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Communicating Sustainable Use of Pesticides

October 21, 2010

This article was submitted by Todd Burkdoll, BASF Professional Turf and Ornamentals Technical Specialist.

Superintendents are faced with all kinds of job-related questions, particularly about the agronomics of using pesticides and other chemicals on their courses. Many are having a hard time clearly explaining the benefits of chemical use to curious golfers and community members, and as a result, sometimes avoid the topic. However, communicating with the public is no longer optional; superintendents must address questions, ease concerns and take part in community education programs on a regular basis in order to continue building and sustaining community confidence.

Many people assume pesticides are toxic and harmful to their health. That belief, however, is rarely grounded in science. Antibacterial soap, dishwasher soap and laundry detergent are technically toxic pesticides because they kill germs; however, when used correctly, they do not harm humans. The same goes for chemicals that are used to protect plants. Just as soap controls harmful pathogens that humans encounter, fungicide controls pathogens that damage plants.

Simply put, plants – like people – get sick. For example, when their systems get overrun, plants can suffer from environmental stress that creates conditions for pest pressure and disease. When that happens, medication in the form of pesticides is required to nurse the plant back to health. Like human drugs, pesticides today are highly targeted to specific problems, including fungi, weeds and insects.

The need for plant medication, so to speak, is understood by most people. But they may need more explanation about the science behind responsible chemical use.

The Safety Stance. Scientifically proving with reasonable certainty that a pesticide will not harm people or the environment is a fundamental part of the product-approval process. The United States has one of the strictest registration processes in the world. Federal law requires that before selling or distributing a pesticide in the United States, a person or company must obtain registration, or license, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Before registering a new pesticide – or a new use for a registered pesticide – the EPA must first assure the public that the pesticide is considered safe, when used according to label directions. To make such determinations, the EPA requires more than 100 different scientific studies and tests from applicants.

Even before they go through government review, these chemical compounds are tested for toxicity by non-biased, third-parties. If a pesticide receives a “strike” against it at any point during testing process, the manufacturer does not approve it for government testing.

Once the product is registered, it is selected and applied by highly trained professionals. Just as a pharmacist would recommend medicine for a specific ailment, superintendents work with industry experts – including chemical applicators with years of formal education – to prescribe a pesticide for a specific problem.

Not all pesticides are equal. Toxicity levels vary by product and instructions for use are clearly outlined on each pesticide’s label. Labels are designed to explain the correct application procedure, so the chemical has little or no direct negative impact on organisms beyond the targeted pest. As a rule, chemical experts consistently stress the importance of reading and following the pesticide label.

As a precautionary measure, most pesticides cannot be bought over the counter. Some products also require applicators to post signs or flags that alert the public that a given area has been treated recently. The signs, which usually are left standing for 24 hours, are simply informative, since no danger to humans or animals exists after application. In many cases, the majority of pesticides break down naturally in the soil after controlling target pests.

What is your role? Some superintendents have taken a proactive communication approach to combating the general public’s misperceptions and fear of pesticides. Superintendent Jed Spencer, CGCS, for Chenal Country Club in Little Rock, Ark., participates in monthly Greens Committee meetings and now hosts annual open houses to give all members a behind-the-scenes look at how he maintains his course. In addition to addressing topics such as chemical and fertilizer use, maintenance and even golf etiquette, his crew operates equipment for participants, allowing them to get a firsthand look at what his crew does and how they do it. Spencer’s goal is to educate the community, and show members the purpose behind his crew’s actions.

“The response to our communication efforts has been extremely positive,” Spencer said. “Community members really appreciate the visual component. It reduces concerns about the possible effects our treatment plan could have on them and their surroundings.”

Spencer has taken additional steps to show his concern for the environment, which the community has applauded. Three years ago, he formed a partnership with Ducks Unlimited to establish a wood duck colony on the course, which helps attract the birds and allows his crew to manage the population. He also maintains a chemical building on his property that houses a 1,000-gallon storage tank for recycling chemicals.

Fred Gehrisch, superintendent for Highlands Fall Country Club in Highlands, N.C., holds educational forums for residents living on or near his course to explain what his crew is spraying and why. He also writes a regular column for his local newspaper that addresses course issues such as the scientific benefits of safely controlling disease and invasive plants on his course.

Gehrisch also is involved in a study under way by the University of Missouri on salamanders at 10 courses in the area – including his – to see how they are affected by chemical use. Along with the university, he regularly works with environmental groups, whether it is coordinating joint speaking engagements or donating his staff to support a local event.

