Friday, January 28, 2011

Hard-luck Texas family wins lawn care franchise

Wesley Neukam and his family in Corpus Christi, TX, are getting a fresh start in rebuilding their lives after winning a lawn care franchise from Clean Air Lawn Care. Neukam won:

o A Clean Air Lawn Care franchise, along with ongoing support, valued at $35,000.
o Lawn equipment donated by Black & Decker, valued at $1,000.
o Patagonia Clean Air Clothing, valued at - $200.

The Ft. Collins, CO-based, lawn care company launched the contest this past October with applications submitted online. Four finalists were eventually selected and invited to post online broadcasts to be voted on by the public through December.

"There are many hard-working Americans who are currently recovering from unexpected events. We are happy to do our part by giving a chance to someone who has the skills, passion and determination to be successful, but who may not have the means," said Kelly Giard, founder and CEO of Clean Air Lawn Care, whose company and franchisees use electric mowing equipment and offer organic lawn care. Currently it numbers 27 territories across the United States.

This past year was a tough year for Neukam and his family. We wish them a much better 2011. To hear his story and watch his winning video, go here:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mowing slopes with a joystick instead of an employee?

The new remote-control mower looks like the Mars Rover, only it has tracks instead of wheels. You operate it like one of those monster trucks that you bought your kid for Christmas. In fact, Mississippian John Wright, the developer of the new remote-control mower (actually there are several models) says he got the idea more than a decade ago by tinkering with a Power Wheels Barbi Jeep, an alternator, a remote-control car and a lawn mower.

But it wasn’t until he was inspired by Battle Bots, a program on cable tele
vision, and did a lot of research on the Internet that he finally put together a working prototype. Now his company, The Summit Lawn Mower Company, is manufacturing and selling remote-control mowers that he says solve the safety problem associated with mowing steep banks.

Here's the news release from the company:

Remote control la
wn mowers from The Summit Lawn Mower Company utilize a self-charging power system while remaining practical on any lawn. And, of course the most environmentally friendly mower is still the push reel from the good old days of Beaver Cleaver. But then again, it boils down to the practicality of the mower. If not many people use it, it is not doing the environment any good. Slope mowing capabilities up to 50 degrees is where the Summit Lawn Mower Company line of remote control lawn mowers really become practical, and not just fun. Lawn care professionals are benefiting from increased productivity. A lawn care professional generally resorts to six or eight men, equipped with time consuming weed eaters, for slopes over 30 degrees. Now they use one man, equipped with a remote control lawn mower, to take on the slopes and ditches. Their other crew members are out focusing on productivity by keeping the wheels spinning on their fleet of zero-turn mowers.

To see a video of one of the company's remote-control mowers doing its thing, visit

P.S., if any of you have tested or used one of these mowers, we'd love for you to share your experience.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fertilizer prices on the rise; here's why

Consider subscribing to the Purdue University TurfTip enewsletter. It always contains great information. Here's the latest post by Purdue's Bruce Erickson, of the university's agricultural economics department. As you're aware fertilizer prices are rising again; here's why.

By Bruce Erickson, Ph.D.

Fertilizer prices are on the upswing again, buoyed by the high prices of agricultural products that have stimulated increased demand. While the general U.S. economy struggles to recover from the financial crisis of 2008, the demand for agricultural products continues in a strong position due to favorable exchange rates, grain usage for biofuels, production concerns related to recent unfavorable weather in key crop growing regions, and a host of other factors. Higher fertilizer prices have put heavy users such as farmers, lawn care companies, and golf course superintendents on the defensive trying to best manage the input costs of their businesses. The following explains some factors that influence fertilizer prices and possible strategies in dealing with high and fluctuating prices.

Ten-year summary of prices charged by retailers to farmers for urea. 2000 to 2010 information is U.S. average for April each year. 2011 is based on a January survey of Illinois retailers. Source: USDA.

Prices Influenced by World Markets and Energy Fertilizer prices reached record levels in 2008 just prior to the financial crisis, with the prices of some key fertilizer materials such as anhydrous ammonia and diammonium phosphate exceeding $1000 per ton. Prices retreated in 2009 and 2010, but began increasing again last fall. The price of urea is approximately twice what it was a decade ago (see figure). In the 1980s the United States was a significant nitrogen exporter--now more than 57% of nitrogen used in the U.S. is imported (2008 data). Most commercial nitrogen fertilizers originate from a process that uses natural gas to convert the nitrogen gas in the air into a form usable by crops. Natural gas prices in other parts of the world are a fraction of what they are in the United States, so it is often more economical to produce there even considering transportation costs. Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, Russia, and the Middle East are major suppliers to the U.S.

Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) fertilizer sources such as DAP (Diammonium phosphate, 18-46-0) and muriate of potash (0-0-60) originate mostly from open or underground mines, with the bulk of production controlled by a handful of companies. The U.S. is the world’s leading supplier/exporter of phosphorus fertilizers, but imports most of its potassium from Canada. Investments in fertilizer mining and manufacturing are often long-term commitments and companies often lack the ability to adjust quickly to short-term market conditions.

Fertilizer Pricing is Complex

Fertilizer is not traded on a common exchange like stocks, currencies, or grains, so it can be much more difficult to get a read on prices. In addition, fertilizers are heavy, bulky commodities and their transport involves expense, time, and logistical constraints. Many customers also depend on their suppliers for fertilizer storage and specialized application equipment. So the market is not as fluid as many other inputs—users aren’t as likely to shop around and then just go pick up what they need as they might for chemicals or seeds.

Dealing With High Fertilizer Prices

Using the correct form and amount of fertilizer to achieve the desired plant response maximizes efficient input use and keeping costs in check. Fertilizer suppliers may be willing to enter into contractual arrangements with their larger customers that specify a future quantity and price, to help them manage their own price risk as well as that of their customers. In addition, some larger fertilizer users have also built their own bulk storage facilities that allow them to capitalize on seasonal price advantages or other price trends.

For more information on fertilizer pricing, check out:

Illinois Production Costs Report, Illinois Department of Agriculture:

Agricultural Prices, United States Department of Agriculture:

Factors Shaping Price and Availability of This Year’s Fertilizer Market, 2008, Purdue Agricultural Economics:

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