By Tom Delaney
The Department of Labor’s H-2B wage and new program rules were — and continue to be — at the forefront of the issues the landscape industry battled in 2013. In July, many companies received notification they would be required to increase the hourly wages for the H-2B workers already in their employ by 30 percent or more. A number of these companies are now wondering if this program is still worth using, and many that have stopped using it seem to have lost hope in the fight to maintain a usable H-2B program for their businesses. Senate Bill 744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act gave some positive movement for fixes to the H-2B program — a new “W” visa program that would admit 20,000 low-skilled foreign workers starting in 2015, and could gradually grow to a cap of 200,000 after five years, for example — but the Senate bill still needs changes to some of its provisions. Those changes may be made in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Other challenges faced by the industry in 2013, and that are likely to continue into the coming year, include fertilizer and water issues, such as stormwater runoff, pesticide restrictions (which remain a focus of state and local governments), and developing a standardized procedure for estimating landscape water requirements; the soon-to-be rolled out Globally Harmonized System that was added to OSHA’s “Employee Right- to-Know” or Hazardous Communication (HAZCOMM) Program, and requires employers to have trained the necessary employees by Dec. 1, 2013; Green Building codes proposed by groups such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) that want to limit the amount of turfgrass in the landscape; and the recently rolled out Affordable Health Care Act.
The Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), with assistance from state and other national organizations and the vigilance of its members, tracks these issues, and legislation and regulations that may impact the landscape industry at the local, state, and federal levels — whether in a negative or positive way.
I expect the industry will continue to be criticized for its inputs of water, pesticides and fertilizers, and the motorized equipment used to maintain healthy turfgrass. Educating the public about the benefits of turfgrass (especially benefits grounded in scientific research) is the only real way to combat this negativity about turfgrass. At the National Arboretum in Washington D.C., this type of education will be on display through an unprecedented four-year initiative called Grass Roots. This project will explore the history, uses, benefits, value and issues of the turf industry, primarily through an outdoor turfgrass exhibit.
In the coming year, with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Endangered Species Protection Program (ESPP) and OSHA’s implementation of the Globally Harmonizing Standards, it will be more important than ever to read pesticide labels. You also need to be aware of, and follow, pesticide use limitations by both the state and federal EPA requirements in your area. We will see more EPA labeling with the ESPP application restrictions on them. Applicators should check the Internet for the most up-to-date information.
Pollinator protection is one of the EPA’s priorities that we know will continue and escalate. Following the deaths of some 50,000 bees in Oregon this summer because of the incorrect application of a product containing neonicotinoid, we could also see more proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress and some states to stop the sale and use of neonicotinoid class of pesticides as some see it as harmful to bees.
As the demand on water resources and the importance of water use efficiency grows, water agencies, regulators, land owners, landscape managers and others require a standardized process to determine landscape water supply and demands to address local, regional and national objectives. As various “green” ordinances and codes gain popularity, the estimation of landscape water requirements are increasingly being used to limit irrigation or allocate irrigation budgets on landscapes. The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) initiated a project in January 2012 to develop a new standard, S623, Standardized Procedure for Determining Available Water for Landscapes and Estimating Landscape Water Use. The new document will standardize the ways in which both the available water resources and the irrigation requirements are quantified for landscape purposes. PLANET participates on this task force and is also involved with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) in an ANSI standard on integrated pest management (IPM) for tree care.
In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge from automakers and small engine groups to the sale of E15 fuel. This decision paves the way for further expansion of this fuel — a mix of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline — which is not approved for use in outdoor power equipment or auto engines built before 2001. E15 studies have shown that the higher levels of ethanol damage fuel lines and fuel pumps, and can cause engine failure.
At the GIE+EXPO in October, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) rolled out a campaign to educate contractors, dealers and consumers about the dangers of E15 and how they can prevent engine damage. OPEI and other groups are set to lobby Congress to revamp or revoke the Renewable Fuels Standard, which mandates that ethanol, advanced biofuels and cellulosic fuels be blended into gasoline at certain levels by certain goal years.
Outlook for 2014
Immigration, turfgrass, labels, water use, health care, E15 fuels and the economy are challenges the industry will continue to face in 2014. The housing marketing showed signs of recovery this year, and the landscape industry appears to have done better than it did in 2012.
Next year is an election year, and incumbents, as well as those seeking to be elected will be courting your votes. It’s important to educate yourself about the candidates and their stance on the existing industry challenges, to help us educate them about the challenges, and to remain vigilant for any new challenges that may arise.
There was not as much activity at the state level this year as there has been in the past. However, expect to see more local governments propose ordinances to control cosmetic pesticide use on turf and to control the amount of stormwater runoff from impervious areas. Those states without clear state pre-emption of local government ordinances will be targeted. In fact, some local governments in Maryland have either taken action or have held a hearing to discuss a cosmetic ban of pesticide application on all property, including private residential and commercial property within their borders. Lawn and landscape maintenance in the United States could become seriously handicapped like the industry is in Canada.
In 2014 and beyond, getting positive messages across to customers and the public about the value of plants, healthy outdoor spaces, and the services to create and maintain them will be just as important as the providing great services. The next step would be to get them engaged in telling their local governments they do not support regulation on property owners’ activities, like controlling weeds on their own properties. The effective use of social media may be one answer to getting the word out.
Tom Delaney, is director of government affairs at the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). If you have any questions about this topic, you may contact him at 800-395-2522 or TomDelaney@landcarenetwork.org.