Gehrisch says most people he speaks with are relieved once they learn the chemicals he uses are similar to everyday household products.

“I have found that using common medications as examples is the most effective way to demonstrate why they do not need to fear the products we use,” Gehrisch said. “I read a list of side effects and lead them to believe it is a chemical I am using to treat turf disease when, in reality, it is aspirin.”

Communicating with the public falls under the many day-to-day responsibilities of a superintendent, and more of them are taking it upon themselves to go above and beyond that duty. At a minimum, superintendents should be able to confidently explain the parallels between plant and human disease, and how science helps alleviate damage in both cases.

“We talk a lot within our inner circle about what needs to be done, but as an industry, we tend to be slower in responding to the public than we should,” Gehrisch said. “For any change to happen, supers need to leave their desks and get out in front of their communities.”

Despite the fact that pesticides are useful tools that can provide significant benefits to our communities, the debate over whether to use them will undoubtedly continue. By basing communications on science instead of emotion, superintendents can help community members appreciate the time, labor and money-saving benefits of environmentally sound chemicals.

Tips for Communicating with your Community

1) Know your topic and know it well. Be willing to give research to back up what you are saying.

2) Do not lie. A lot of the information you share is a matter of common sense; however, your audiences will fact check.

3) Be as consistent as you can. Some information will change over the course of time, but the majority of it should remain constant.

4) Be patient. It is important to remember that members of the community are not as versed on the subject matter as you are.

5) Provide resources where people can obtain additional information. Encourage them to spend some time learning about the issues they care about.

For more information on disease control and healthy plants, visit, follow us on Twitter at or e-mail Todd Burkdoll at


New Turfgrass Disease Culprits

August 30, 2010

This article comes to us from David Maubach, Senior Sales Specialist, BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals.

The presence of several new turfgrass diseases has increased on U.S. golf courses in recent years. Three new diseases in particular – Pythium root dysfunction, brown ring patch and rapid blight – are a challenge for course superintendents. Fortunately, researchers have made headway regarding how to detect and treat these destructive new diseases.

Tackling New Diseases
New turfgrass diseases can evolve for a number of reasons and several factors contribute to the prevalence of disease such as geography, moisture and temperature.

Stress caused by heat, drought and excess moisture can weaken turf and make it more prone to disease. Put simply, healthy turf is less susceptible to disease. The challenge with golf courses, particularly on the greens, is that turfgrass is kept short by plant growth regulators and/or frequent mowing, which causes stress.

Players expect superintendents to provide the best of both worlds – short grass and healthy turf. It is a difficult balance, especially when new diseases emerge and superintendents do not know how to treat it.

University and industry researchers are addressing these three emerging problem diseases. To avoid being caught off-guard, superintendents should take time to learn more about these diseases. Doing so will help identify and treat the diseases, and in some cases, avoid them altogether.

Pythium Root Dysfunction
Discovered in North Carolina in 1994, Pythium root dysfunction attacks putting greens and is limited to newly constructed greens less than eight years old. It is most commonly found in the Southeast, but also occurs in Midwestern areas with harsh summers. Bentgrass is most susceptible to the disease, which occurs on turf stressed from one or more of the following factors: high heat, repeated close mowing, low fertility schedules and drought.

Pythium root dysfunction causes the roots and crown of turfgrass to turn brown or black. The symptoms are most visible during the summer, but the disease actually spreads during spring and fall, when it is cool and wet.

Because symptoms are less prevalent on plants with a strong root system, there are several cultural practices superintendents can undertake to minimize damage caused by Pythium root dysfunction. Root enhancement techniques – specifically aerification, nutrition supplements, verticutting and reduced irrigation – are helpful in counteracting symptoms of the disease.

Irrigation management is also extremely important. Clay and compacted soils are more likely to harbor Pythium root dysfunction because of reduced drainage.

It is less difficult and less expensive to prevent Pythium root dysfunction than it is to try to cure it. Fungicides such as pyraclostrobin and triticonazole are two of the most effective at preventing the disease.

Dr. Lane Tredway, turfgrass pathologist at North Carolina State University, is one of the foremost experts on Pythium root dysfunction. To learn more about his research and information on NC State’s Center for Turfgrass Environmental Research & Education, visit

Brown Ring Patch
Formerly known as waitea patch, brown ring patch has been reported sporadically throughout the Midwest and is a mounting problem in Southern California. Occurring primarily on greens with high annual bluegrass (poa annua) populations, the disease is prevalent in warm and moist conditions.

