Vol. 06 Issue 2, Spring 2001
Gregory B. Frank
President, New York State Nursery/Landscape Association (NYSNLA)
Thank you for asking me to comment on the Pesticide Reporting Law. I believe that the information gathered may be of importance to the breast cancer fight, but have not yet received any statistics since we started reporting.
The information will not be effective in the way the legislature hopes, due to homeowner use — homeowners apply pesticides on their own properties and we can only hope they do it correctly. The market is regulated on purchases made through retail stores, but does not monitor how pesticides are applied. A study from Purdue University indicates homeowners do not seek advice when identifying pests, thereby increasing the likelihood of improper applications.*
The actual creating of the report has also been a challenge. We have created a computer program, rather than handwriting the forms the DEC provides. I will say that the DEC Reporting Section has been most helpful and responsive when we call with questions. The one area of the report with which I do not agree, and which breeds industry frustration and cynicism, is the "quantity used" section. The report asks for active ingredient on the Annual Use Report, but total mixed quantity used for the Daily Records (this is information that, by law, must be kept on file per day). I believe total mixed quantity should be sufficient on the Annual Use Report, because we are trained and certified professionals who mix the products per label specifications. Therefore, I could easily download what I need from our already computerized product information, create one report for two purposes and leave the conversion up to the DEC, if they truly feel it is necessary. Industry views this as a major paperwork hurdle that seems to serve no purpose other than to increase costs of compliance. Because there is a less expensive, but equally effective reporting method — total mixed quantity — this hurdle will lead to avoidance of the law by unscrupulous individuals, which hurts our industry as well as these efforts.
These same frustrations apply to the current debate over Pesticide Neighbor Notification. New York State's 48-hour notification law may have just the opposite effect of that intended by its proponents. Although its stated purpose is to let people know what pest control materials their neighbors are putting on their plants, reduced use of pesticides is the actual intention. However, the law actually encourages more pesticides usage, and increased opportunities for misapplications by untrained homeowners.
Plant health professionals have worked hard over the last decade to educate the public about the practice known as integrated pest management, or IPM. This is an ongoing process by which all plants on a property are monitored throughout the growing season. A plant health professional makes frequent visits, inspecting plants for signs of insects or diseases. Early detection usually results in less severe treatment. The monitor determines a pest's threat to the plant's life and then takes appropriate action. This can range from doing nothing at all to treating with beneficial insects or an organic material like horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Chemical application is the treatment of last resort. The 48-hour notification law eliminates the plant health professional's ability to make on- site treatment choices. S/he either has to apply the material stated in the notification, or apply nothing. Consequently, notification has to contain the worst case scenario, effectively prohibiting the practitioner from taking less severe measures. This will result in increased pesticide usage.
Ever scarier to me is the fact that many property owners will balk at the higher fees professionals will be forced to charge to cover the added cost of notification. Those of us who have been in the business for a few years have been called in after a homeowner applied the wrong material because s/he made an incorrect diagnosis. There's also an attitude among many homeowners that, if the dosage on the label is effective, twice that dosage will be twice as effective. This is not the case. This potentially rampant misuse of pesticides by property owners will be totally uncontrolled. Notification will not apply. There is a provision in the law requiring retailers to give out posting signs, but there is no effective way to enforce their use.
If Cornell and other organizations really want to reduce the use of pesticides, they should join green industry professionals in educating the public about proper horticultural practices. Insects and diseases attack weak, stressed plants. Keeping plants healthy is the most effective pest control measure we have. Property owners can do a number of things to keep their plants healthy, including:
1) Planting the right plant in the right place. Plants have certain physical and environmental requirements, such as sunlight, water, and certain types of soil. When conditions are wrong for a specific plant, it can decline and pests will be attracted to it.
2) Select only quality plants from a quality nursery. Plants should be hardy in our climate and should be from growing nurseries that have similar weather conditions to ours.
3) Be sure plants have the nutrients they need. If essential nutrients are missing from the soil, they can be replaced by fertilization. Plants without the nutrients they need to make food become stressed, opening them up to pest attack.
4) Practice IPM. (Notification law flies in the face of IPM.)
5) Create a notification registry for those people who want to be pre-notified.
The NYSNLA can be accessed on the web at http://www.nysnla.org/