If you think interest in organic fertilizers and biological pest controls is just for niche players within the lawn service industry, you’re 20 years behind the times.
"It’s not if, but when," said Scott Welge, director of marketing Bayer Environmental Science, of incorporating natural products into green industry services. "If you’re going to be in the market, you’re probably going to have to use a combination of both (organics and synthetics)."
Welge made the comment at a breakfast meeting with editors at the GIE+EXPO. He was referring to Bayer CropScience’s $425 million summer purchase of AgraQuest. The acquisition gives Bayer access to a number of innovative pest management solutions based on natural microorganisms.
"Their approach was not only organics, but also how they (organics) can be integrated with synthetics," said Welge of AgraQuest. (Tellingly, most of the professional companies now marketing and providing organic lawn care also use some synthetic fertilizers and herbicides when their clients demand more immediate results.)
Bayer’s buy of AgraQuest was just one, and not even the largest deal in that direction, by a major chemical supplier. BASF in mid-September announced a $1 billion deal for U.S. crop protection company Becker Underwood. That deal, expected to close by year’s end, gives BASF, the world’s biggest chemical company, new technologies in biological, seed treatments and seed coatings.
While both of these deals involve technologies presently more focused on agriculture than on turf and ornamental, Lebanon Seaboard Corp made strong inroads into the T&O organics market several years ago. In January of 2011, Lebanon announced the purchase of the U.S. horticulture and turf division of Plant Health Care, Inc., a pioneer among manufacturers of biologically based products for the green industry. These included products incorporating beneficial microbes, mycorrhizal fungi and soil nutrients.
In February 2011 LebanonTurf added the turf and landscape business from Novozymes, another global biotechnology solutions company. Novozymes’ turf and landscape business includes the Roots Turf brand of organic-based granular fertilizers, along other unique plant nutrition products.
"The acquisition reinforces LebanonTurf’s commitment to the emerging field of biological plant nutrition," said Kathy Bishop, CEO and president, at the time. "Biology and microbes are fundamentally changing agronomic science and how nutrition is viewed and applied."
Neither acquisition should have come as a surprise given LebanonTurf’s purchase in 2008 of the Emerald Isle line of foliar and granular fertilizer products featuring seaplant extracts and other beneficial supplements.
Suppliers’ mixed bag
Other companies offering organic nutritional products for the green industry include:
- Bio Green USA, Kearney, Neb.: Manufactures and sells Bio Green contaning 3 percent feed grade urea, a complete package of micro-nutrients and Norwegian kelp with cytokinins, humic, fulvic and amino acids. The company is also developing a rapidly expanding network of lawn care licensees using its fertilizer products. Visit biogreenusa.com.
- Bio-S.I. Technology, Justin, Texas: Bio S.I. Turf Formula’s proprietary blend of bio-organisms, which can be applied with irrigation, doesn’t replace fertilizers or chemicals, but makes them more efficient at lower amounts reducing cost and toxicity to the environment. Visit biositechnology.com.
- The Green Guardian, St. Paul, Minn.: The Green Guardian offers Maize Turf derived from feed-grade materials. Other ingredients include soil conditioners and microbial stimulants to facilitate an increase in the opportunity for a stronger lawn. This formula contains 65 percent controlled-release nitrogen applied at lower rates in an homogenous prill form and adds necessary organic matter, natural microbe’s combined with microbial stimulants, and humic acids to the soil. Visit greenguardian.us.
- Holganix, Glen Mills, Pa.: Holganix functions as a biological meta-catalyst (biostimulant) by enabling plants to more efficiently uptake nutrients and pesticides, significantly lowering quantities of both to obtain the results only available thorough the use of traditional products, says the company. Ingredients include compost tea, molasses, brewer’s yeast, mycorrhizae and other natural substances. Visit holganix.com.
- NaturaLawn of America, Frederick, Md.: Promotes and sells a large line of organic-based fertilizers for both cool- and warm-season programs. A sampling of its products include Natural Alternative Booster (7-0-2) and its Alternative Jumpstart (25-1-5). A one-size-fits-all chemical program is simply not a safe approach for you, your pets or the environment, says the company’s website. NaturaLawn, the largest national lawn service company offering "organic" turf solutions was founded in 1987. Visit naturalawn.com.
- Perfect Blend Biotic Fertilizers, Bellevue, Wash.: Sells a range of products, including its Biotic Organic 4-4-4SGN 100 percent, organic-balanced, 15-nutrient fertilizer that is pH balanced in a homogenous prill with natural slow release. The product provides a complete nutrient package to stimulate the microbial activity in the soil, and it increases vigor to plant materials as well as increased water efficiency. Its Biotic 16-3-7 features hydrolyzed urea with the 15-nutrient complex nutrition. Visit perfect-blend.com.
- Pharmgrade, Inc., Idaho Falls, Idaho: Offers micro-infested fertilizer products such as Super Green 4D (lawn fertilizer +Cavalcade preemergent+granulated organic compost), True Compost and Growers’ Choice 4D, organic all-purpose fertilizers. "I grew up on a farm and always had a vision of better soil quality," says owner Bob Strebel. "I discovered how microbes enriched the soil and created a better environment for crops to grow." Visit pharmgrade.com.
- Terramax, Bloomington, Minn.: The active ingredient found in all of TAZO products is the bacteria Azospirillum. University studies and private tests have shown that Azospirillum increases root mass and fixes atmospheric nitrogren for plants, says the company that was founded in 1998. TerraMax’s unique formulation technology stablizes the Azospiriullum, givig them a much longer shelf life. Visit terramax.com.
- Tiger-Sul, Atmore, Ala.: The world’s largest sulfur-based fertilizer, micronutrient and specialty industrial-sulfur producer. It says its TIGER 90CR Turf Mix offers improved handling, degradability and performance in a sulfur source. Turf Mix improves nitrogen utilization and reduces nitrate leaching when used in a balanced turf fertility program. Visit tigersul.com.
- Turf Revolution, Kitchener, Ont., Canada: Provides Corn Gluten 9-0-0 and Corn Plus 8.-1-6, both of which provide nitrogen in a slow-release, water-insoluble form. These products are especially useful in environmentally sensitive areas such as near lakes and streams, fishponds, children’s playgrounds, sports fields and public parks. Visit turfrevolution.com.