April 3, 2009 – We talked with Ontario garden centre retailers to see how the preparations for the April 22 pesticide ban are going and how they plan to educate shoppers about the changes.
On April 22, garden centres throughout Ontario will no longer be able to carry certain banned pesticide products on their store shelves. This announcement was made last month when the provincial government finally released information about the proposed ban, informing retailers that they had 46 days to clear their inventory and find new solutions for their customers.
We talked with garden centre retailers to see how these preparations are going and how they plan to educate shoppers about the changes. We also checked in with a Quebec retailer for advice on the situation as that province enacted its own ban in 2006.
Ontario retailers have their say
At Meadow Acres Garden Centre in Petersburg, Ont., owner Ellen Moore says her biggest concern is how her customers will react. “I think we are going to have a lot of questions from customers.” The centre has carried organic solutions in the past but Moore says they’ve found that most people “aren’t necessarily fond of the organic solutions because they take a lot more to be effective.” She’s counting on a reliable, full-time staff member who serves as the centre’s horticulture expert to field questions about insect and disease problems from customers and point them in the right direction. Moore says she doesn’t have a problem with too much leftover product as she anticipated that the ban would go through. “I basically cancelled anything that was going to be a problem and we had virtually no carry over so I have very, very little of leftover product…I don’t know what people will do if they have a lot of product.”
That’s exactly the problem that Diane Hutchinson, general manager of Walter’s Greenhouse & Garden Centre in Paris, Ont. is facing. “I wish that they would have had a longer phase in period because now people are going to have to dispose of it [banned product] rather than use what’s already available. We are just trying to sell what we have and have people use it up.” She’s planning to let her customers know about the change by featuring “lots more signage, lots more information on preventative measures so that they know, you have to prevent now, then care after the fact,” says Hutchinson. She feels that the ban may remedy the fact that some people were using too many pesticides but feels the way it was put in place wasn’t fair. “Some people were going a little overboard on using it but I do think they should have given us a little more time to educate the consumer and a timeline to get it over with rather than decide on it and make it happen over winter. It’s not something that you can sell over winter.”
At Wain’s Garden Centre in Brighton, Ont., co-owner Paul Wain is also upset at the way the Ontario government introduced the pesticide act and agrees the timing is inconvenient. “They could have waited until after the season so we make our money and after that, give us time to sell what’s on the shelf,” he says. He’s grateful that many of his suppliers will allow him to return any unsold product that he purchased this year but isn’t sure what to do with his inventory from previous years. “The government hasn’t given us any information with what to do with it so if everybody just disposes of it improperly, it’s going to have a worse environmental impact. If it was sold and people used it properly, everyone would win.” Wain is also concerned about the amount of time and effort that will be wasted on removing the unsold, banned product from the shelves come April 22.
Despite this, he’s optimistic that this legislation may deliver the push that consumers need to consider more eco-friendly insect solutions. Wain’s Garden Centre has stocked organic solutions for the past few years but have had difficulty selling them to pesticide-hungry customers. “We’ve been trying to promote some of them for over three years and we’ve spent two years losing money. Last year was our first year selling nematodes that we broke even. So in some ways, having these chemicals around will always make it hard for people to convert. It takes a lot of education though too – a lot of people don’t know what these products are. And it takes a lot more effort on the consumers part to use them, there’s no doubt about it.”
Cudmore’s Garden Centre in Oakville, Ont. is another retailer that already offers customers organic pesticide options and because of this, owner John Cudmore says he believes the effect of the ban at his operation will be “very minor. We did carry some [pesticide product] but not a ton, not as much as most people. We were trying to reduce and change to organic and stuff over the last five, six, seven years,” he says. “It’s a very, very small line for us and we aren’t worried about it.”
In Beamsville, Ont., Ridgeway Garden Centre owner Tony Sgambelluri says they’ve been preparing for the ban over the winter. “We’ve been talking about it [the ban] and contemplating it and trying to plan for it for the last three months now but I don’t think financially, this will hurt us as much as I initially thought. There was a lot of suppliers who told us that this stuff was not going to be banned and they are going to take it back so it’s not like we are going to get hung with a lot of product.”
He is however, worried about how his customers will react. “When our customers come in in May, June, July with their problems that they’re used to buying chemicals for they are going to be sorely disappointed and that’s when the real effect of this ban is going to hit us.” Sgambelluri has taken to the Internet to get the message out. “Right now, we are trying to use our e-mail list and our signage around the garden centre to warn them that the pesticide ban is coming into effect on April 22,” he says. “Eventually it will hit home when somebody has a problem.” Like many of the other garden centres we talked to, Sgambelluri has seen some of his customers stockpiling the products that the use regularly and believes the Ministry of Environment will have difficulty monitoring this type of pesticide use.
Tips from a Quebec garden centre
The province of Quebec was the first in Canada to enact a pesticide ban. That cosmetic pesticide ban was introduced in March 2003 and was implemented in stages until the final phase in 2006. Richard Beaulne, horticulturalist at Cramer Nurseries in Ile Perrot, Que. says their customers were reluctant to adapt when the legislation came down. “We tried to propose alternatives and a lot of times it wasn’t really well-accepted by people. I’ve had people, when chemical insecticide for grubs was withdrawn, begging us please, you must have some hidden.”
As a result, many Quebec shoppers made the trip to Ontario for their favourite banned product. “It’s funny, as people found out that certain products would be banned, they were stocking up…I’m sure there’s people still using it in a clandestine way,” says Beaulne. He says this can actually lead to more dangerous usage of the product. “Banning has led to use that you area no longer aware of because at first, when legislation came down you had to put flags on your lawn if you lawn was treated with a herbicide or insecticide. Well now, there’s people treating it in the middle of the night or whatever and not putting any warnings.”
When asked what advice he had for Ontario retailers, Beaulne says part of the re-education process is showing customers alternative methods to pesticides and letting them know what type of work and upkeep is involved. “The big insect problem these days are grubs in the lawn…but there’s cultural ways to counteract this. Doing aerations, overseeding with new grass, applying the nematodes, using a less concentrated insecticide, watering deeply, rather than just surface applications and overseeding with clover, which is resistant to grubs.”
He says garden centres also need to help people update their vision of a perfect lawn. “It seems for generations we’ve been educating people that a lawn has to be 100 per cent grass. It has to be mowed very short, it has to be always green, it has to absolutely weed free and that isn’t a natural thing and it’s not necessarily a healthy thing. You should have a mixture of plants on it,” he says.
Beaulne says part of the process for Ontario retailers will be to encourage people to do things in a more ecological form. “When it comes to trees and shrubs, plant trees that are resistant. Cultural practices can include it too. If you start with a plant that’s not prone to an insect or disease that is a good way.” Steer customers away from susceptible varieties by explaining to them the amount of work involved if that plant does become diseased or infested.
How are you preparing for this pesticide ban? Are you concerned that the ban will it affect your business? Visit our blog to have your say.
Ontario pesticide ban to take effect April 22
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