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Industry Advocate: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu

December 14, 2021 -  By

Someone recently described owning a business as being like sitting down and having a Red Bull to relax. It’s tough at the best of times but recent months have been, let’s say, challenging. Prices of goods are soaring with no end in sight, available labor is all but nonexistent and the only thing we have ample supply of is uncertainty.

(Photo: Paul Bradbury/OJO Images/Getty Images)

(Photo: Paul Bradbury/OJO Images/Getty Images)

I have been speaking with people about their reactions to the current economic situation. One friend told me that he was taking delivery of enough fertilizer to take him through August of next year. Folks, that is a lot of fertilizer.

Contemplate for a moment: Urea, the most common nitrogen fertilizer source in the lawn and landscape industry, is a globally traded commodity. Just to give you an idea of how crazy urea prices have been over the past year, the 52-week price on the futures market has ranged from $282.50 per ton to a high last month of $782, a nearly threefold increase. Worse yet, over the past five years, the average price of urea in November has been $147.33. Incredible! No wonder that Red Bull looks like a cup of chamomile tea lately.

In an age when responses to help-wanted advertisements are largely restricted to people who need to justify their ongoing unemployment benefits, our industry has steadily turned to equipment to replace manual labor, but now, our industry is under assault as local, and state political leaders seek to ban small gasoline-powered engines based upon emissions and leaf blowers based upon excessive noise. As of this writing, there is a new law in California that will ban the sale of small off-road engines. We expect copycat legislation to be filed in many states as new legislative terms begin in January.

It’s time to speak up

This doesn’t automatically mean that any of these bills will pass and become law, however. This is where your participation is crucial. People who advocate for banning things like fertilizers, pesticides and leaf blowers do not know about your struggles keeping your business going and putting food on the table.

And quite frankly, they don’t care. They will march into a politician’s office and loudly proclaim all manner of misinformation. If you are not there to counter their narrative, how is the politician to know any better? Many times, in conversation with a politician or a member of their staff, they will tell us that they do not hear from members of the lawn care and landscape industry.

Indeed, one of the first experiences I had when I started with NALP was to attend a meeting of a county council in Florida that was debating a ban on the application of fertilizer during certain months of the year. The policy was the opposite of what was being recommended by university turfgrass researchers.

Long story short, the county council voted in the fertilizer ban, much to our disappointment, but on my way back to Orlando to grab a plane back to Boston, I passed so many lawn care trucks. None of those companies showed up at that meeting. Not one. And now, their county government had banned them from applying fertilizer. Were none of these companies aware of the proposed ordinance? Where are they going to go to make up for the lost revenue? All I could think of is the old saying about politics: If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.

In the new year, make it a priority to dedicate time to advancing the lawn care and landscape industry. If you do not belong to your state lawn, landscape or nursery association, now is the time to join. And don’t stop there, either. Our state associations need volunteers like you to serve. If you’ve never done this kind of work, give it a try. I have always gotten back far more than I invested. You won’t be sorry. I promise.

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