The wait-and-see approach isn’t working for our industry in the scandal surrounding the use of neonicotinoids. Retailers are being picketed and protested for selling plants treated with neonicotinoids, and being asked to ban the use of these chemicals, or label plants that have been treated.
Growers serving The Home Depot have ordered the special tags that the retailer promised would be on each plant that has received an application of one of the neonicotinoid chemistries. While the language on the tag is positive, sales will be the true measure of how consumers react to neonic labeling. Growers will need to keep close track of the sales of plants labeled thusly, and if they choose not to use neonics in 2015, study and evaluate any potential economic implications. Product shrink, time lost due to longer REIs of harsher chemistries and impact on staff are all outcomes that should be measured.
The floriculture industry’s voice seems conspicuously absent in all of this. While AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists have been working together to fund research through the Pollinator Stewardship Initiative, and have started meeting with the new Pollinator Taskforce — and even joined forces with other groups promoting pollinator health (see page 30) — few in the industry are speaking up on the consumer level.
Joe Bischoff of AmericanHort wrote recently, “According to Randy Oliver, a commercial beekeeper and blogger/owner of ScientificBeekeeping.com, the issue of bee health has been hijacked by the activist groups, trying to put the sole blame of bee health concerns on pesticides. These groups’ stance is not reflective of what he says he is seeing or hearing from other beekeepers around the country.”
And the activists’ story is not reflective of what happens at greenhouse operations around the country. If anyone is using these tools responsibly, it’s the professionals who are trained to read the label and use them correctly. The environmentalists have more to fear from consumers who err on the side of “if some is good, more is better,” pesticide use.
Granted, growers haven’t had to deal with an issue of this magnitude in the past, and may feel the intimidation factor here — not wanting to sound defensive in response to unfounded claims by NGOs like Friends of the Earth and the Xerces Society, but also not sure how to address the issue in a way that will not seem interest-serving.
But as I’ve stated on this page before, no one is going to do it for you. We can choose the wait-and-see approach, to find out how consumers react to the neonic labeling, and endure more protests and picketing and social media petition signing. Or we can stand up for ourselves and tell the real story here: That we already practice responsible plant production with integrated pest management; that we produce more crops on less land than most of the agriculture industry; that we catch rainwater and recycle it; that we are working toward reduced waste by employing recycled materials; and that our plants and products enhance the lives of everyone who buys them, in distinct and measurable ways.
My hope for 2015 is that we as an industry will strengthen our voice and tell our story to the consumers and retailers who are only getting a one-sided account. Wait-and-see isn’t sustainable. Let’s speak up!