For an overview of industry trends now and in the year to come, Landscape and Irrigation recently interviewed leaders from both the landscape and irrigation markets. Their comments about the industry are as follows:
L&I: What would you like industry professionals to know about PLANET as we head into 2011?
PLANET President David Snodgrass, Landscape Industry Certified Manager: The Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) is stronger than ever as we head into 2011. PLANET’s services and offerings, such as PLANET’s certification program, educational offerings, and our advocacy efforts, continue to provide added value for our members and are continuing to get stronger.
PLANET is a transparent association and is meant to be all inclusive. This is more obvious than ever, as PLANET recently disclosed its 2009 annual report, and always makes a point to host open-door meetings for all its committee meetings.
PLANET does not just serve its members. LandcareNetwork.org is a perfect example, as it offers resources available for the good of the industry to both members and nonmembers. The website offers legislative information and the opportunity for one to view the current key issues, white papers, and position statements; and makes it easy to send a message to your local legislator. PLANETUniverse.org is another, recently launched resource available to the entire industry.
PLANET President-Elect, Jerry Grossi, Landscape Industry Certified Technician: PLANET has strategically placed itself as the “Partner of Choice” within our industry. With our strategic process, we have created a number of distinctive goals, such as:
Advocacy: PLANET as the voice of the Green Industry.
Certification: Enhancing public and private sector recognition of our industry professionals.
PLANET as a Resource: Providing education with programs and knowledge through LandcareNetwork.org, PlanetUniverse.org, and the Green Industry Conference
Partnerships with other organizations: State, national and allied regional associations
Green Industry Careers: Building and cultivating the future of the green industry.
L&I: What are some of the key issues that will be at the forefront for our industry in 2011?
Snodgrass: I believe that the key issues will be the following:
1. The economy.
2. Negative criticism by activists. We need to do a better job of telling our story about the good that our industry does along with all of its positives. It is hard to believe that the Green Industry would be the one that is getting negative criticism. This just shows that every industry is subject to scrutiny.
3. Green opportunities that present themselves. There are efforts being made to limit what we do around sustainability; however, at the same time, there are an abundance of new green opportunities that didn’t exist before. Since we are the experts, we can take advantage of these opportunities. We know how to install rain gardens, green roofs and walls, recycle water, and so on. Some opportunities are diminished when new ones present themselves.
4. Labor continues to be a big issue and will likely remain as such. The immigrant labor force is important to us and therefore we need to fight for it.
Grossi: In addition to the issues Dave mentioned, and in no particular order, I personally feel that the following will also be key issues in 2011:
1. Restriction of water use. Water touches all aspects of what we do, and any restriction of it will affect our industry. For example, the WaterSense program. People are starting to adopt it as a model for local governments to use. There is a 40 percent landscape restriction that goes along with this. Green building initiatives will also affect how we use water and our landscapes in the future. I believe there will be other water issues in 2011 as well.
2. Banning of fertilizer and pesticide products without justification is continuing. Once the state has adopted it, the next state does, and so forth.
3. Everyone should keep abreast of the news and stay on top of business issues, such as health care and government regulations.
L&I: What advice would you give to landscape industry professionals in 2011?
Snodgrass: There is always the temptation in a tight market to play the “‘how low can you go” game. This is an easy out, but it’s a dead end. I would encourage you to think through these hard times. Those companies that make it through these difficult times will be much stronger on the other side. The best strategy is to go back to the basics — reduce costs, focus on the customer, retain your best employees, watch your numbers carefully, and never compromise your reputation. You have spent too many years building it up.
With every downturn there is always an upturn, although it is difficult to predict when it will show up. There is always an optimistic side to every situation. A person who is not optimistic should not be in business. Optimism uncovers all kinds of opportunities.
Grossi: Continue using good business management practices, such as being lean, responsible, ethical, and delivering a quality product that provides value.
Business has been tough with the recession, and we are not out of the woods yet. It’s important to stay vigilant. I encourage you to get involved and stay involved within the industry. The issues within the industry could lead to political involvement. Most of them are local, so be sure to stay alert and be proactive in your own backyards.
I would advise everyone to join their state association and PLANET. Live, learn, and practice your profession.
L&I: What areas of advancement in the industry are you most pleased with? And what areas need to improve?
Snodgrass: We are pleased to say that we have reached a critical mass of more than 4,000 certified professionals. However, the services of these individuals are not being demanded by the public. The next step is to develop grassroots public awareness to promote certification, which raises the standard of our industry.
