Thursday, October 29, 2009

Young talent is eager to bring sustainability into the industry

Many of us in the landscape industry are grappling with the concept of sustainability, something that I've been researching and attempting to understand for more than a year.

The more I learn about sustainability as it relates to the landscape/lawn service trade the more I'm convinced that we have to embrace it from an environmentally responsible AND a business standpoint.

That was one of the dominant themes at PLANET's Green Industry Conference (GIC) in Louisville this past week. Lots of presenters at GIC have been sharing information on the topic. Their messages all start with the same introduction, at least when it comes to the "green" portion of sustainability -- it's not a passing fad.

Tim Schauwecker, program coordinator at Mississippi State's excellent Landscape Management program, reinforced just that point. Tim was the moderator at one of the 80 or so round tables at the Thursday morning Breakfast of Champions event at PLANET's GIC. Me and four other contractors spent more than an hour learning about what's coming down the road in terms of sustainability, spending much of our time getting up to speed with LEED and the Sustainable Sites Initiative that the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the U.S. Botanic Garden are preparing for its eventual incorporation into LEED.

LEED is program run by the U.S. Green Building Council to make buildings more energy efficient, healthy for occupants and friendly to the environment. It is having a huge impact on the construction trades.

SSI may have an equally large impact on the landscape/lawn service industry, once SSI gets paired with LEED. Keep your eyes on its progress.

But, back to Tim and what's going on with his program. He says that the 70 or so students he has contact with at MSU in Starkville, MS, are on top of this sustainability issue like gnats on a ripe peach. Learning the "green" way of providing products and services is becoming a bigger piece of their educational experience, he says.

This leads me to wonder that as they (and students from other progressive horticulture and landscape programs), start their careers within our companies and/or create their own companies, how much farther they will drive this issue of sustainability, within our industry, especially its environmental components.

There is a lot of bright, ambitious young students in these programs. What impact is this educated but inexperienced talent having on your companies?

-- Ron Hall

Friday, October 23, 2009

Addressing the 'hydro-illogic' cycle

Dr. James Beard, professor emeritus Texas A&M University and a world-famous turfgrass expert, wryly refers to “the hydro-illogic cycle” when discussing the water needs of lawns, sports fields, golf course and other properties.

“When there’s a drought, authorities go into a panic and start saying ‘we have to do something.' When it starts to rain again the panic passes and they say ‘oh well, we really don’t have to do anything.’ That’s the hydro-illogic cycle,” says Beard.

The hydro-illogic cycle, of course, is quite different from the hydrologic circle (or cycle).

Well-known to anyone who studies water, the hydrologic cycle refers to the process where fresh water is continually recycled, being dumped onto the earth as rain or snow and returning to the atmosphere as water vapor from the oceans and the earth’s land masses. The process is repeated over and over again, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, eon after eon.

In other words, when we use the term water scarcity we’re usually referring to a regional lack of fresh water, not water in total, which covers three quarters of the earth’s surface. The amount of fresh water by comparison is tiny, just 2.5% of the total. More startling yet is the amount of fresh water available to sustain our societies, less than 1% of world’s supply of fresh water. Most fresh water is locked up in ice at the poles, in glaciers, in soil moisture and in very deep aquifers.

But even this tiny amount of available fresh water would be sufficient to sustain our needs if it was captured and distributed and used efficiently. This of course starts with using what we already have more efficiently, the least expensive source of “new” fresh water.

Beyond that, lack of reservoirs, the need for additional distribution (including infrastructure badly in need of replacement) and too little reuse of the water we already have are at the core of our regional water shortages

Says Beard, there is no reason for water to be scare, particularly in the eastern United States that gets enough precipitation (even if it is unpredictable) to sustain forests of trees, which research has shown require far more water than turfgrass, he adds.

Will the water hydro-illogic cycle be repeated in north Georgia and into the Carolinas, a region that suffered one of its worst droughts on record in 2007-2008. That drought caused billions of dollars in lost revenues in agriculture, the Green Industry and other water-dependent businesses.

The region is predicted to remain one of the fastest growing in the nation for the next 30 years and the region will almost certainly be revisited by droughts.

Now that the rain has returned to this region and its flush with water, will policymakers there put new sources of fresh water on the legislative backburner?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

These H2B 'facts' are way out of line

Can this be true — that 98% of legal, seasonal H2B guest workers are paid wages lower than the prevailing wage reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics?

Or that 64% of the cases the DOL-certified wage fell below 75% of the mean hourly wage?

