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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


The Importance of Understanding Product Labels: Reviewing Labels Improves Product Performance

March 23, 2010

The golf season will soon be getting underway as most golf courses in the state are preparing to open. The start of another season signifies the beginning of pest and disease pressure. Areas affected by gray snow mold should begin to recover as the grass begins to grow. Pressure from other mild weather diseases such as pink snow mold and cool-season brown patch will persist longer into the spring. As you prepare your plant protectants, be sure to revisit the product label as this information can change over time.

Editor’s note: The remainder of this article was submitted by Todd Burkdoll, BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals Technical Specialist.

Product labels aren’t the type of reading material that you can snuggle up with—but they’re also not the kind you can ignore or just skim through before filing away.

Labels deserve routine attention beyond the one-time, quick read after purchase. However, it can be common practice to follow use recommendations from colleagues and distributors without analyzing the important details explained on the product’s label. But doing so can save money, prevent injury and help grow better turfgrass by ensuring product performance.

Most people using fungicides, herbicides and insecticides only ask themselves, “What product do I need to control the weed, insect or disease and what rate do I apply?” Rate information is essential, but labels provide a technical breakdown and need-to-know information prior to application. Here are five key areas to read on a label:

1. Mix Mindfully
The tank mixing section of a label lays out exactly how to combine a product with other additives. Glazing over these guidelines can create an un-usable compound, clog application equipment and reduce efficacy.

The basic rule of thumb—mix dry materials first, then add liquids—may not ring true for all products. One must be mindful of variances between generic and patented formulas and know that even though an active ingredient may be the same, its formula could require different a mixing order. So don’t rely on old standards—get up to speed on the label’s specifics before adding each product to the tank.

2. Follow Special Statements
Special statements on a label clearly communicate how to use a product for particular conditions. In uncontrolled climates, weather is an important variable to consider.

Be sure to make note of the rainfast or drying times mentioned in a special statement or you may lose your valuable pest control efforts to precipitation. Retain product effectiveness by making sure spray technicians are also in-the-know about circumstances included in the special statements section.

3. Get to Know Group Numbers
Group numbers help avoid the risk of disease resistance by identifying which fungicides, herbicides and insecticide products operate under the same mode of action. Usually included on the first page of a label, group numbers make it easy to organize products with different modes of action into a rotation program. For example, if you notice signs of resistance after using a fungicide in Group 1, try using a product with a different group number in the next application.

4. Acknowledge Agricultural Use Requirements
Agricultural and non-agricultural use requirements on product labels are important and vary depending on product use. A greenhouse or nursery employee, for instance, may use the same product as a turf professional, but has to abide by a completely different set of rules with regard to protective equipment and re-entry interval. Failing to read this section of a label could harm employees, turf or plants and the environment.

5. Follow restrictions and limitations
Carefully read the “general restrictions and limitations” section on your product labels. Knowing the “do not” statements list can mean the difference between having healthy turf and plants—or damaging an entire fairway or landscape bed with poor application practices. Brushing up on labels you haven’t read since last year can make all the difference.

General suggestions
Making a 10-15 minute investment in reading a label can save a lot of time and hassle compared with the fallout of misusing a product. Schedule a label date once a year where you can carefully re-familiarize yourself with old labels and dissect the details of new updated labels. The best place to obtain current labels is

Todd Burkdoll is a Technical Specialist in the Western U.S. for BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals. Todd can be reached at



September 6, 2013

The Iowa State Turf Club members apply fertilizer and pesticides to the Reiman Garden Lawns each year.  Reiman Gardens is a beautiful  facility managed by the ISU foundation.  It is located just south of the football stadium on campus.

The late summer application of 18-0-3 fertilizer at a rate of 1 lb nitrogen/1000 sq ft was applied yesterday, Sept. 5.  It has been a rough year for lawns in Ames because of the drought.  While much of Reiman Gardens is irrigated, the parts that are not watered are under quite a bit of stress.  Hopefully, we will get some rain and cooler conditions soon.

