Tuesday, November 30, 2010

TruGreen Landcare being shopped around

In November, ServiceMaster's board of directors said it's exploring strategic alternatives designed to maximize value to shareholders. To that end, it's working with Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs as its advisors and Sidley Austin as its legal advisor.

Included in the company's Form 10Q filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission Nov. 15, is the following comment regarding ServiceMaster’s TruGreen Landcare unit: “The Company is exploring strategic options relating to TruGreen LandCare, including the potential sale of the business.”

“The early indications we’ve seen in the market are that there is a solid interest in TruGreen LandCare, so we think the time is right to evaluate the opportunities," said ServiceMaster CEO J. Patrick Spainhour.

“Our executive team is dedicated to exploring all strategic options that have potential to allow TruGreen LandCare to reach its growth potential,” he added. “In the meantime, we will continue to operate TruGreen LandCare in the best interests of our customers.”

The ServiceMaster Form 10Q reported a 7.9% decrease in revenue in its landscape segment and a $5.2 million decrease in operating income for the third quarter of 2010 compared to 2009. Contract maintenance revenue was down 9%, and enhancement sales were down 8.3%.

TruGreen LandCare, which has operations in more than 100 locations in 40 states, generates about 14% of ServiceMaster's annual revenues. By contrast, the TruGreen LawnCare segment delivers 32% of the company's revenues.

TruGreen Landcare, as many of your remember, was born in the mad dash in the late 1990s to acquire regionally prominent (although not necessarily profitable) landscape companies by national players, such as ServiceMaster and rollup upstart Landcare U.S.A., which several years after the landscape acquisition arms race sold out.— Ron Hall

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turf pros say that evidence is strong for global warming

It seems like we don't hear as much about global warming these days in the mainstream media because the economy continues to dominate the nightly news. But at a recent industry event, climate change — as two speakers preferred to call it — was talked about often. And both speakers, who appeared at the recent Green Start Academy hosted by John Deere Golf and Bayer Environmental Science, believe there's something to global warming.

During his presentation, Tom Rufty, Ph.D., a turfgrass professor from North Carolina State, displayed a slide containing two satellite photographs of Artic sea ice — one from 1979 and the other from 2008. The later photograph clearly revealed ice that had melted.

"We're in an inter-glacial period right now where the Earth should be cooling, but instead it's warming up," Rufty said.

Nick Hamon, Ph.D., who was recently named the head of sustainability for Bayer CropScience, said 95% of scientists believe there's a climate change issue.

"The 5 percent who don't think we have a climate change issue may end up being right," he said. "But 5 percent is not a great probability to live and work by when it comes to decide what the future may look like."

The basic message from Hamon and Rufty is climate change is something that can't be ignored.

"You may be cynical and say this is not going to happen," Hamon said. "But even if it's 50 percent correct, it's a little concerning."

Despite the challenges the world will face, Hamon has a good outlook for the green industry.

"Good science shows that the green industry has a place," he says.

Turfgrass plays a vital role in carbon sequestration, which can mitigate climate change, Hamon adds. He notes the following statistics should make people who work in Green Industry feel good about what they do for a living:

* Turfgrass removes 20 million tons of carbon — 5% of the carbon from our atmosphere.

* 10,000 sq. ft. of grass can produce enough oxygen for a family of four. 10,000 sq. ft. of healthy grass absorbs 6,000 gal. of rainwater without runoff.

* Managed turfgrass sequesters significantly more carbon than healthy turf.

Editor's note: Thanks to sister magazine Golfdom for the above report.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How will NY's organic yards initiative change lawn care in the Empire State?

It’s difficult to predict just how New York’s “Be Green Organic Yards NY” initiative will change the professional lawn application business in the State . . . but it will change it. Just how much will become more evident this coming Jan. 11, the opening day of the Empire State Green Industry Show in Rochester.

That’s when the Cornell University team of Dr. Jennifer Grant, Dr. Frank Rossi, Walter Nelson and David Chinery will present a 4-part session. Trained lawn care companies who successfully complete the course exam can apply for a NY Department of Conservation license agreement to use the “Be Green” logo. The course exam will be presented the same day at 4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Bring along a crisp C- note, yes, $100. DEC says you’ll have to fork it over to take the test.

Not familiar with the Be Green Organic Yards NY initiative? Here’s a website that explains it: www.dec.ny.gov/public/65071.html

For the record: Our guess is that the rooms for the organic lawn care sessions will be full. — Ron Hall

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jump-start 2011 business growth

Landscape Management visited many booths at the GIE+EXPO Oct. 28-30 in Louisville, KY, to obtain the latest industry news and trends and gather some education for readers on the business opportunities 2011 beholds.

Here is a collection of the videos we shot, providing you with tips to drive business improvement and growth next year.

John Deere's Chase Tew gives landscape professionals his best advice for alleviating pricing pressure in today's economy.

