By The Wall Street Journal
In some parts of the country, patches of lawn are peeking through mounds of snow. So we're preparing for one rite of spring: The quest to turn some noticeable brown spots into lush lawn.
For this task, we turned to professional lawn care companies -- both national and local -- to hear their plans for our yard. We were looking for personal attention and a customized plan to treat a few problem spots in our yard. We also wanted to explore options for organic lawn-care products.
About 25% of Americans pay for professional lawn care services, according to Bruce Butterfield, research director of the National Gardening Association. These companies specialize in periodic fertilizer applications, along with weed and pest control. Some also offer things like tree pruning, snow removal, mowing and gardening.
Many companies offer organic options to lawn care, but it can be confusing as to what that means. Organic fertilizers are available, but it can be more expensive. The options are fewer for organic weed and insect controls, so some lawn-care customers request a partially organic approach, with organic fertilizers and minimal amounts of synthetic weed and pest controls.
The five companies we contacted -- TruGreen, Lawn Doctor, Scotts LawnService, SavaTree and Second Nature -- said this is a good time for homeowners to do their research, because the first treatments in the Northeast are usually applied in late March or early April. Mr. Butterfield of the gardening association advised us to find a company that looks at the "lawn system" holistically, instead of "just doing the treatment, coming back in six weeks, and doing it again." So that's what we set out to do.
First we contacted TruGreen, a company we've used at our Connecticut home for the past seven years. The company has been responsive when we've had particular problems -- like those annoying brown spots, but technicians haven't suggested organic options or customized lawn care tailored to our problem areas. This year, our annual contract arrived in the mail with an option to prepay and get a discount. It was a nice option, but we would have liked some personal contact.
TruGreen is a national professional lawn care company based in Memphis, Tenn., with 278 locations across the country -- and more than 3.4 million residential and commercial customers. For our lawn, we were quoted a rate of $71.69 each for six fertilizer applications a year. The annual treatment plan also recommends grub and insect prevention, aeration and seeding to promote new growth, for an additional $448.26. In our area, TruGreen says, the application fee for its organic option is the same as for the non-organic blend, but that in other parts of the country, the organic option can cost as much as 60% more.
The TruGreen spokeswoman said fewer than 5% of its customers use their organic program nationally. "We're beginning to be able to communicate more with our customers on options for lawn care," she added.
The next national professional lawn care chain, Marysville, Ohio-based Scotts LawnService, gave us a proposal over the phone without seeing the property. A Scotts spokeswoman later explained that technicians typically don't visit a home to give quotes for seasonal applications, since the lot-size information is "easily calculated" using Google Earth and other online tools.
Based on Scotts' estimates, our professional lawn care treatment plan would consist of a first fertilizer treatment at $59.95, then four more at $97, plus a grub preventive at $205. Like TruGreen, Scotts has organic options, but we had to ask about them. Organic fertilizer treatments would start at $59.95, just like the fertilizers with weed control, but then would cost either $170.90 each (which includes pest control) or $143.40 (without pest control) for the four remaining treatments. The company says grub control is a non-organic treatment.
Overall, the company representatives were friendly and seemed informed about local conditions, but the process felt a bit bureaucratic, rather than personal.
The third national professional lawn care chain we spoke with, Lawn Doctor, offered the best combination of service and pricing of all the services we tested. The assistant general manager who came to our house was attentive and promised that his brother would be our technician. He stressed that the company was able to customize its products based on our lawn type and said it could use organic fertilizers for four of the six treatments. (The first two treatments are only partially organic because they include a weed killer.) He also said the treatments would specifically target problem areas for weeds and insects. The price: $70.55 each for six basic fertilizer treatments, with free service calls.
In our region, SavaTree, with 20 branches in eight states along the East Coast, has made a name for being green. Greg Huse, an arborist, came to our home and explained that his company offers fully organic and partially organic treatment plans -- in addition to traditional treatments that use weed and insect controls. Mr. Huse was the only lawn-care person we met who specifically raised the idea of treating different parts of our yard differently, pointing out that we should have "shade seeding" under a white pine in our backyard.
SavaTree's proposal was far more expensive than TruGreen's and Scotts', with an application costing $134. Add $476 a year for the aeration and overseeding treatment. But we really liked the personal attention. Mr. Huse also said he would take a free soil sample if we signed up with his company, which would help the company further refine our treatment plan.