Thanks again to Damian Richardson and the others from John Deere Landscapes #249 in Clive, Ia for donating the fertilizer to the club for this falls applications (see blog from August 2, 2013).  This is a fund raiser for the club and the money will be used to travel to the sports turf managers meetings in San Antonio and to the golf course show in Orlando early next year.

These donations make it possible for the club members to participate in the turf contests at these meetings.  Any other donations of fertilizer or pesticides would be greatly appreciated.




September 5, 2013

Here is my first report of grubs in lawns this year.  The surprising thing is that it is so late.  We generally start seeing grub damage in early August.  Here in central Iowa it has been so dry that I have not observed any grub damage yet.  We are now over 60 days without rain and the lawns are completely dormant unless they have been irrigated.

These two pictures are from Rob Elder of Omaha Organics. 

The first picture shows the typical damage observed on lawn infested with grubs.  This damage could be the result of a number of problems, however.  It is important that you do a little digging to see what is underground.

When Rob did that, he found the typical C-shapped grub feeding on the root system just below the crown.  This is likely a Masked Chafer grub, although I would have to see the grub up close to be sure of its species.  Chafer adults lay their eggs in the late spring and early summer.  The brown colored adult beetle is about one quarter inch long and has the classic "mask-like" coloration around the eyes.  They often appear on your screen door in evening during the egg laying period.

The eggs hatch in late July to early August and the grubs begin to feed a couple of weeks later.  We normally see them from early August to early October in central Iowa. 

There are post emergence controls, but they have to be watered in to get to the grub and that is difficult, particularly in dry conditions.  The neonicotinoids like Merit (imadacloprid) can be used in late June to early July to prevent the grubs from maturing.  If you have a grub problem this year, write that on your calendar for next summer.



Here is a picture of the adult stage.



August 7, 2013

It's that time of year again when the black cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon) larvae begin to show up on bentgrass greens and fairways.  For us at the research station, it is normally about field day time that they become a problem.  They were right on time this year.

They are a little hard to see, but there are about 50 birds on bentgrass area below at the research station.  Birds feed on the larvae and are a good sign that there is a problem.

They are surface feeders and they can easily be controlled with most common insecticides.  We used Sevin (Carbaryl).  It was very effective.


A close look at the surface will reveal a lot of feeding holes.  They are often empty because of the feeding of birds

There will also likely be some larvae on the surface, like the one below sighted on August one at the research station.

This is a picture of the adult.  This is from the Purdue web site.  Notice the dagger shaped black mark on each wing.


Armyworms can also be a problem at this time of year, but this year it was black cutworm at the research station.



July 31, 2013

Here is a news release from Iowa State on tomorrow's field day.


Iowa State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Editor's note:  This release, sent Wednesday, left out the field day's starting time. It is 8 a.m.


Nick Christians, Horticulture, (515) 294-0036,
Ed Adcock, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications Service, (515) 294-2314,

Aug. 1 Field Day Brings Turfgrass Specialists to Iowa State University Research Station

AMES, Iowa — Turfgrass specialists who work with golf courses, athletic fields and lawn care services will meet at 8 a.m. Aug. 1 for an annual field day at the Iowa State University Horticulture Research Station.

Faculty and staff from Iowa State departments of horticulture, agronomy, entomology and natural resource ecology and management will present informational sessions along with speakers from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Indian Hills Community College. Topics include pond management, pesticide application, weed management and turfgrass insect, weed and disease identification.

The field day includes a Pesticide Applicator Training session to meet requirements for applying pesticides. Suppliers of turfgrass products will exhibit at the field day.

Registration information is available at The Horticulture Research Station is located at 55519 170th St., Ames, which is three miles north of Ames on Highway 69, and east on 170th Street about 1.5 miles.

Iowa State sponsors the field day with the Iowa Turfgrass Institute, the Iowa Golf Course Superintendents Association, Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association and the Iowa Professional Lawn Care Association.


