Wanting my company to go organic. need guidance.

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by smallstripesnc, Jan 4, 2014.

  1. VIPTC

    VIPTC LawnSite Member
    Messages: 28

    Look carefully at your market - is there really that much demand for an all organic approach? If so, yours would be the first. Even if you believe that the organic options such as Adios, Fiesta and corn gluten work, they're all extremely expensive. And every organic answer, including many of the replies in this post, mention the importance of good cultural practices. That's true but pretty useless - ask LCOs how many of their customers actually follow their advice. Think about it - have you ever left a customer a note saying they mowed too tall?

    Again, this is a number business and it just seems to make sense to play to the majority of customers rather than the few who are willing to pay a premium for all organic. That leads to this simple fact - you're excluding most of your potential customers due to price.

    I am not arguing against organic products - I use a number of organic fert and soil products. I've found it usually pays not to be a zealot about anything though.
  2. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,160

    I agree with what you are saying. Successful 100% organic programs are difficult to maintain and may fail to meet the expectations of many clients. Finding the right clients can be difficult, they must accept that there will be weeds. This is a niche market. Taking control of cultural methods will increase success rate.

    Applicators must be better trained and be responsible for more than just throwing down product. An understanding of how important soil health is and how to improve it is critical.

    However, the implementation of organic methods will improve plant health enough to resist many insect, disease and other stress factors. There are some effective organic control products for many insects, diseases and weeds, but not all. I see no reason against augmenting (spot treating) an organic program with synthetics to handle these problems as long as you are not representing your self as an Organics only company.

    It has been my experience that such a program will provide better results than either a conventional or pure organic program. And BTW, reduce your costs with less health and environmental concerns.
  3. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,160

    I just want to add that there are more than a few companies that are successful at organic lawn care. It has taken them years to learn how to do it, train employees, market it and be financially educated enough to pull it off. They do turn a profit and I know of several who have more than enough work to allow them to choose if they want to add a new client or not.
    IMO, it is a goal worth striving for.
  4. JCResources

    JCResources LawnSite Member
    Messages: 109

    Barry nails it here. Don't forget there are temperature restrictions with the organic products as well. We have had clients love the organic idea, but they are some of the first to complain about a weed on a 90 degree day. We get excellent results with organics on the nutrient side, using "safer" weed control products like Fiesta when appropriate and not being afraid to use herbicides when necessary. Our clients really just want results. Sell a higher level of service, reduced chemicals, healthier soil and better drought tolerance.

    All of the above posters are right. 100% organic won't satisfy most clients.
  5. JCResources

    JCResources LawnSite Member
    Messages: 109

    An organic program also has the potential to confuse regulators. Depending on your local laws you may still need to be licensed to do this. Our inspector at first tried to tell us we couldn't use materials we were using because they weren't labeled as a pesticide. After we showed the labels and exemptions they backed down.

    Just be ready with full documentation because it is my experience most people have no clue about these practices and materials.
  6. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,160

    That is correct. While there are Federal Regulations on pesticide applications, each State has their own set of regulations for pesticides and several have regs on fertilizer applications. In many cases there is confusion as to how to interpret these regulations. The only source to trust is the Department in your State that is responsible for enforcing pesticide regulations.
    Google pesticide regulations followed by your State's name and you should find a phone number to get you started.

    For example, here in NJ you do not need a pesticide license to apply pesticides which are exempt from EPA registration under FIFRA 25(b) whether it is organic or not. However some organic pesticides do have an EPA # and therefor do require a pesticide license. We also have a fertilizer law which requires certification to apply fertilizer, it also limits how much organic matter can be applied. The fertilizer law is not enforced by the same agency as pesticides. Other States are set up totally different.
  7. Skipster

    Skipster LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,086

    This is a very confusing topic for industry practitioners and customers. Practitioners who follow this type of program usually call it their organic program or they call themselves organic operators. They sell their programs as being better for people, pets, and the environment, but they still use the same chemicals in the same quantities that conventional operators use. Most conventional operators that I know only use chemicals in spot treatments, just like you’re advocating. The only difference is fertilizer – and some of that used by the organic crowd is still conventional.

    I saw that when I visited the website of a prominent poster on this site. He touted his organic program (and even had ‘Organic’ in the company name), but his website listed conventional fertilizers and conventional herbicides in the program, but included compost tea mixed with the liquid conventional fertilizer.

    How would you pitch to your customers (and the rest of the community) the type of herbicide-augmented program that you’re advocating?
  8. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,160

    Skipster, I cringe when companies (one national company comes to mind) misrepresent themselves in this manner. IMO, they honestly do not know the difference (doubtful) or they are using unethical marketing to mislead their clients.

    I prefer to classify different programs as;
    organic programs rely heavily on cultural methods and only use approved soil amendments, organic fertilizers (no biosolids), compost, compost tea, OMRI or NOP approved pesticides.
    natural programs in addition to the above and other "natural" products that do not meet OMRI or NOP specification may be allowed.
    Transitional, Hybrid, organic based programs may include fertilizers that blend organic matter with synthetic nutrients and spot treating with conventional pesticides.
  9. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,160

    BTW, I would challenge your statement that most conventional LCO only use spot treatments. Most do blanket treatments of pre-emergent, post emergent and grub treatments. Many do fungicide treatments.
  10. Skipster

    Skipster LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,086

    I understand what you’re saying about classifying programs and I mostly agree with it, but we don’t have anything to hold ourselves and each other to it. It’s still very much the Wild West with respect to that. I suppose you could take someone to court over misrepresenting their product. I’ve seen customers take LCOs to court over this very issue. The customer thought they were buying an organic program and the LCO’s sales material said it was all natural and organic, but their invoices listed conventional fertilizers and conventional pesticides. The LCO said that the program was organic because he applied an organic fertilizer twice in the summer and he only used the pesticides when they were needed.

    How do you think a classification system should be developed and implemented?

    On my conventional LCO remarks, note that I said “Most conventional operators that I know ….” Most conventional operators that I personally know do blanket apply PRE herbicides, but only spot treat POST herbicides. Most operators that I personally know only apply insecticides in the area of insect activity (not blanket) when the documented pest damage or population reaches a common threshold level. In my business, scouting is everything. We actively scout our customers’ properties and treat only the problem areas with the proper amount of material only when needed. We don’t do blanket applications of any herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, or otherwise. Do most LCOs you know operate differently than this?

    So, perhaps you can see why I don’t think that using anything with conventional fertilizers (even if it has some OM in it) and spot treating with conventional pesticides qualifies a competitor to honestly differentiate himself from my program of conventional fertilizers and spot treating with conventional pesticides. Nor do I think that such a competitor has an honest and valid claim to say that type of program is healthier or better for the environment than mine. Most of those operators use more synthetic materials than responsible conventional operators, but they hope to dupe the customer into thinking that their organic fertilizer applications outweigh the negatives they claim that conventional applications have, even though they still use conventional materials.

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