Some Truths About Pesticides

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This piece originally appeared in the Warren Recod.

Whether you want to control lawn weeds, keep mosquitoes at bay, protect your garden produce or dispatch a hive of yellow jackets, pesticides are an invaluable tool. They are also a crucial part of the agricultural systems that produce nutritious food for a growing world population. They play an important role in our daily lives, and yet there is much misinformation about them among the general public. Here are some common myths about pesticides:

Myth 1: Weed killers aren’t pesticides – The term “pesticide” is a broad one that encompasses products that kill or prevent weeds, kill or repel insects, and protect plants from disease. It even includes everyday chemicals like mothballs and insect repellant. All of these products are classified as pesticides and should be handled with the same care.

Myth 2: “Conventional” crops are doused in pesticides – The truth of the matter is that agricultural pesticides are expensive, and profit margins for farmers are thin. They simply cannot afford to use unnecessary pesticides, or apply them at excessive rates. Moreover, modern pesticide application equipment is very effective and efficient. In many cases farmers are using only a few ounces of product per acre. Additionally, the US Environmental Protection Agency sets limits on the amount that can be used so that our food supply is safe.

Myth 3: Organic crops are pesticide-free – Organic farming methods are time-honored and effective. They tend to emphasize soil health and cultural practices that help reduce pests. But many pesticides are allowed under the organic agriculture rules. Although such pesticides are derived from natural ingredients, they fall under the same laws and regulations as “conventional” pesticides, and must be used with the same care.

Myth 4: More is better – There is absolutely no reason to ever apply more product than is indicated in the instructions. Doing so can potentially cause harm to the environment, the applicator, or the people who consume the harvested product or come in contact with the treated plants. Pesticides are researched extensively before released to the market and will work as advertised when used as directed.

Myth 5: Instructions are for losers – Did you read the instruction booklet that came with your cell phone? Or your blender? Or your TV? I didn’t either, and it’s no big deal! But pesticides are different. Using them incorrectly could cause damage to your plants, kill bees and butterflies, or even worse. So pull out your reading glasses, sit down somewhere cool, and take the time to read them.

Myth 6: If it’s good for this, it’s probably good for that – If it kills weeds in the lawn it will kill weeds in the garden, right? Probably so, but there’s a good chance you will regret such a choice. There is a pretty high probability that you would cause severe damage to your vegetable plants and leave unsafe pesticide residues on the produce. The instructions for the product will contain explicit details on where it may be safely used.

Myth 7: Buying in bulk is the best deal – While this may be true for laundry detergent, toilet paper and hot sauce, it may not be such a wise move when it comes to pesticides. Your best bet is to buy no more than you can use up in a single season, or even in a single application. Buying more than you need can potentially leave you with a long term hassle in the form of storage and disposal.

Pesticides are safe and effective when used with respect. Used properly, they can be an important tool for keeping your lawn and landscape beautiful, your family safe, and your garden productive.