On the Web: This and all other Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences news releases and related photos are available at




July 1, 2013

I received information on the first sightings of Japanese beetles for the 2013 season over the weekend.  Larry Ginger of American Lawn Care reported a sighting in Ames from  June 27.  Dr. Donald Lewis, the turf entomologist from Iowa State also reports a sighting from June 26.  I have not seen any yet myself, although I have been watching.  I am planning a trial on the control of this insect on Roses that I will not be able to begin for a few days.

Let me know if others of you are seeing them.  Send pictures if you have them.

Larry reports that he has had good luck controlling them on landscape plants with a combination of Bisect for quick knock-down and Zylam for 30 day control.  Any other information on control would also be useful.

 Here is one of my photos of an adult form a couple of years ago.  They are about one half inch in length. 

Japanese Bettle



October 30, 2012

Here are a couple of pictures from Larry Ginger of “American Lawn Care” in Des Moines.  It is of grub damage in Urbandale, Ia from October 24, 2012.  I believe that this is a Masked Chafer grub.

While grub damage is not unusual in Urbandale, the timing is somewhat unusual.  I would expect to see first damage in August and I would expect the damage to be over by early October.  At that time, the grubs generally burrow down about 6 inches in the soil to overwinter.

This is unusually late to see active grubs, but there have been a lot of unusual things this year.  I have had a couple of other calls on late grub activity.  If anyone else is seeing it even later, send me some pictures and some information on it siting so that we can keep a record of it on the blog for next year.

Grub Damage

Grub Damage



October 10, 2012

Since I posted the information on the amount of Bermudagrass showing up in Iowa, I have had a number of questions on how to kill it.  Roundup is the standard answer, but it is very hard to kill.  I have also heard from former students in Bermudagrass country about its control.  Below are two recommendations.  Notice that these come from other states and that pesticide labeling and recommendations vary by state.  Check labels for use of these products in your locations.


The first is as follows:

In our region, we use a combination of  Roundup and Turflon (Triclopyr) Ester. 

Tank mix Roundup is 3oz/1000ft2 and Turflon at 2oz/1000ft2.  Be careful with seeding cool-season grasses back into the area.  If seeded within 3 days, you'll see about 50-75% germantion on the cool-season seed.  If you wait 2 weeks, you'll see anywhere from 75-100% germination. 

(You can also find a number of articles on the internet about using Turflon Ester to control Bermudagrass.)


The second from another location includes Roundup and Fusilade in a tank mix, followed by Tupersan.

The aggressive way of killing Bermudagrass is to apply Roundup at 4 oz/1000 ft2  with Fusilade at 2 oz/1000 ft2 in a tank mix combination.  It may take a repeat application

You can then use Tupersan at 14-16 oz /1000 ft2 as a follow up.  Tupersan will hold back the Bermuda and you can seed into it. 


Again, check label recommendations for your area before using these approaches.



June 29, 2009

Here is a project that two of our interns are doing this summer at Des Moines golf under the direction of Rick Tegtmeier: We will keep you posted on the results as they come in.

Name brand vs. generic pesticides
Ever wondered if whether it was worth the extra dollar for name brand pesticides? Well, here at Des Moines Golf and Country Club we are running tests to figure out the mystery. My name is Tyler Boley and along with my fellow co-worker Tayler Riggen, we should soon have a more definite answer. We will both be seniors next year at Iowa State in the turfgrass program and are interning this summer at Des Moines Golf.

Due to the current economy, the Director of Grounds, Rick Tegtmeier, has recently considered to switching to a generic form of chlorothalonil for fungus control. Using the generic form of fungicide would save the course around $6500 per year. Luke Dant, the representative for Syngenta has decided to fund a project trying to prove to Rick that it is worth his money to stay with his name brand product, Daconil.

Tayler and I have worked closely with Luke and Rick and set up two separate plots in different fairways to try and capture what was happening in our controlled and sprayed plots. We are spraying 3 forms of fungicide, Daconil (name brand), and 2 generics. They are each sprayed in 5’x10’ plots and replicated 3 times in each plot. We have 2 different plots one on the north course and the other on the south course, where we will monitor each products success and failures. When we collect results, another article will be posted to update everyone.

Nick Christians