At this point, no one knows for sure how far municipalities and states will go to regulate the use of lawn care products. But recent legislation in New Jersey that limits the amount of nitrogen in fertilizers, in addition to moves by municipalities in New England, Illinois and New Jersey that have banned the use of pesticides in parks and school yards, are wakeup calls for both material suppliers and service providers. So, too, is legislation in some areas of the country that offers homeowners tax credits for removing lawns.
Forestalling harmful legislation and any attempt to nurture a negative public perception of the industry requires being involved at the community level. Delaney and Hobbs also emphasize how important it is for service providers to continue to follow best management practices to minimize any negative environmental impact. In other words, lawn care professionals can be proactive at the service level by promoting and offering sustainable solutions to customers.
Manufacturers continue to develop tools to help lawn care professionals do just that. Agrium Advanced Technologies, for example, offers a season-long fertilizer that reduces the number of applications from five or six to one or two per year.
“Why fertilize only twice a year?” asks the company’s marketing manager Bryan Gooch. “First, it saves on labor and other operating costs, plus fewer applications reduce the potential for fertilizer runoff. These slow-release technologies enable 25-40% less nitrogen to be used per year, while minimizing periods of excessive growth, which cuts down on mowing and the production of grass clippings.” Lawn care professionals can continue to make property visits to check on turf and provide other services to maintain a revenue steam, Gooch adds. In the meantime, though, they are managing turf in an environmentally responsible way.
The company offers two technological approaches in slow-release and controlled-release fertilizers. “The industry standard for slow-release fertilizers is sulfur-coated urea,” Gooch explains. “Agrium Advanced Technologies’ XCU Slow-Release Fertilizer is the new generation of sulfur-coated urea. XCU is a hybrid of polymer-coated and sulfur-coated urea fertilizer technologies, but delivers many of the benefits of a temperature-controlled diffusion-based polymer-coated fertilizer. Its unique, advanced coating technology provides a more stable front-end release and a gradual release of nutrients.
“Controlled-release fertilizers, like Agrium Advanced Technologies’ Duration CR, have a more precise polymer coating that predictably breaks down as the temperature increases, hence the word ‘controlled’,” Gooch continues. “Duration is available in Agrium Advanced Technologies’ new Spread it & Forget it controlled-release fertilizer.”
Gooch emphasizes that a well-maintained and well-managed lawn has a net positive impact on the environment. A big part of the management equation is not over-fertilizing and/or over-mowing the turf, something that the slow- and controlled-release fertilizers help lawn care professionals minimize.
“For many homeowners and other property owners,” says Mark Long, turf business manager for Engage Agro USA, “the level of sustainability is a lifestyle choice. Some may ask their service providers to employ a practice and materials that have minimal impact on the environment. Others may want a zero-impact approach. In some cases their decision will involve a combination of choices about the materials their lawn care professionals are using.”
Engage Agro USA recently introduced Fiesta Turf Weed Killer into the U.S. market, a product that broadens the choices customers have. Registered and approved for use in Ontario, Canada last spring, this bio-herbicide gives lawn care professionals a way to control tough weeds where cosmetic bans are in place.
“Fiesta will also be a great solution for customers in the U.S. who don’t want their lawn care provider to use a synthetic weed killer,” says Long. “Again, it’s about choices and solutions. For customers who want to maintain a totally sustainable lawn, it would be difficult for their lawn care provider to justify using a synthetic product even though using one in moderation, such as when spot spraying, can be defined as a sustainable practice compared to broadcasting a synthetic control.”