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Landscape and Irrigation recently asked several industry leaders to provide us inside information about the state of the landscape and irrigation industries heading into 2008. Part one in a two-part series.

Zooming in on 2008: Part one of two

Landscape and Irrigation recently asked several industry leaders to provide us inside information about the state of the landscape and irrigation industries heading into 2008. Landscape and Irrigation received the following written responses:


 


The American Society of Irrigation Consultants (ASIC)


Current ASIC President Dave Davis


and


Incoming ASIC President Bob Scott


L&I: What would you like irrigation professionals to know about your organization as we head into 2008?


Davis: First, that professional ASIC members recognize the significance of diminishing natural resources and will continue to promote the efficient use of all resources, whatever they are human, water, power and even soil. That becomes a bigger issue in 2008. It’s exciting that irrigation professionals are increasingly better able to handle challenging development and accountability issues. Independent irrigation consultants will continue to confront these challenges and support the green industry, because a significant part of our member mission is to [ital>keep current<ITAL] on technology, technique and evolving regulations. We solve problems from water resource development application precision to irrigation scheduling efficiencies.


 


Scott: ASIC will be more focused on developing partnerships with professionals in all facets of the green industry. Because we have a continuous flow of new technology at our disposal and our water development services are becoming increasingly important and complex, the integration of project talent and leadership is even more critical to a project’s success. ASIC members strive to be the glue that holds the design and specification communities together. This is an important concept; one, because we’re professionals who are independent of manufacturers and distributors, so we represent the client; and two, because we have to consider the overall water resource picture and engineering principles in our irrigation designs. ASIC members will have to be involved from top to bottom to ensure irrigation, and therefore landscape and turf, performance.


 


L&I: What do you feel will be the biggest issue for irrigation professionals in 2008? How should they address it?


Davis: We will face the challenge of successfully using less, lower-quality water to maintain plant and soil health. Irrigation designers and water managers will be increasingly accountable to government agencies and property owners for the overall consumption of resources. There will be more accountability and consequences with increased regulatory oversite and intervention. The EPA is now in the water conservation business, and more government agencies are becoming interested in what we do. Another huge issue for the industry is that irrigation is being labeled a nonessential use of water. This verbiage is being put into every ordinance I see. We have to educate the public that irrigation is an essential use of water. Healthy plant material in our communities serves purposes beyond aesthetics. Plants stabilize soils and slopes, and covert CO2 to oxygen the very stuff we breathe. We have to demonstrate that water can be applied efficiently through design and product applications that best serve the environment, the site and the client.


 


Scott: It has become pretty clear that with continued urban growth and ongoing climate change, the biggest issue is going to be water availability particularly in the Sunbelt. But there will be water resource issues in the Northeast, around the Great Lakes and in the Pacific Northwest, too. There will be large and small pockets all over the United States that will have to grapple with resources, because concentrated growth is outpacing available resources. So, all of us in the green industry need to boost our involvement in communicating sound resource solutions within our communities. Currently, community leadership is telling irrigation’s story. And many of these folks are undereducated or misinformed. As an industry, we have to get involved in our communities and become the voice of authority and reason.


 


L&I: What do you feel are the most significant trends of the past year in the irrigation industry, and will those trends continue in 2008?


Davis: The best thing that happened last year was the increased use of “Smart” irrigation technology. The educational efforts surrounding Smart technology have improved and are much more accessible. Five years ago, the marketplace offered one Smart controller, now there are at least 20. It’s exciting to see the technology roll out, but the real excitement is the increase in site managers’ use of it. Smart irrigation controllers came with all of the built-in data, but were used turnkey — without any management intervention. At last, Smart controllers are integrating better performance with real-time site conditions as programmed and updated by the managers.


 


Scott: In the Southeastern United States, there has been a palpable change of ethic in “going green.” Not just in the irrigation and landscape industries, but societally. That trend is something irrigation professionals need to embrace and be excited about. The irrigation industry is loaded with incredible innovators — look what has happened over the years with plastics and computers. We will continue to innovate, and are in a good position to do it. Large-scale rainwater harvesting collection, storage, treatment and delivery to the landscape will continue to gain momentum with even more creative applications. And that applies to residential, commercial golf markets. I think that in the Southeast, we likely can harvest enough water to sustain our own landscapes. Rainwater harvesting and condensation harvesting will be big in ‘08.


 


L&I: Do you think the 2008 presidential election will have an impact on the irrigation industry?


Davis: Not likely, because it takes so long to significantly change anything. We could elect an environmentalist who wants to overhaul the entire system and it wouldn’t change much. It’s about a two-election cycle before things change. So, I don’t see any major impacts to our industry resulting from next year’s elections. Those changes can’t be made in two or three years — what we need takes a change in culture, not just politics.