Another call went to Stamford, Conn.-based Second Nature. This company's approach initially felt similar to SavaTree's, though they seemed particularly eager to provide a broader range of services, and stressed their scientific approach to the biology of the lawn. The company uses "synthetic control products" -- again non-organic weed and insect controls -- if the homeowner wants them. But the company says its emphasis is on making sure the lawn is healthy down to the roots and not just green on the top. To that end, technicians apply a special "compost tea" that is used to feed the lawn, says company President Jeffrey Thrasher.
We wound up requesting a proposal for Second Nature's basic professional lawn care service, as well as its property-management program, which includes everything from lawn care to snow blowing. The fertilizer applications came in at $116 each, less than SavaTree but significantly higher than the national chains. The lawn aeration and overseeding treatment came in at $735.
In the end, we were disappointed with the limited options for a truly organic lawn. And we were equally dismayed that no one who came to look at our lawn took a soil sample before giving us a proposal -- something Mr. Butterfield says would help lawn-care companies figure out what really should be put down on each lawn. Still, two of the companies -- Second Nature and SavaTree -- said technicians always take soil samples before starting to treat lawns. And Lawn Doctor said it takes soil samples when the customer requests it -- or when the lawn looks off to the salesperson or the technician.
About Reynolds Farm Equipment
If you are looking for further John Deere information or products, visit the Reynolds Farm Equipment website.
Friday, July 17, 2009
By The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Story from Des Moines Register
Deere & Co. said Monday that it is prepared to invest up to $500 million in its Russian operations "under the right market access conditions."
Deere's statement marked negotiating at the commercial level as President Barack Obama meets with Russian leadership this week. A Russia-U.S. business forum is scheduled in conjunction with the summit in Moscow.
The phrase "market access conditions" is key because since the fall of communism in 1991 many U.S. companies have approached Russia only to be disappointed by Moscow's attitudes toward open markets.
Deere already has about 2,000 employees in Russia at factories and it also has a U.S.-style dealer network there, too.
The company has a manufacturing operation in Orenburg in southwestern Russia that makes seeding and tillage equipment for the Russian market and exports to other locations. In addition, John Deere is developing an operations, training and parts center near Kaluga in western Russia.
Deere President Samuel Allen said the company "could envision a series of significant investments over the next five to seven years in expanded capacity for manufacturing and supporting all types of Deere equipment," with the support of the Russian government. Allen said the investment could reach $500 million, according to Reuters.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Story from Inforum.com
Consumers who prefer organic foods, or food free of genetic modification, should know that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering rules that could affect their choices. GM experimentation has been plagued by unauthorized releases of experimental crops, which have then entered the food supply. If this continues, it will be harder and harder for consumers to obtain the foods they want.
One recent example is a variety of GM rice that got into the 2006 Arkansas rice harvest. This particular rice variety was never grown outside USDA-supervised test plots, yet the USDA is unable to explain how it got into the commercial harvest.
Going back to 2005, federal inspectors have issued a series of warnings to the USDA that it needs to improve oversight of GM experiment crops. They have gone unheeded. The 2008 Farm Bill required the USDA to write rules taking into account the federal inspectors’ criticisms. But the USDA’s draft rules not only fail to do so, they actually weaken oversight of GM experiment crops.
Consumers who want to retain a wide range of choices in the food they buy should urge the USDA to set a goal of 100 percent containment of experimental crops.
To express support for farmers who grow crops for organic and non-GM markets, consumers should also urge the USDA to study the economic impact of unauthorized releases of experiment crops.
To submit your comments to USDA, go to this Web site: http://ga3.org/campaign/Aphis3.
Story from Bangor Daily News
LINCOLN — Earl Ireland has been farming vegetables for 50 years and said Wednesday that he had never seen weather such as Maine is experiencing now.
“Another 10 days of rain and we’ll be out of business,” he said.
Ireland raises vegetables and berries on his Lincoln farm, and in a normal year, would have planted 70 acres this spring.
“We got in 35. We couldn’t get on the rest of the fields,” he said.
The lack of sun and continued rain are causing crops to rot in the fields.
“Nothing is growing and what is there is molding on the vine,” he said. “I don’t think we are even going to be able to salvage the pea crop.”
It’s an assessment being repeated on farms all over the state.
Crop-devouring insects that are thriving in the wet conditions, plants and fruit molding in the fields, and farmers’ inability to drive tractors on the wet ground are taking a crisis-level toll on Maine’s farmers.
Walt Whitcomb of Belfast raises corn, and thousands of cutworms have devastated about one-third of his feed corn acreage. But Whitcomb can’t drive on the fields to spray the needed insecticide, “and in two weeks, we are anticipating an even bigger problem — army worms. They eat everything, go across roads, up trees. There will be no fighting back.”
