in the form of opposing voices. Why should they? They’re the opinions of the authors. Our efforts to publish a rebuttal in each newspaper were, unsurprisingly, ignored.

Where am I going with this? Many Americans have no firsthand experience with pesticides. This means that the only pesticide applicators they encounter are those of us in the green industry and those in the pest control industry. Are we doing all that we can to ensure that we demonstrate professionalism? Are we effectively communicating the benefits of proper pesticide use? Are we standing up and defending our industry?

While I like to believe that we are, we can always do better. And if we expect our industry to thrive, we are going to have to do more.

This article is tagged with and posted in Business, From the Magazine, October 2022

About the Author:

Bob Mann, LIC, formerly the agronomist for Lawn Dawg, is the director of state and local government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

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