 


Scott: I don’t think so — at least not immediately. Change always affects us, but there’s such a gap in getting new policy down to the community level that it’s rarely implemented before the next change comes along. Having said that, there’s still a need to get to the communities and share our knowledge and information about proficiently managing resources. That’s where we’re seeing policy changes. We also need to be involved in local programs and organizations, and assist in developing soil, plant and water research. Policymakers cite local research when they analyze water resources, demands and conservation. As irrigation professionals, we can influence research that very specifically addresses local community needs.


 


L&I: Who would you nominate for irrigation industry professional of the year? Why?


Davis: Honestly, I’m not sure. It would have to be somebody who comes up with a new engineering standard or formula for significantly advancing irrigation design or water management — perhaps somebody like Dr. Ken Solomon, for example, who developed the SPACE software that shows coverage uniformity in a two-dimensional densogram. You enter sprinkler and spacing data and the densogram projects coverage uniformity. This made it so much easier to understand irrigation water distribution and efficiencies visually — it really helped to preempt a lot of system design calculations. The more I think about it, the positive changes happening in our industry are being brought about by all of us.


 


Scott: Academia is critical to our industry now and in the future. As we mature as a profession, we need to create leaders and build the industry for tomorrow. I tend to look at the big picture through that lens. Who’s helping us as an industry? I think ASIC Past President Brian Vinchesi with Irrigation Consulting, Inc., in Pepperell, Mass., is doing great things as chair of the Irrigation Association Educational Foundation. His is a real grassroots effort, introducing water resource and management principles through curricula offered in schools, and through the Future Farmers of America and 4H. This is very long-range thinking and action to get accurate, applicable knowledge out to the masses. As irrigation professionals, that’s what we like to see — a significant outreach effort.


 


L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2008?


Davis: There will be more prolonged drought affecting our industry in 2008. Not just in the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, but in other large urban areas that really have not been paying attention to their water use. More cities and communities are going to be hammered with self-imposed watering restrictions, making our involvement as independent irrigation consultants all that more important. ASIC members will have to continue to make calm, rational, long-term water use recommendations and decisions, while politicians will play to their constituents’ emotions. Environmental restraints and endangered species will continue to impact water allocations and delivery on a large scale. We saw places like Minnesota and Hawaii experiencing drought — and look at Atlanta. The drought will drive everything next year. Government agencies and property developers will have to look a lot closer at master planning and rainwater harvesting, and options for reclaimed water.


 


Scott: New water legislation at the community level will be a huge priority for policymakers in 2008. This prediction might not be so bold, but the rules and restrictions will be. Consequently, an irrigation professional’s industry knowledge will be critical for new policy, responsible resource stewardship and our profession’s image. So our ethic in seeking and sharing knowledge will be critical, because all project members will have to work as a team.


L&I: What one other piece of advice you would give to irrigation professionals in 2008?


Davis: We’ll all have to be prepared to handle the pressure to eliminate landscape irrigation altogether. The pressure to not plant and irrigate, but to use inanimate objects that don’t require water, is a dangerous mindset for us and our environment. We have to strike a sustainable balance of plant material in the landscape — we need trees and turf and flowering plants for a healthy environment that contributes to urban cooling, oxygen regeneration and wildlife habitat. We need to consider all factors in master planning and urban planning not just water use.


 


Scott: Go at it with a passion; be effective and be honest in your efforts.


 


 


Isuzu Commercial Truck of America, Inc.


Todd Bloom, vice president — marketing


L&I: What would you like landscape professionals to know about your company as we head into 2008?


Bloom: Isuzu-built trucks hold 67.4 percent market share in classes 3-5, and 84 percent of all Isuzu-built trucks ever sold in this country are still registered on U.S. roads (there are more than 450,000 Isuzu-built trucks on U.S. roads). Exciting news is that, for the first time ever, a gas-powered, factory-built LCF crew cab is now available (launched at GIE+EXPO in October 2007).


 


L&I: What do you feel will be the biggest issue for landscape professionals in 2008? How should they address it? 


Bloom: Fuel costs. Fleets should practice good driving habits that can improve fleet fuel economy by as much as 25 percent without any equipment modifications. Choose equipment carefully the initial acquisition cost for trucks represents only 20 percent of the total cost of your truck ownership.


 


L&I: What do you feel are the most significant trends of the past year in the landscape industry?


Bloom: Continued consolidation and tougher competition.