A Washington D.C. “think tank” known as the Economic Policy Institute reported in 2008 that it is true. The EPI said it gathered these findings from 15 states, which it listed at the end of a short article.

In our opinion, the EPI has to offer a lot more explanation of how it came up with these numbers before they’re taken as credible. Unfortunately, once they’re reported they're taken as fact and are freely shared.

For example, the 98% statistic turned up in an Oct. 21 article in the Los Angeles Times. The statistic jumped out at us because our personal experiences in visiting with landscape companies and documenting their H2B workers have been the opposite — that employers desirous of keeping these valuable workers pay them the prevailing wage in their particular regions. And as these workers gain skills and experience more than the prevailing wage.

With the U.S. economy at near full employment from the late 1990s until just a few years ago, just about every landscape company owner with H2B workers told us the same thing— they couldn’t find able-bodied U.S. workers willing to show up every day to do routine landscape work, such as mowing, trimming and installing hardscapes . . . even at prevailing wages, which are admittedly lower than union scale but in line with other service industries.

Our experiences visiting and meeting with landscape company owners and, indeed, many of their seasonal guest workers puts to the lie the claim — an exaggeration that makes it absurd on the surface— that 98% of legal, seasonal H2B guest workers are paid wages lower than the prevailing wage.

Statistics like this are often picked up and passed on as fact. Coupled with today’s bleak employment picture, which has savaged job prospects for U.S. workers and guest workers alike, it's unlikely that the present administration or Congress will look at guest worker programs favorably when they get around (if they ever do) to an immigration overhaul. — Ron Hall

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reicher going to Nebraska; Purdue seeking new turf extension specialist

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN — Purdue University is looking for a Turfgrass Extension Specialist. The position becomes available July 1, 2010. Dr. Zac Reicher, who presently holds that post, announced this past summer that he is leaving Purdue after 21 years there (17 as Extension Specialist) to take a position with Extension at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Reicher said in a recent Purdue enewsletter that he took the position because his wife accepted a position at the University of Nebraska as Director of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning in the School of Architecture.

“I am what’s considered a ‘spousal hire’ in university speak, which means if the school wants one person bad enough, they’ll make room for their spouse if qualified,” Reicher wrote in the newsletter.

Reicher said the he's excited to be joining the strong turf team in Nebraska but has mixed feelings about leaving central Indiana.

“The turf staff and administration at Purdue, the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation and the entire Turf Industry have been very, very good to me,” wrote Reicher. “On the other hand, Nebraska offers the chance to start over, tackle new opportunities and hopefully build on an already strong program undergoing significant changes with retirements.”

If you’re interested in the Purdue job and you have a Ph.D. degree in Crop Science, Agronomy, Horticulture, Plant Ecology or related disciplines, you might want to contact Dr. Cale Bieglow at or Dr. Herb Ohm at

For more information about Purdue Agronomy and the Turf Science Program, visit the Web site here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sustainable Sites accepting applications for pilot projects Nov. 5

The Sustainable Sites Initiative will accept applications for pilot projects starting Nov. 5 and closing Feb. 15, 2010, in conjunction with the release of the next report and new rating system, called The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009.

Any type of designed landscape is eligible to participate, ranging from academic and corporate campuses, parks and recreation areas, transportation corridors to single residences so long as the total size exceeds 2,000 square feet. Fees for participating in the pilot project process may run from $500 to $5,000 depending on project budget (Note, limited scholarships will be available). Approximately 75 to 150 projects will take part in testing the first national rating system for sustainable landscapes.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Until now, design and construction rating systems included little recognition for benefits of sustainable landscape and site design. Landscapes can clean water, reduce pollution and restore habitats, all while providing significant economic benefits to land owners and municipalities. The U.S. Green Building Council, a stakeholder in the Initiative, anticipates incorporating the Sustainable Sites guidelines and performance benchmarks into future iterations of its LEED Green Building Rating System.

Visit the Sustainable Sites Web site on Nov. 5th for the online pilot project application. For email updates on Sustainable Sites, click here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Big plans for turning Philly greener

PHILADELPHIA — This city has proposed tackling its combined-sewer overflow problems with a $1.6 billion, 20-year plan that would use rain gardens, green roofs, thousands of additional trees, rain-harvesting barrels and porous pavement, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported September 27.

Environmental experts and federal regulators are reviewing the 3,369-page plan put forth by the Philadelphia Water Department.