Initial symptoms of brown ring patch are thin, yellow, concentric rings several inches in diameter that turn brown under hot or wet conditions. Once established, brown ring patch can quickly damage turfgrass. Temperature plays a significant role in regards to whether or not brown ring patch occurs. The disease does not spread in hot or cold conditions, but rather during times of mild (mid-60s to low-80s F) temperature.

Cultural control options of aerification and higher mowing heights are sometimes used to combat brown ring patch. Alternating among several fungicides – pyraclostrobin, propiconazole and triticonazole – has been an effective treatment.

Dr. Frank Wong, assistant plant pathologist at the University of California-Riverside, is considered one of the top brown ring patch researchers. For more information, visit UC Riverside’s Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at

Rapid Blight
Rapid blight occurs in the fall and winter, affecting several annual winter grasses used to overseed Bermudagrass. Affected species include ryegrass, annual bluegrass and poa trivialis. It is primarily seen in the Southwest, including Nevada, Arizona and Southern California, as well as on coastal areas in the Southeast and Northeast. Perennial grasses are not affected by rapid blight.

The disease is associated with a marine organism and cases of rapid blight rise significantly in areas where superintendents use reclaimed water or water with high salinity for irrigation. The disease can occur on any area that has been overseeded, but is usually treated only on putting greens.

Dr. Mary Olsen, plant pathology specialist for the University of Arizona-Tucson, has confirmed that rapid blight is caused by an obscure microorganism that prior to its discovery in turf was known to infect in marine plants such as seagrass, diatoms and algae.

Rapid blight shows itself as water-soaked, slightly sunken and darker looking turf. It turns yellow and dies in patches.

The primary cultural control option is to use better quality irrigation water, avoiding reclaimed water, if possible. Pyraclostrobin provides the most effective preventative control, with mancozeb as a less effective alternative.

Olsen is a leading rapid blight researcher. The University of Arizona’s Division of Plant Pathology and Microbiology is available on the Web at

Prevention, Education Key
To avoid being caught off guard by new diseases, it is important to stay educated on new diseases, be consistent with preventative tactics and devote time to detection efforts.

Part of being proactive is keeping up with the latest research and information about turfgrass disease. Superintendents who collect and absorb background information are better prepared when they encounter a problem – they know what they are dealing with and who can help them.

Some superintendents are quick to write off an undiagnosed problem as being untreatable by a particular fungicide they have already applied, so they simply retreat with a different product. Instead, they should take a turf sample and send it in to a diagnostics lab.

Fungicide manufacturer representatives, university extension personnel and other course superintendents are also good sources of information. It is wise to seek the help of others if they encounter an abnormality they do not recognize.

It may seem like common sense, but it is important for superintendents to walk their courses every day to keep an eye out for abnormalities. New diseases such as pythium root dysfunction, brown ring patch and rapid blight can cause problems quickly if undetected.

David Maubach
Senior Sales Specialist
BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals


BASF launches free Turfgrass Disease App

November 11, 2010

BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals is pleased to introduce a free Web application that gives U.S. golf course Superintendents quick, expert advice on turfgrass disease control programs via their mobile phone browsers. To use the tool simply visit the blog or directly link to on a mobile device, such as the iPhone®, Android® and Blackberry®, or desktop browser.

The tool gives Superintendents immediate access to disease control program recommendations specific to Northeast, Midwest, Transition and Southern regions and turf types. In addition to helping Superintendents control known diseases, it also helps them predict diseases based on the time of year or, in the case of the Southern region, based on soil temperature. The tool then recommends fungicide applications, timing and rates from Kyle Miller and Kathie Kalmowitz, Ph.D., the BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals Technical Specialists who developed the disease programs.

“With a workspace averaging more than 140 acres, golf course Superintendents spend more time away from their desks than other professionals; yet their need for immediate, reliable information is just as pressing,” said Brian Lish, Business Manager, BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals. “This new tool gets our expertise to customers when and where they need it to help them succeed.”

To view the tool’s functionality, watch the video demonstration and visit for detailed information and helpful instructions on using and bookmarking the Web app from your mobile device or desktop.

For more information about BASF Turf & Ornamentals, visit or tweet us at