The release of Merit (a.i. imidacloprid) and Mach II (a.i. halofenozide) into the U.S. turfgrass market in the mid 1990s revolutionized white grub control in turfgrass. Finally, lawn care pros and homeowners had products that they could easily apply to control these destructive pests. Not surpisingly, the lawn care industry embraced these new chemistries, particularly Merit. The product belongs to a class of active ingredients broadly referred to as neonicotinoids.

Sales of Merit into the turfgrass market and other branded neonicotinoid products into the much larger agriculture industry began skyrocketing. Imidicloprid, now off patent is believed to be the most widely used pesticide in the world.

From what I’ve written so far, I hope you get a sense of what is at stake in the ongoing debate about the role of imidacloprid (indeed all neonicotinoids) to the health of honeybees. At the risk of seeming to breeze over the controversy, let me just share that the widespread use imidacloprid in agriculture is being blamed (at least as one of several factors) for honeybee deaths. If you are truly interested in the issue, the Internet is awash with more information devoted to it than most of us have time to read.

To the point of this short piece, however, the imidacloprid issue is creeping into the lawn service industry. Creeping is the best way to describe what’s happening. Yes, these types of issues generally emerge as small, local issues. As we’ve learned, they often don’t stay so small or so local.

Recall that in 1991 that the community of Hudson (pop. about 5,500) in Quebec Province banned lawn care chemicals. That single issue, finally ending up in Canada’s highest court, set off a chain reaction of similar bans across the country. It ignited a tidal wave of action aimed at banning lawn care chemicals that changed forever the face of professional lawn care in Canada.

I bring the neonicotinoid issue to your attention to let you know that a handful of cities and universities within the United States – some of them declaring themselves "bee-safe" communities – have already banned or restricted its use. Generally, these bans apply to their public and city-owned properties and parks. Communities and institutions targeting the use of imidacloprid include Spokane, Wash., Eugene, Ore., Shorewood, Minn., the University of Vermont Law School and, most recently, Emory University. Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council is considering banning the use of these products on its public properties.

As I am admittedly unfamiliar with some of these markets and similarly unfamiliar with the particular turf and ornamental pests property owners and landscape pros must deal with in each one, it’s difficult for me to judge whether these bans are more symbolic than meaningful. Those of you living and working in these markets are better judges of that than me.

Is it unreasonable (unwise?) to think that other communities and institutions within the United States won’t take similar action if the controversy continues to bubble and boil?

See the video, Bayer Crop Defends Neonics here.