By Nicole Wise on Dec 10, 2013 11:07:00 AM
The year is finally coming to an end, giving a quiet (fingers crossed) and much-needed reprieve for lawn care operators. 2013 has kept the green industry on its toes and 2014 seems to be headed in the same direction.
Despite the current economic recession, 71% of lawn care operators (LCOs) reported in a Landscape Management survey that their individual markets are relatively or very healthy. That’s good news for the economy! In fact, according to Irrigation and Green Industry Magazine, professionals in the landscape industry contribute between $60 billion and $70 billion annually to our economy. The green industry is also responsible for a huge portion of the America’s workforce. “There are approximately 25,000 to 38,000 landscape contracting firms in the U.S. (Landscape Management)” Despite the positive outlook expressed by LCOs, challenges for 2013 were still numerous. Three of the biggest hurdles LCOs faced over the course of the year were rainy weather, hiring and developing “A level” employees and defending against the threat of government regulations.
1. Mother Nature Strikes Again!
This year Mother Nature threw us a curve ball and for the third year in a row our industry was heavily impacted by weather, specifically rain. In fact, almost two-thirds of the country received above-normal rainfall this year (Irrigation and Green Industry Magazine). Not only did this signify a late summer and therefore an interrupted work schedule for those located in the Midwest and East Coast, but it also encouraged an onslaught of agronomic conundrums. Instead of nurturing plant health, excessive rain drove color problems, disease, weeds and abnormal growth rates.
As members of the green industry, we are always at the mercy of Mother Nature’s whims. When it comes to Mother Nature, “It’s important to design a flexible fertilization program that can change with the weather,” states Cody Mull, CEO of Legacy Lawn Care in Pennsylvania. This can be difficult for companies, especially since many expenses are locked in at the start of the year. However, keeping your fingers crossed and hoping for the best doesn’t work and at the end of the day you can’t stop a tidal wave. Using bionutritional products such as Holganix can help LCOs avoid weather problems. Bionutritional fertility products are probiotic for plan wellness, allowing plants to be stronger and better prepared when Mother Nature hits.
2. Where Have All the Good People Gone?
Despite high unemployment during 2013, finding and developing the right people was a huge problem for LCOs. During November’s Lawn Care Forum in Orlando, Florida, the overriding concern stated by attendees was people. Hiring and developing employees is a huge challenge for growing lawn care companies and it appears it will continue to be in 2014. ArborLawn in Lansing, MI is no different. Despite high unemployment levels, Jerry Grossi, co-owner of ArborLawn, expressed that his biggest business challenge is “recruiting, hiring and retaining quality employees.” After all, Grossi continues, “Our strongest asset is our people!”
LCOs’ conflict with hiring and developing people will only get tougher once 2014 government legislation takes effect. For example, the threat of the Affordable Care Act and alterations regarding the parameters in the H-2B program (dictating that foreign workers should be paid prevailing wages) will change the way we view our workforce.
3. The War Against Fertilizer
Further government interference by officials regarding fertilizer and pesticide regulations have been building momentum. To date, 11 states have completely banned phosphorus while the EPA has declared war on fertilizer run off with the Clean Water Act. Regulations have arrived on both federal and state levels, but it’s the state government that has LCOs especially worried. According to Landscape Management, “When enacted, the two-year-old New Jersey fertilizer law was one of the most comprehensive and restrictive to date…. Other states have followed suit.”
In response to regulations and the growing green movement, LCOs are flocking to incorporate organic products and procedures in their companies. As of spring 2013, 44% of LCOs surveyed in the Lawn Care Market Report (by Landscape Management Magazine) offer organic solutions to plant and turf fertility. 57% of the companies interviewed stated that their clients will pay a premium for organics.
Despite the overwhelming need for organic solutions, many LCOs hesitate to join the organic bandwagon. Traditionally, organic fertility products have been expensive, difficult to utilize and have delivered inconsistent results as compared with synthetic options. However, many new technologies and improvements in the world of organic fertility products have compensated for these traditional setbacks, allowing LCOs to stay ahead of the regulation game.
Landscape Management Magazine: Lawn Care Market Report
Irrigation and Green Industry Magazine: 2013 Status Report on the Green Industry