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Tuesday, August 22, 2017 Vol. 81 No. 4


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What I learned from the neonics panel
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As you may recall, last week I was in Maryland speaking at the annual Chesapeake Green Conference. One of my duties was moderating a panel on neonics. Panelists included one grower and three retailers. Of those, one retailer had stopped selling neonics, one was exploring the options, and one had no plans to drop them. The grower had announced in 2014 that they were dropping neonics, only to make a 180 and decide to keep them in the tool box. Here’s who they were and a summary of their views as I was able to glean them from my position as guy with the mic asking questions:

Tom Wheeler, Bell Nursery. Tom is head grower for Bell and responsible for hundreds of acres of production across several states. For 2014, he and the Bell management had decided to grow neonic-free, to see what it involved and how it would work out. They went so far as to announce their neonics-free stance to the trade. But now they’ve decided to keep neonics in their insect control arsenal. Why? In large part because they decided it’s not sound business policy to drop a useful and legal product solely because of consumer pressure. It sets a bad precedent. First neonics, then what?

Brian Riddle, Homestead Gardens. Brian told the audience that he’s not going to take a stance one way or the other regarding neonics. Like Bell Nursery, they don’t like the idea of losing a safe and legal product for emotional rather than science-based reasons. Brian said he has been asked about neonics by local press, but they’ve been respectful in their questioning and coverage. And he added that there hasn’t been any real questions or pressure from customers.

Carrie Engel, Valley View Farms. Carrie was there to learn more about neonics, in order to stay on top of the topic. They know other retailers have dropped neonics, but they’re not quite sure if they should or not. They’re keeping their options open. However, Carrie, like Brian, admitted that customers haven’t brought up the topic. There’s little outside pressure to drop neonics. Other than the initial news coverage, it has been quiet.

Larry Hurley, Behnke Nurseries. Larry was the only panelist representing a business that had publicly dropped neonics He told me after the session that he was worried he’d come under fire because Behnke’s anti-neonics stance has been picked up and used by Friends of the Earth to further their anti-chemical cause. I even brought that up during the session, but nobody jumped on the topic. Regardless of what they were thinking, the audience remained respectful. I asked Larry if he thought Behnke’s might have made the anti-neonics decision too soon and he said absolutely not. The company’s philosophy is to provide the safest, greenest products possible, and if a chemical’s safety comes into question, they have no problem seeking alternatives.

In the end, the message I took away was that consumer pressure and even concern seem low. The press isn’t asking about them, either. So don’t feel rushed to make a decision concerning neonics. However, it’s still your business. If you choose to drop them, for whatever reason, that is your prerogative. In fact, it’s one of the beautiful things about being your own boss.

Reader Comments (1)


As a garden writer I feel an obligation to cut through the clutter and discover the truth about neonics. My readers ARE concerned about this issue. I AM questioning their safety, and am seeking reliable unbiased information on neonics. Certainly the grower community has its opinions on neonics, but I continue to seek sound and unbiased science on the topic.

(Chris replies: Lynette, when you say "the grower community," you can be assured that there are as many opinions as their are growers, and a large percentage feel just as you do.)
Sunday, March 01, 2015 | Lynette L. Walther


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