Our nursery was founded on growing plants, both agricultural food crops outdoors and indoor ornamental plants. We continue this tradition growing field crops and this diversity gives us an added insight into pesticide use as a whole.
We do everything we can to reduce pesticide use. We practice IPM (Integrated Pest Management). We use many beneficial insects in our greenhouses and our fields. In the past five years, we've reduced the use of pesticides in our fields by nearly 30% by trying new methods to control pests, diseases, and weeds. Sometimes it's selecting a more efficent pesticide. Sometimes's it's changing our application methods to target problem areas only. Sometimes it's use more cultivation (use a hoe) than using pesticides. However we do it, we are doing our part.
Municipalities and environmentally concious people push for a complete ban on pesticides under the guise of calling them "cosmetic". Pest control is not cosmetic and the majority of pesticides, especially weed control, have a significant impact reaching far further than a residential lawn or recreational playing field.
The comment I most hate to hear is "Dandilions are pretty yellow flowers and aren't that bad." So what are the overall implications of leaving those pesky weeds in your lawn? You decide to leave weeds in your lawn - no harm done since it's in your lawn. Not so. Once those little fluffy seeds catch the wind, they spread and they spread without prejudice. This year, for example, our fields are covered with those problem weeds, far more than they have ever been before. I haven't changed any of my cultural practices. I make sure to control the weeds in the field and in the headlands to prevent weeds for entering my field. But my fields are infested despite my best efforts. The seeds must have come from someplace, and the answer is most often those seeds which originate from residential lawns. Now I am forced to use pesticides to get rid of all these tens of thousands of dandilions in my fields. These are no longer pretty little flowers and can't be left where they are since they are now risking the survival of my food-producing field crops. I'm faced with a major conundrum - how do I get rid of these problem weeds without sacrificing my plants? I'm forced to use some sort of pesticide that I haven't needed to use before. So has this voluntary pesticide ban on the residential lawn really reduced the use of pesticides in the grand scheme of things? Probably not. Probably the opposite.
Don't get me wrong, I want to see less pesticides used. I hate spraying them on my fields, at my home, or in the greenhouse. It's time consuming, it's expensive, and much of what is applied isn't always necessary. So if it isn't necessary, why apply them? The answer is simple. Look at your lawn and look at the weeds in there. Are the weeds literally everywhere? Chances are, no. Weeds are here and there, not everwhere, at least we hope not. Now we're into the realm of where we can all make a difference. A weed killer kills the weeds it touchs. If there's no weed where the weed killer is applied, it's wasted. Ah ha.
What about instead of banning pesticides, we use them intelligently? Instead of broadcasting a bottle of concentrated weed killer all over your lawn, take a small spray bottle and only apply it to the weeds we want to get rid of? It's not a ban, but I would think it's a reduction in pesticide use by 80% or more. This is the main reason we stopped selling granular Weed & Feed and sell only liquid weed killers than can be targetted better. We'll use pesticies at home and the weed seeds won't come into my fields and my pesticide use can be reduced as well. Now we're in business - we're all reducing the overall use of pesticides and we have a nice healthy lawn to boot.
Once you have weeds under control, it takes less and less to keep them under control. You can reduce the use of pesticides each year. In time, you could probably reduce the weed population to be so low, hand weeding for a short time each year would control the weeds.
In the grand scheme of things, pesticide use isn't all cosmetic. We need to start thinking of the big picture sometimes and stop limiting ourselves to our own small lawns. Banning residential pesticides won't reduce overall pesticide use. I do my part and reduce pesticides where I can to a responsible level. We all need to look at the big picture and be equally responsible.