PLANET president and landscaper David Snodgrass reveals the mindset of today's typical landscape professional, his predictions for business in 2011 and PLANET news.

Syngenta's Dan Steltz shares his tips on how lawn care and landscape professionals can improve their brands as they go into business in 2011.

Agrium Advanced Technologies' Chris Derrick shares current data on fertilizer pricing and offers his best advice on how lawn care operators can improve fall fertilization.

Want to know how to start an aeration service and sustain it? Turfco's Bob Brophy reveals his secrets from 36 years in the industry.

Crabgrass has been tough this year. Dow AgroSciences offers some tips for getting ahead of it in 2011.

Landscape Management Editor-in-Chief interviews the Propane Education & Research Council's Brian Feehan on the growing trend in propane-powered landscape equipment.

Properly storing a mower for winter means a quicker, more productive and instantly profitable spring start-up. Cub Cadet's Allen Baird shares his tips.

Belgard's Ken O'Neill discusses a growing trend: outdoor rooms.

Landscapers: November is the time to build relationships with your growers for 2011 orders. Are you ready? Ball's Jeff Gibson shares some tips for improving your 2011 seasonal color programs.

Kichler's Scott Pesta discusses the new "green" trend in LED landscape lighting fixtures.

Patrick Day of Boral Bricks updates GIE+EXPO 2010 attendees on one of the hottest trends in hardscapes today: permeable pavers.

Expand your business in 2011 with stump grinding. Learn more from Toro's Greg Lawrence.

Wow, this is a lot of candy for our troops!!

A tip of the hat and a "nice job" to all of the landscapers and other small businesses across the nation that promoted this year's Treat for the Troops candy drive. And a special thanks to Allentuck Landscaping for reminding us.

Today, on this special day, Veteran's Day, Bruce Allentuck emailed this note to his customers and friends, thanking them for their support of Treats for the Troops:

"You came through again! Congratulations on a superb candy drive for Treats for the Troops. When combined with the other groups collecting candy, the total came to over 10,000 pounds collected. That is over 5 TONS!

Mover Moms (http://www.movermoms.org/ ) has already trucked the candy up to a National Guard post near Wheeling, West Virginia where it is being sorted and orgnaized. Next it will be flown over to our men and women of all faiths serving in Afghanistan and Iraq in time for the holidays."

Sincerely, yours,

Bruce Allentuck

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Huge fine should remind us to look before we dig

ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO, CANADA — Please don’t accuse us of picking on this landscape company; we’re not. Indeed, we’re genuinely sorry the following tragedy, one of the strangest we’ve read about in a long time, happened in the first place. The purpose of this blog is to remind you of what can go wrong if you don’t you know about and mark all underground utilities before digging.

In July 2008, a worker for a Niagara Falls landscape company punctured a propane line with a reinforcing bar on a customer’s property. To make a long story short (you can get the details from a recent article in the Hamilton Spectator), the propane gas leached through the earth and followed a television cable conduit into the home’s basement. When enough propane collected in the home’s basement, it exploded and killed a 54-old-occupant.

The company has been fined a total of $225,000 for health-and-safety violations, reported the newspaper. The court said that company did not mark the propane line and its workers made no effort to locate the underground gas line.

Click here for the full story.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Expect fertilizer prices to rise 10% (maybe more) for 2011

None of us, and especially those of us in the turf health business, want to see fertilizer prices spike like they did a couple of years ago. Likely they won't, not to that extend anyway. Even so, if you're buying turfgrass fertilizer next season, you might want to heed Lebanon Turf's advice to watch corn prices.

“As corn goes, so goes nitrogen and as nitrogen goes, so go fertilizer prices,” said Harry L. Mathis, corporate director of Materials, Distribution and Order Fulfillment for Lebanon Seaboard Corp., parent company of LebanonTurf.

The USDA’s corn forecast – recently adjusted downward 3.6% – caused a ripple effect that likely will be felt at golf courses, sports fields and anywhere turf managers rely on nitrogen-based fertilizers. The forecast sent corn futures soaring to near $6 per bushel, a price that encourages farmers to plant more corn, which in turn, requires increased nutrients. The subsequent jump in worldwide demand for nitrogen increases costs to fertilizer producers.

“We were sailing along in pretty stable condition this summer, and then the USDA numbers and the corn harvest sparked the markets,” Mathis said. “It just goes to show how fragile and interconnected the supply chain is.”

While market conditions have stabilized in the last several weeks, Mathis predicts that prices for fertilizer products high in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium will increase by 10% or more for the 2011 growing season. Any disorder in the worldwide supply chain, which could be brought on by disruptions at nitrogen plants and shipping interruptions, could cause another spike in costs. “N, P and K are in the mix together,” Mathis said.

“The corn number is real; the nitrogen situation is real, and when the season hits, low inventories of raw materials stateside could force some significant availability and pricing issues in the spring,” he said.