Greg Kershaw has been practicing organic lawn care for 20 years, so he can remember when it was just a novelty.
“It was something different,” he said. “I wanted to try something else, is there a better way to skin the cat, an avenue to pursue to see if there was some benefits to using those products,” he said.
The first customer he can remember trying it on wasn’t even interested in the environmental benefits. They just wanted the brown patch on their lawn to go away.
Kershaw, installation/ maintenance manager at McDugald-Steele Landscape Architects & Contractors, kept using expensive fungicides on the lawn, and nothing seemed to work. The residence was only one of multiple homes the customer had around the world, so they didn’t spend a lot of time there. That took some of the pressure off if the organic products didn’t do what Kershaw hoped they would do.
“If the results were going to be evident, then great,” he says. “It wasn’t the fact that it was organic and they felt that they were maybe doing their part for the environment. It was simply that the fungicides cost a lot, and I hate seeing those areas like that. So, if there is another method to correct that, then we’ll pursue it.”
Kershaw has been hooked ever since.
“When I began using them 20 years ago, it was because I wanted to focus on getting the soil health at an optimum level so the plants would be able to perform as well as possible,” he said. “Over these 20 years, I have proven to myself that when you create and sustain a healthy soil, you not only create the healthiest plants, but you also conserve water and spend less money on pesticides and fertilizers. Doing what you can to leave your environment in the same or better condition than when you were born is an additional incentive for many folks.”
McDugald-Steele currently has more than 200 maintenance clients, and the company uses about 55 percent of the pesticide/fertilizer annual budget on organic products, which is about $45,000.
“Our market is high end residential and our average monthly contract fee is $1,500,” he said. “So even though we are not 100 percent organic, we do use organic products on every job and we are constantly educating our market to consider using more organic products and less synthetic products.”
That education is important because organic products may not work as fast as synthetic products. If you are selling a client on organics, you have to be upfront with them and let them know the time it will take to see results.
“It takes two to three years to achieve the microorganism levels in the soil before you realize all of the cost benefits,” Kershaw said. “And the one that we hear the most from our clients is, ‘We don’t want any pests on our plants or turf, period.’ When you use organic pesticides you must understand that there is a level of tolerance you must have for small amounts of insect and disease problems.
“You must understand that it will never be picture perfect and that this is the trade-off for using organic products. But I think it is a very acceptable trade-off considering the money you are saving and the benefit you are affording the environment by not using synthetic products.”
Kershaw has seen more interest in organics from customers who are concerned about how synthetic products may affect their children and pets. He only sees that interest growing, especially with chemical companies now becoming more involved with organic products.
“The sky is the limit. You see more of the giant chemical companies move more of their focus into the organic market. They are doing this because of the financial potential that is there,” he said. “Once these corporations begin educating along the organic path it will help the contractors like McDugald-Steele in selling organic products.”