The green capture plan is being hailed as one of the most ambitious ideas to reduce combined sewer overflows and increase “green” living of a major metropolitan area. According to the plan, runoff is reduced, diverted or filtered by layers of soil and plant root systems. The Inquirer reported, “Some areas would temporarily store runoff until the stress of the storm on the combined sewer system is reduced and the water can then be treated in the sewer treatment plants.”

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Landscaping to soothe our harried souls...can you dig it?

Landscape professionals increase their competence and marketability by gaining the knowledge and experience to earn industry certifications. National organizations provide certification opportunities as do many state associations.

Here’s a new one on us. It’s called Project NatureConnect (PNC), which is headquartered in beautiful Friday Harbor, in Washington State’s San Juan Islands. It’s not a certification program as much as an educational/learning program.

“Landscapers learn holistic gardening techniques that include teaching their clients how to use nature – connecting activities to create personal healing garden designs and therapeutic backyard landscapes that increase wellness and spirit, says the PNC.

Program Director Dr. Michael J. Cohen has published landscape studies at the PNC Web site that show that pictures of peaceful relaxing landscapes evoke calm and tranquility in most individuals. . . Better yet, the real thing — beautiful landscapes that reconnect people to nature.

“At Project NatureConnect, to become therapists, landscapers learn online, how to use and teach as many as 147 nature-reconnection activities. They use them to help their clients discover special attractions in nature that peacefully fulfill their natural senses: plants, flowers, scents, sounds, etc.,” says a release from the PNC.

The PNC offers online training, job, Masters or Ph.D. degree programs at its Institute of Global Education. According to the release, it “enables our psyche to walk nature's path to socially and environmentally responsible relationships, stress reduction and sustainable livelihoods.”

Hey, I can dig it . . . to resurrect a phrase I haven’t used since my Nehru jacket days. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tiltometer encourages safer mowing

The Tiltometer sounds like something you might find at a neighborhood carnival, but it’s no amusement park thrill ride. In fact, the Tiltometer’s purpose is to keep mower operators safe. Glendale Grounds Management, based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, uses it and other safety innovations to prevent workplace injuries.

Designed by Glendale engineer Angus Lindsay and built by machinist Gavin Blair, this simple device allows mower operators to experience what a particular angled slope would actually feel like, reports the UK trade journal Horticulture Week. So, what exactly is a Tiltometer? It consists of a mower seat on a frame that can be jacked up to varying angles. It’s that simple. Glendale is also working with a manufacturer to produce an “inclinometer” to be installed on its commercial mowers.

Why is this important? Each year more than 80,000 people in the United States are injured in mowing accidents. Some of the most serious, including deaths, occur when mowing on steep hills or embankments, which leads me to remind you of the STARS (Safety Training Achieves Remarkable Success) program offered by the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). If you're in the landscape business and you're not participating, you should be. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

U.S. EPA moving toward disclosing identities of pesticide inert ingredients

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward with a plan to disclose the identities of all inert ingredients in pesticides including those that are potentially hazardous. The EPA says the increased transparency will assist consumers and users of pesticides in making informed decisions and will better protect public health and the environment. Pesticide manufacturers typically disclose their inert ingredients only to EPA. Currently, EPA evaluates the safety of all active and inert ingredients in a product’s formulation when determining whether the pesticide should be registered.

The Agency anticipates publishing its proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register within the next few months. In it, EPA will discuss ideas for greater disclosure of inert ingredient identities, including inerts associated with various hazards, as well as inerts in general. EPA believes one way of discouraging the use of the more hazardous inert ingredients in pesticide formulations is by making their identities public. In addition to pursuing regulatory action for inert disclosure, EPA is considering encouraging voluntary initiatives to achieve this broader disclosure.

On Sept. 30, EPA responded to two petitions (one by Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, and a second by certain State Attorneys General), that identified more than 350 inert pesticide ingredients as hazardous. The petitioners asked EPA to require these inert ingredients be identified on the labels of products that include them in their formulations.

See also the U.S. EPA's Oct. 1 release: EPA Opens Transparency Window into Pesticide Registration Decisions

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Congratulations to David J. Frank for 50 years of service

GERMANTOWN - David J. Frank celebrated 50 years in the landscaping business by inviting everyone to his party at his place this past Friday. Frank used the occasion to hold a blood drive and a collection day for a food pantry and Condella's Coats for Kids.

Click here for a 2-minute video from Fox 6 featuring the party.

Congratulations from Landscape Management magazine David J. Frank for a half-century of service.