Costs associated with moving to an organic lawncare business

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by ye786, Sep 12, 2004.

  1. ye786

    ye786 LawnSite Member
    Posts: 2


    I wanted to know what the key costs would be in moving from a commercial lawncare business to organic lawncare methods.

    I'm thinking the key areas would include the following:

    1. Training/education of organic methods for current staff.
    2. Increase in labour - as organic methods can be more labourious
    3. Organic fertilizers are more expensive than commercial ones

    Is there a place I can find more information on this topic ?

    Thank you in advance.
  2. trying 2b organic

    trying 2b organic LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 566

    I see you are in Vancouver. Start here - Society of Organic Urban Landcare professionals. S.O.U.L. I am a former member and have an organic lawn care company on the Island. I found them to dogmatic and rigid and am moving my company from organic to IPM. You will, however, find a lot of info through them. They have a website also of course. And an online learning centre for organic land care. they are based in Victoria BC.
  3. cenlo

    cenlo LawnSite Senior Member
    from Ontario
    Posts: 322

    I agree with Trying 2b, think this move over very carefully before taking the turn! The key here is "True IPM" (which I believe rarely happens!) True IPM combined with solid organic principles can be more effective in reducing pesticides in a community than 100% chemical free. Picture a street with all nice lawns but one, all of the good lawns are full of chemicals and are getting blanket sprayed 3-4 times a year (even when there are no weeds!) Now, the guy with the weedy lawn hires you to fix his property. All of the neighbors are watching your chemical free business work on the weedy lawn and may consider switching depending on the results. Now it's late summer and the neighbors have noticed that the weedy lawn still looks like crap (and believe me it will, I speak from experience!) they are now saying "I,m not getting that company, Mr Smith's lawn still looks like crap!" you have taken a customer which never put chemicals on his lawn and tried to service it with no chemicals, so in fact you have reduced nothing! And you now have a neighborhood of people who are being chemically pounded year after year convinced to not use you in the future!

    If we use a "controlled" spray on Mr. Smith's lawn combined with good organic practices, his yard will make a rapid improvement. This will help convince some neighbors to give you a try. Now...if you can get some of the neighbors to switch, they wont need chemicals because there are no weeds. So you end up with lawns which require minimal work, and reduce a ton of chemical per year. (giving a very positive net reduction in overall chemical usage)....from there it should start to "snowball"

    Again, I believe you are on the right track, the key is "true IPM" and maybe it takes a little chemical to create a major reduction! IMO :)
  4. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 327

    Let's go one at a time.
    This is absolutely true! Your workers will have to UNLEARN much of what they think is the truth about lawn care. What you will need to teach is the concept of microbiological beasts underground that do most of the work for you. The chemical programs of the past 200 years are at best an approximation of what Mother Nature has provided for the past several BILLION years. You also have to teach them that organics do not give the instant response that ammonium sufate gives for greening. You should never let a turf get yellow because it take 3 weeks for the fertilizer to kick in. You have to anticipate when to fertilize and get there early by 3 weeks.
    I think I disagree with this. The only difference is the weight of the organic materials you have to apply. If Lesco requires 25 pounds of a product, you will probably need 40 pounds of an organic material to get the same effect. Inasmuch as it might take longer to apply 40 pounds versus 25 pounds, then yes it can take longer. Otherwise, if you have control over watering and mowing, it should be the same amount of time on either lawn.
    This is what everyone believes. If you can use the raw materials found in the commercial fertilizers, then you can save 80%.
    Right above these topics are some source materials posted a while back.
  5. cenlo

    cenlo LawnSite Senior Member
    from Ontario
    Posts: 322

    If you want to go to organic methods I don't no how you can disagree with the fact there will be extra time spent providing that service! If you are trying for any type of positive results you will spend alot more time (at least 30%) probably more like 50-75%. :(

    Just in weed control alone you will add a ton of time. You will be handpicking, doing more site visits, analysis, etc.