Our industry is a thriving industry because people value well-kept landscapes, which leads to increased property values. That said, we, as an industry (individuals and companies), are not doing a very good job of telling our story and standing up for all the good that our industry does. We need to be proactive and stand up for our industry.
PLANET has led the industry in creating heightened safety awareness over the course of the last eight years that has made quite an impact. However, we are still on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration list as a high-risk industry. Most, if not all, of our industry’s injuries are preventable — there is a lot more that we as an industry can do to prevent these accidents.
PLANET’s Academic Excellence Foundation (AEF) scholarship endowment has grown. PLANET AEF has raised over $2 million in funds and has awarded over $500,000 in scholarships. We need to continue to grow this fund so that we can offer even greater financial support to those who are the future of our industry.
The industry’s vendors and suppliers are really leading the way in technology. The advancements in technology and equipment are allowing us to be more efficient in our daily operations. Contractors can continue to do a better job applying sustainable best practices, as well as educate the public about the green solutions that we offer.
Grossi: Products and innovation. There is a new generation of pesticides and fertilizers out there that are easier to apply and provide better results.
The advancements in equipment are safer and actually are beginning to reduce the amount of labor that’s necessary. In our company, we now place fertilizer using a single ride-on unit. This has really revolutionized and changed the industry.
Technology advancements have also greatly improved and are helping to lower operating costs in terms of the number of salespeople you need, and helping to expedite the process.
I’d like to see our industry do a better job of communicating the benefits of our product. We are letting our critics define us, and that definition is not a good one. We are the environmental heroes with respect to our landscapes, and we need to tout that.
L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2011?
Snodgrass: Our economy is recovering, but we must be patient as it will be a slow and steady pattern of growth for our industry.
With respect to the housing industry, prices are low, and we should accept that they will continue to be slow to appreciate. Many homeowners are unable to sell their home at this time, so they will wait it out. While doing so, they will continue to make home improvements, which is a strong addition to the work that we do.
Sustainability is long term. Companies should better position themselves and offer sustainable services and products, which will help build their reputation for being sustainable. In a tough economy, price plays a big role. As the economy improves, customers will be able to afford what’s important to them, and being green is going to become an even more important priority.
Customers are beginning to ask for certified individuals and companies, which will continue to become the norm. As the demand increases, companies that are not positioning themselves with certified staff may find themselves losing out on certain projects.
The industry will continue to thrive. We do so much that gives people pleasure, which is incredible, and probably the main reason we chose to be in this industry. However, we do have to work on countering the negative attacks on our industry.
Grossi: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would predict that not only will we continue to see the price of gas increase at almost $4/gallon but that the price of fertilizer will double. I believe that once we see more confidence within our industry that our economy will improve at a quicker pace. I hope this improvement will occur later this year or early next year.
L&I: What would you like irrigation professionals to know about the Irrigation Association as we head into 2011?
Mark Huntley, president of the Irrigation Association: The Irrigation Association [IA] works on the behalf of our members and all irrigation professionals to advance programs and legislation that benefit all of us and support the continuance of our businesses. We focus both on today’s issues and those that could affect us in the future since we can offer Smart practices and sustainable solutions that will increase the industry’s viability. While the irrigation industry is a close group, we’re also a diverse one, so IA is devoted to fairly representing all segments of our membership.
In 2011 specifically, the key issues we’re focused on align with our mission of promoting efficient irrigation technologies, products and services. We’re increasing our involvement with regulatory agencies on both the national and state levels to help ensure irrigation professionals are part of the water use solution. Availability of water, new legislation, continued work to influence the water budget on the Environmental Protection Agency’s new homes specifications, standards and codes, as well as voluntary programs all continue to be key focus areas for IA.
IA is also advancing its education and certification programs, helping keep irrigation professionals at the top of their games. We’ve upgraded our certification program in numerous ways, moving to computer-based testing, which makes the process more flexible for certification candidates. We recently introduced two more online education classes, and host classes at trade shows and events across the country.
L&I: What are some of the key issues that will be at the forefront for irrigation professionals in 2011?
Huntley: Water regulations and restrictions will be at the top of the list. We also expect that we’re going to see more tiered-rate water structures. There are efforts in place across the country to reduce the turf footprint — but a uniform approach simply won’t work. One size does not fit all. Instead we need to promote the value of green infrastructure and its benefits. One’s turf and landscape plant palette should be appropriate for the climate and the area of the country. IA would like to see regulations based on sound science, an approach we all need to advocate on the state and local level.
