Friday, April 22, 2011

We Are Not the Enemy

A couple of days ago I attended a talk put on by the Canadian Cancer Society and Wildsight.  Their guest speaker was Paul Tukey, the head of Safe Lawns, an environmental organization out of the United States.   A screening of the film “A Chemical Reaction” which is produced by Paul was shown.  This film is about the by-law banning pesticides in Hudson, Quebec and the ensuing court case.   After the screening, Paul took questions about growing organic lawns and banning pesticides in Canada and the United States.

Wildsight Meeting
The imagery and message in the film make a compelling case to ban all pesticides.  Many of his points regarding organic gardening are worth pursuing for home owners.   The challenge for all of us is to remove ourselves from the emotional arguments and imagery that surround the issues of pesticides.  When the emotional issues are removed and sound scientific methods and facts are used, better decisions and debates are a result.  The use of science as a decision making tool should be applied to both sides of the pesticide debate. 
During the question and answer session Paul also stated that golf courses “are not the enemy.”  I thank Paul for that statement.  Often golf courses are used as examples of intensive pesticide usage.  One of the biggest challenges I have as a golf course Superintendent is the image that we are constantly spraying the golf course with pesticides.  At Greywolf, the majority of the time our sprayer is used, it is applying liquid foliar fertilizers to key areas on the golf course.  We use these foliar products because we can apply them directly to the turf.  There is no run-off of these products into the water shed and therefore less potential for environmental damage.  We applied these foliar fertilizers directly to the turf in the area we want to treat.  They are applied when weather conditions are appropriate further reducing the chances of run-off.   Another advantage is that these liquid fertilizers are less reliant on soil temperatures making them more useful to the turfgrass.    At Greywolf we often do not achieve soil temperatures that make traditional granular fertilizers available until June.  But most people associate a sprayer with pesticide usage and, thus golf courses often have an image of intensive pesticide usage.

I cannot say that we do not use pesticides at Greywolf.  We do.  But the imagery that golf courses are always using their sprayer and applying pesticides is a stereotype that is over used by environmental lobbyists.  In terms of pesticides usage at Greywolf in 2010, we used less than 20 litres of herbicide on the entire 220 acres golf course.  We did not spray one dandelion or clover plant on our golf course.   Do we have lots of dandelions and clover?  Yes.  Do they affect the way the golf course plays?  Very little.  We did not apply any insecticides or rodenticides in 2010.
We did apply fungicides.   Fungicides were only applied when there was a disease outbreak or disease pressures that would severely impact the turf on the golf course.  We use products that have been tested and registered by the government.  These products are applied by trained and licensed applicators. Like any business I work within the parameters of a budget and do not apply products just because the date is right on the calendar or I have one small patch of disease.  That is not sound ecologically and is not sound business.
Over simplification and generalization is another challenge coming out of meetings such as the one I attended the other day.   Speakers such as Paul will inform audiences that there are golf courses that are totally organic and do not use any pesticides.   For example Paul talked about the Vineyard Club in Massachusetts.   Most of the time audiences will assume that the programs at these golf courses can be applied easily and directly to other golf courses.  But do these clubs have the same growing environments?  Can the ideas and cultural practices at one golf course along the eastern sea board be applied to a golf course in the Rocky Mountain of B.C.?  Generally not.  The environment, growing conditions and types of turf are often completely different.  Yes, we can learn from other golf course and their cultural practices.  We can strive to improve these practices.  But what works at one golf course, may not work at the next.
I thank Paul for telling the audience that golf courses are not the enemy and challenging home owners and golf courses to improve.  I believe that as long as we stay away from the emotional arguments, use sound science, and continue to share ideas and try new cultural practices, we can improve our homes, our golf courses, and reduce our environmental impact.


  1. Nicely written Darren, I couldn't agree more.

  2. Well said. The unfortunate side of it is that the emotional combined with the political usually wins over the scientific.

  3. Darren,

    Love the post. Emotions are hard to compete with when it comes to pesticide use. I think we can all strive for reductions and this is a good thing...your point on differences based on geography, however is a key point. The Vineyards example is a good one, but their damage at specific times of the year would probably be unacceptable to most golfers but that's what they have to work with.

    Nice job!