    There is absolutely no comparison to the time required in a program using organic methods to a program using chemicals!
  6. trying 2b organic

    trying 2b organic LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 566

    Cenlo, you hit a couple of key points bang on.
    If you are 100 % organic you turn your back on a lot of customers who want to reduce thier pesticide use but still get good results on a budget quickly. If you practice true IPM for 200 customers the overall pesticide usage in you community will be reduced by much more than if you pracitce 100 % organic for 30 customers and leave the rest to the competition who claim to be IPM but we know are doing business as usual.

    ie selling scheduled weed control which is very profitable and not selling areation, topdressing and overseeding which is more work, less profit but what the lawns need to reduce pesticide use overall.

    We have read all the research, we have studied the issues, but unlike many ivory tower idealists featured in the media we know all to well how well pure organics works and doesnt work. If I wasnt in the BUSINESS of lawncare I would just say , oh hell, plant a medow. But if you want to reduce the overall pesticide use of your community and go for more than a small niche market IPM is an option.

    Some customers are adamant about being pesticide free and are totally fine with the time and expense and results from this route. Others just want you to "fix" thier lawn.
  7. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 327

    There are three elements to lawn care
    1. Watering
    2. Mowing
    3. Fertilizing

    I firmly believe that if you can control 1 and 2 whether you use organic or chemical fertilizer is basically immaterial. Of course you must not use any insecticide, herbicide, or fungicide or else then it does matter which fertilizer you use. My point (which I'm rapidly moving away from) is that proper watering and mowing will keep the weeds out. Watering deeply and infrequently keeps most seeds from germinating in the first place. Many lawn professionals will not take a client unless they get the key to the sprinkler box. They reset the timer to go on for an hour, once a week, in each zone. That keeps the seeds from getting damp enough for long enough to germinate. Then there's mowing. Most professionals have to mow most grasses at 2 inches or less to satisfy the clients and to keep the cashflow going. If you can mow at 3-4 inches, the extra shade provided by the tall grass will shade out the weed seeds and help prevent them from germinating. Crabgrass seed needs full sun to sprout. Any small break in coverage will give it a start. Tall grass needs less water, grows better roots, and needs less mowing (oops! CASHFLOW ALARM should be going off here). But now I think I've made my point. Proper management of water is most important to weed control. Proper mowing (tall) is secondarily important. If you are not going to use herbicide, you need all the help you can get.

    In my personal lawn I have two areas that like to grow oxalis. This year I did not pick any of it out and it seemed to disappear in the tall grass. I know the seeds are still there, so we'll see next year.
  8. cenlo

    cenlo LawnSite Senior Member
    from Ontario
    Posts: 322

    It seems as though you are talking about properties with minimal weeds. I agree with you about keeping weeds out, but what about lawns full of weeds to begin with. How can you control a yard with 5 year old weeds with 36" tap roots!
  9. SystemXpert

    SystemXpert LawnSite Member
    Posts: 66

    I played with the idea of going "organic" in an effort to build soil and feed the plants at the same time. I developed a program using products like Milorganite, Sustane, and Espoma. However, the cost was higher than before and much more material was needed.

    After doing alot of research, I discovered what I was really after was a better lawn program than the industry standard 5 step programs. AND I didn't have to be totally organic to build good soil. Instead, I started using different synthetics with low chlorine and low salt indexes. I also mixed in some organic products. The end result a solid program that uses the best of both worlds.

    Yes, I agree its easy to say "Just mow high and water correctly and weeds won't be a problem". True, but you have to get rid of the existing weeds and prevent germination of large numbers of weed seeds. My lawn was a problem lawn. Previous Homeowner didn't care about his yard and it was loaded with weeds. After 2 years of overseeding in the Fall and using pre-emergents in the spring, my lawn is fantastic. Now I don't use herbicides at all. My point is I had to suppress the majority of weeds first, before relying on organic methods of weed control.

  10. HazyDavy

    HazyDavy LawnSite Member
    Posts: 102

    I agree with what you're saying Dchall, but there comes a time(fall) when it's time to overseed and water frequently for a fairly long period of time. That's when all of the weeds/crabgrass start popping up. It happened to me last year. I had to put down an herbicide in the spring and had great results. I've seeded again this year, but I don't have nearly the weed problem. Whatever pops up I can pull by hand. Hopefully this coming spring I won't have a weed problem, and can just use CGM as my pre-emergent.

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