Paul Koch is an assistant professor in UW-Madison’s Department of Plant Pathology. Below, Koch provides insight into a hot-button topic associated with sustainability: pesticide use in recreational settings.
Sammy Wolfin: What do you see as the biggest issues with the use of synthetic pesticides in Wisconsin?
Paul Koch: The biggest issue is the unknown, especially regarding long-term impacts on the healthy development of children and teenagers. Most of the research shows that when modern pesticides are used appropriately in a recreational setting—lawns, golf courses, athletic fields—there is a relatively low risk of injury to the environment and to mature adults.
However, there is evidence that children are more susceptible than adults to long-term health effects. When it comes to this risk, which hasn’t been fully established by the Environmental Protection Agency, most people rightfully err on the side of caution.
SW: Have switches to natural products rather than synthetic products been effective?
PK: Currently it is difficult for a manager of an intensively managed recreational site such as a high-traffic athletic field, park or golf course to move toward exclusively using natural products.
First off, the products often have less scientific research into their efficacy, which makes managers hesitant to give them a try.
The cost can oftentimes be prohibitive for many facilities though as natural product production increases this cost should theoretically go down.
Lastly, many managers have been able to very effectively and cheaply manage their recreational sites with synthetic products and don’t necessarily see a reason to switch.
SW: Could you touch upon social pressure to go in a more natural direction with recreational site maintenance: sports fields, golf courses, etc.?
PK: There is certainly social pressure to reduce the non-target impacts of turf grass management, whether it be from fertilizer, pesticide or water usage. I would say most of the pressure comes from the public at large, but no turf grass manager wants to use any more fertilizer, pesticide or water than they need to. The trend toward sustainability is a hot topic in turf grass management right now, with a high demand from turf grass managers for more research into more sustainable management practices. Sustainability won’t come solely from using more natural products, but in combination with developing low-input turf grass species, using technology to minimize excess inputs, and using reduced-risk/low toxicity synthetic pesticides I think the future of sustainable recreational management is very bright.