Biologic and organic fertilizers and savings

October 21, 2019 -  By
Lawn care truck and spray operator (Photo: Chris Seagraves)

Spray savings LawnAmerica’s Jeff Hardey sprays product at the home of one of the company’s clients. (Photo: Chris Seagraves)

Biologic and organic fertilizers have been working their way into the lawn care business for quite a while. How deep into the business? While it’s difficult to measure market sectors exactly, data analysis company Mordor Intelligence projects the biological/organic fertilizer market at 13.3 percent compound annual growth between 2019 and 2024, with North America being the largest market.

Increased organic farming is a major factor in that growth, the company says, with sustainable farming and government support to manufacturers helping fuel the upswing. Lawn care customers wanting more eco-friendly solutions from their lawn care companies are, of course, part of that mix. Lower costs for operators are too, but more on that later.

While there are big technical differences between biologic and organic fertilizers, the basics are not difficult to understand. Organic fertilizers are derived from animal sources such as manure or from plant sources (the so-called “green manure”). Biologic fertilizers, on the other hand, contain living microorganisms that when applied to seeds or soil, colonize the rhizosphere and promote growth by increasing primary nutrients to the plant.

To get a snapshot of how lawn care operators are using these fertilizer choices and what they offer lawn care businesses and their clients, we asked someone doing the work.

More efficient soil

Why use biologics or organics at all? The short answer is simple, according to Chris Seagraves, operations manager for Oklahoma-based LawnAmerica. These fertilizers “help create a composted living soil where everything is more efficient,” he says.

LawnAmerica projects revenue of $9 million in 2019 from its 100 percent lawn care business. The firm has a mix of 70 percent residential and 30 percent commercial clients, 68 employees and 50 trucks at its four locations in Oklahoma and two in North Carolina.

Supplying its liquid biologic and organic fertilizers is Greensboro, Ga.-based Greene County Fertilizer Co. LawnAmerica also uses Greene County’s Air-8, D-Thatch and RGS (root growth stimulant) products.

The benefits of biofertilizers extend beyond the soil itself, Seagraves says.

“Water goes deeper, as do roots, in order to access it; the soil holds more water because of the increased organic matter; and the water sticks around for longer because of both,” he adds. “This means using biological fertilizers yields better-quality soil, and less watering is needed.”

On the question of whether the advantages of biologic and organic fertilizers beat out traditional synthetic fertilizers, Seagraves doesn’t hold back.

“They’re pretty much (a) near color match of synthetic granular fertilizers and for as long, without the massive top growth,” he says. “This is achieved by improved soil quality through the natural composting effects over time provided by biostimulant activity.”

Water management and application issues

Water management is another area of biological advantage, Seagraves says. “These products help us be better stewards of the environment. Customers haven’t called in thanking us for reducing their water bill or anything like that, but we all have properties that don’t have irrigation, and those are the ones where the evidence shows up first. The nonirrigated properties have been faring much better than they have in the past in regard to improved turf density, improved color and performance and less diversity of weed species.”

And in case you’re wondering, applying these biologic fertilizers doesn’t cause Seagraves to lose much sleep. “You want to be careful not to spray wood, vinyl and concrete surfaces,” he says, “as a couple of them tend to stain.”

Return on investment

Although Seagraves doesn’t brag about great gobs of new cash coming from the use of these fertilizer products, he mentions something almost as good: savings.

“There was little to no increase in repeat visits for weeds over last year, even though we have had a very difficult year with immense rainfall amounts,” he says. “Normally, the more rainfall you receive, the more pressure you will get from weeds and the more you have to go back.”

Some of the biologic products appear to help eradicate weeds naturally by taking away their purpose, Seagraves says, noting that weeds sprout to repair certain soil conditions.

“If you can repair the soil, the weeds don’t have to do it, so they don’t have to be there in the first place,” he says.

The cost of these products is in line with typical granular applications, Seagraves says. It’s even more beneficial for companies set up to do liquid applications.

“All the while, you are addressing the entire picture of soil health and fertility with (biologicals) rather than just typical NPK programs,” he says. “Every application we do with a Greene County product has something in it for soil biomicrobes as well as direct or indirect fertility. They all help start and sustain a living soil, and that is what it’s all about. Happy soil yields happy lawns.”

Ed Hiscock is editor-at-large for LM’s sister publication, Golfdom.

LM Staff

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