For the forward-thinking contractor, it’s going to be even more vital to understand new technologies. Inside the home, low-flush toilets and high-efficiency shower nozzles have all become standard — expect to see a similar trend outside the home. When you combine this with the still-recovering economy, contractors should definitely focus on how irrigation services can help create business opportunities. Renovations and retrofitting with new water-efficient technologies will benefit both irrigation professionals and the consumer because the upgrades and products will help pay for themselves through water cost savings.
L&I: What advice would you give to irrigation professionals in 2011?
Huntley: Utilize associations like IA, as well as manufacturers to increase your education and earn certifications, because new technologies aren’t enough by themselves — they need proper installation and regular maintenance practices to support them. Leverage your knowledge of plants to influence schedule planning and data input. To set yourself apart — now and in the future — get certified. More states are requiring irrigation professionals to be licensed or certified. These programs validate an irrigation professional’s capabilities and demonstrate your professionalism and commitment to continued education.
Also, increase your awareness of the many new model codes, as well as voluntary programs that mandate or award points for water-efficient landscapes and irrigation systems. Programs like EPA WaterSense, LEED, Sustainable Sites, Green Building Initiative or “green” codes like ICC, ASHRAE, or California Green all have requirements that impact the landscape and the irrigation system. Learn how to use them, such as the Water Budget Tool for the EPA WaterSense Program, and incorporate these tools and programs into your business plan and the systems you’re installing. More and more places are going to start requiring compliance and the use of smart products. If you’re unfamiliar with how to use the technology, you’re going to lose out on valuable opportunities.
L&I: What do you recommend to irrigation industry professionals with regard to improving, and promoting, water-efficient practices?
Huntley: Staying educated and being involved. As I’ve mentioned, both IA and several manufacturers offer educational materials, as well as training.
Being involved can be more of a challenge for many professionals. The industry is trying to boost its profile among consumers, but we need help getting the word out to the general public. You’ll frequently find individuals in print media, television or on the radio advocating against the use of water for irrigation; their conclusions are often based on faulty science. Coverage rarely touts efficient irrigation or the benefits of a healthy landscape. Write or call in and represent your industry — base your views on sound science.
You can also get involved with groups on the state or local level that are supporting efficient irrigation. But take action! Get ready-made materials on water-efficient products and services from a manufacturer and hand them out to customers and consumers. Donate an irrigation system or volunteer to upgrade a system in a high-profile public place such as a park or garden. Call your local media and explain the benefits of new irrigation technologies and efficient irrigation.
L&I: What areas of advancement in the industry are you most pleased with? And what areas need to improve?
Huntley: Manufacturers have embraced the idea of Smart products and water-efficient solutions. Some of the new products I’ve seen, such as high-efficient irrigation nozzles that use multi-stream or advanced spray technology, are great. And Smart controller technology is great as well, but, generally, there is a lack of knowledge in how to use it properly.
Smart controller effectiveness is directly related to the ability of the installer or programmer to input accurate data and refine the controller’s settings to apply the appropriate amount of water that will maintain the landscape so it produces maximum benefits. Unfortunately, my colleagues and I have seen that there are cases where this isn’t happening. Professionals need to continue learning not only about the products themselves, but also how they fit into overall best management practices. Also, as technology continues to evolve, installers will have to manually input less data, so the margin for error should decrease.
Despite the fact that we’ve seen a need for improvement in some areas, there are definitely contractors who understand the future and are dedicating time to improving their training and getting certified. And that’s really the key to ensuring our industry continues to thrive by ensuring our professionals understand how to provide efficient irrigation solutions.
L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2011?
Huntley: I think the economy will start to improve, we’ll begin to see a very slow recovery in the housing market and we can start looking forward again. Unfortunately, the prediction for high fuel and oil prices may impact us. Those prices affect the cost for contractors to fill their trucks, the price of plastic and how much money consumers have to spend. On the flip side, tighter consumer budgets can help sell system upgrades that save water and money.
I also hope we’ll have normal weather conditions, but I sure can’t predict that. Whether it’s drought or too much rain, neither extreme is good for irrigation professionals. When users don’t turn on their systems, they don’t do repairs or require maintenance. And they’re a lot less likely to consider an upgrade. The good news is that this winter’s rain and snow should result in reduced water restrictions in the west and higher cash flow for those that handle snow removal in the east.
Overall, I see progress for the irrigation industry. The Irrigation Association continues to bring our diverse industry together, leveraging the group’s power to showcase our professional, knowledgeable approach to water efficiency. Together, we can show government groups and consumers that our involvement is vital to efficient irrigation.