A professional stand on Dad & Dandelions
By Mike Jiggens
It’s been about six months now since CBC-TV aired the episode called Dad and the Dandelions on its long-running show The Nature of Things with David Suzuki.
Normally, for something that is already half a year behind us, the dust would have settled on it by now, but I’m still hearing discussion of this broadcast among industry professionals everywhere I go.
The only organization I’m aware of that has taken an official stand on this so far is the Western Canada Turfgrass Association. Its president, Peter Sorokovsky, said the television show portrayed golf courses as “toxic waste sites” and put the use of chemical pest control products in a negative light.
Since the show’s airing, the WCTA realized the program presented a fortuitous opportunity for industry to engage in dialogue with the public, media, environmental groups, government and other stakeholders to promote the benefits of turfgrass and green spaces, emphasizing that golf superintendents and other professional turfgrass managers are stewards of the land and don’t use pesticides in a reckless manner.
The title of the episode was somewhat misleading. As a rule, golf courses don’t use a lot of herbicides, yet the word “dandelions” figured prominently. Perhaps since it’s the most recognized weed found on turfgrass, it was selected as a representative term for all targets of pesticide use.
I guess Dad and the Dandelions or Dad and Leatherjackets didn’t have the same ring to it, and would have been lost with viewers. The word “dandelions” was a reason for viewers to tune in, especially knowing that 2,4-D has been outlawed for nearly 10 years for use on home lawns and municipal parks and playing fields in Ontario and other provinces.
The WCTA’s reaction to the show was one based on cool headedness, logic and professionalism. There was no kneejerk reaction or any other type of response that might have cast the golf industry in a negative light. Instead, it worked with its membership to prepare the right responses to the public in the event that golf course superintendents and maintenance workers might be pressed for answers to tough questions.
Turfgrass professionals have been urged to flaunt their academic credentials, emphasizing the fact they are well versed in such areas as conservation and best management practices. They have also been encouraged to promote the game of golf and the fact that those who participate in the sport tend to live longer lives than the average population.
The argument is that if golf courses indeed were toxic waste sites, then golfers wouldn’t live longer than others and would suffer from cancer and other health issues.
The WCTA has also encouraged its members to stress to the public when pressed that pesticide products used on golf courses have been tested, re-evaluated and intensely regulated federally by Health Canada. The testing process not only assesses a product’s efficacy, but its impact on human health.
Cornell University’s Dr. Frank Rossi, a renowned turfgrass researcher, has gone on record as saying golfer contact with pesticides is virtually nil, according to scientific testing.
Superintendents and other turfgrass professionals have also been urged to respond to the critics by promoting green spaces such as golf courses as producers of fresh oxygen, capturers of carbon and urban pollutants, and reducers of the warming effects of such hard surfaces as concrete and asphalt.
The WCTA has handled the fallout of Dad and the Dandelions in a thoroughly professional manner and one with plenty of thought put into it. There will be more criticisms against golf course and turfgrass maintenance in the years to come, and this industry must continue to stand its guard with the facts as its main artillery.