Late blight disease — the cause of the Irish potato famine — has been spotted in Maine, but farmers aren’t able to get on the fields to cull or spray infected plants, jeopardizing Maine’s potato crop.
“Think about getting your lawnmower stuck on your front lawn,” Rick Kersbergen of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension said Wednesday. “Now multiply that by 100 acres or more.”
Kersbergen said some large dairy farms, trying to save their feed corn crops, are seeking aerial sprayers to apply insecticide. Other farmers are erecting hoop-style greenhouses to keep the moisture off plants.
“It is bad, really bad out there,” he said.
Ken Gustin, state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, said Wednesday that farmers may not know the overall loss until the end of the year. He already has asked each county to provide the agency with damage assessment reports.
“We know there are problems because of 22 out of 30 days with either rain or no sun,” Gustin said. The paperwork being compiled will be used to go after a governor’s declaration of disaster or federal loss programs.
At Spiller Farm in Wells, Bill Spiller said the rain has completely ruined his season. “We are getting some strawberries but a lot of mold is settling in. The raspberries are molding as they ripen,” Spiller said.
In Washington in Knox County, Sweet Season Farm’s strawberries and raspberries are molding, while blueberries are loving the wet weather.
“For every strawberry we pick, we throw four away,” Virginia Reardon said. “We are getting a fairly good crop but the mold and the slugs are taking it away.”
Nathan Pennell, district manager for the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District, said the area’s hay crop has been greatly affected. “It will be another two weeks before most of us will be able to start first crop,” he said. “This year it may therefore be September before we start haying. Totally unheard of in the past.”
David Bright and Jean Hay of Bright Berry Farm in Dixmont reported Wednesday that their berries set well before the rains came.
“The good ones are awesome, big and beautiful, thanks to the rain,” Bright said. “But we have had quite a bit of mold problems in recent days, with entire berries molding on the stalk and moldy spots on otherwise beautiful specimens. Yield is up dramatically because of the rain, but shrinkage is way high.”
Bright added, “Our other worry is if this weather holds for another couple of weeks, the raspberries will ripen and promptly mold on the cane, as they did seven or eight years ago, when we — and most growers in the state — pretty much lost our entire crop.”
Bright said the tips of some of the pea plants seem to be tired of the rain, but not enough to affect the yield. His corn, however, is not growing because of the lack of warm days.
“Squash and pumpkins have also slowed right down, but most are hanging in there. Before we realized it, the summer squash and melons were eaten up by the slugs that nuzzled under the cover. Then the cucumber beetles settled right in,” he said.
“The good news is that every time we get an inch of rain it saves us about 4 gallons of gas because we don’t have to run the irrigation pump to water plants the hose lines won’t reach,” Bright said. “We have two kids living in Seattle who we think are beginning to feel sorry for us.”
Jane Eaton of Beauty of the Earth Farm in Robbinston said farmers are struggling to get customers to turn out at area farmers markets for the fresh produce that is still able to be harvested.
She reported that at last week’s Sunrise County Farmers Market in Calais, Ted Carter of Alexander was selling “snowshoe lettuce,” so named because his wife, Liz, harvested the lettuce in snowshoes because the ground was too soft to walk on.
Eaton said that her farm, which produces mainly flowers, just finished up a fantastic peony season, shipping almost 3,500 stems to the cut-flower markets in Boston and Connecticut.
“The peonies were a little early this year, but the lack of sun means the next big crop, lilies, is slow, so I may suffer a gap in my ability to provide my customers,” she said.
John and Christine Alexander of Sugar Hill Cranberry Co. in Columbia said the rain is complicating production.
“The increase in rain is slowing down the whole growing process and makes scheduling for applying fertilizer difficult to do on a timely basis,” the Alexanders wrote in an e-mail. “The lack of sun is keeping the pods on the uprights of the vines from turning into blossoms, so bees are also affected. There is also potential for fruit rot after cranberries set, but we won’t know that for awhile.”
Robin Follette of Seasons Eating Farm in Talmadge said she went to bed Tuesday night thinking the soil was draining nicely and she could spend Wednesday pulling weeds.
“I woke up to pouring rain at 2:30 a.m. If the weather doesn’t change very soon, the summer harvest will be 50 percent of what I expected,” she said.
State Rep. Nancy Smith, D-Monmouth, is a diversified farmer and has managed to retain her sense of humor. “We’ve renamed our farm Snafu Acres Slug Farm,” she said. “And if we could just find a way to market those things, our problems would be solved.”