 


L&I: Do you think the 2008 presidential election will have an impact on the landscape industry?


Bloom: It should not. But the economy and harsh weather conditions can dramatically affect the landscape business.


 


L&I: Who would you nominate for landscape industry professional of the year? Why? 


Bloom: Richard Sperber, Valley Crest. Valley Crest continues to innovate in terms of equipment, new technologies, and respect for the environment.


 


L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2008?


Bloom: Greater sensitivity to the environment will result in a new drive for environmentally centered landscaping design and maintenance.


 


L&I: What one other piece of advice you would give to landscape professionals in 2008?


Bloom: Be bold in looking at how business will evolve in the next few years, and build your business today to prepare for exciting times ahead.


 


 


Vermeer Manufacturing Co.


Jon Kuyers, Rubber Tire and Compact Segment manager


L&I: What would you like landscape professionals to know about your company as we head into 2008?


Kuyers: Vermeer will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2008, and during this time the company been actively engaged in the landscape market with equipment such as tree spades, stump grinders, brush chippers, trenchers, irrigation plows and mini skid-steers. Vermeer will continue to engage in the needs of the green industry with labor-saving products that meet the needs of the design/build/install and maintenance contractor. Vermeer is a member and supporting sponsor of the Professional Landcare Network, engaging in the support of educational events and training of the current and future leaders in the green industry.


 


L&I: What do you feel will be the biggest issue for landscape professionals in 2008? How should they address it?


Kuyers: One of the biggest issues continues to be finding and retaining qualified labor. Other than petitioning for changes in H2B or immigration legislation, the issue can be addressed with an internal focus on job site efficiency (“lean management”) and/or in conjunction with increased utilization of technology or equipment. There are many products or pieces of equipment in the marketplace than can reduce the amount of manual labor required and increase productivity, lessening the need to hire more workers. In many cases, a local dealer rep or non-competitive contractor who understands the business can help identify solutions to address the area in question.


 


L&I: What do you feel are the most significant trends of the past year in the landscape industry, and will those trends continue in 2008?


Kuyers: Barring a significant downturn in the economy due to housing and mortgage issues, homeowners may continue to spend money to create enhanced living spaces outside. You may see a continued increase in hardscaping, water features, outdoor lighting and continued emphasis on environmentally responsible green spaces — plants with low water usage in arid areas, etc. — and buffer zones.


 


L&I: Do you think the 2008 presidential election will have an impact on the landscape industry?


Kuyers: It will depend how the elected candidate works with the House and Senate to deal with the complexities of immigration reform, which may impact the industry either positively or negatively.


 


L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2008?


Kuyers: The Cubs will win the World Series.


 


L&I: What one other piece of advice you would give to landscape professionals in 2008?


Kuyers: Plan and set a goal of where you want the business to be by Jan 1, 2009. Create visual monthly measures to understand how your business is tracking to the plan and execute the plan, by supplying the necessary resources to ensure success. When evaluating equipment purchases, evaluate the specific needs (size, capability, utilization), demonstrate and or rent the range of competitive products, select the partner or dealer in business that can take care of your parts and service needs long term and can help grow your business with you.


 


 


Rain Bird


Dave Johnson, director of corporate marketing


L&I: What would you like irrigation professionals to know about your company as we head into 2008?


Johnson: Since 1933, Rain Bird has focused on developing products, services and technologies that promote the efficient irrigation of the world’s crops, landscapes and green spaces. Recent droughts and related watering restrictions have heightened the general public’s awareness of the need to use water responsibly. Our commitment to the irrigation industry and the communities we serve has never been greater. This commitment is manifested through a range of tangible initiatives under The Intelligent Use of Water banner. These initiatives extend well beyond providing the highest quality products and services in the irrigation industry; they extend to educating irrigation professionals and the public about the methods and benefits of responsible outdoor water use. We also actively partner with our communities to advance general water conservation practices. Simply put, The Intelligent Use of Water is good business for the entire irrigation industry.


 


L&I: What do you feel will be the biggest issue for irrigation professionals in 2008? How should they address it?


Johnson: In 2008, irrigation professionals will be largely impacted by both the condition of the residential real estate market and the overall health of the economy. It’s no secret that the residential housing market is in a precarious position right now. Thousands of homeowners are defaulting on their mortgages or selling their homes for thousands below previous market values. The irrigation industry’s challenge is to find ways to demonstrate the value of irrigation to both the consumer and commercial markets during these difficult economic times. In the face of this challenge, we at Rain Bird feel that the best way to communicate the value of irrigation is by emphasizing how The Intelligent Use of Water drives us to develop technologies and products that can save customers both water and time while increasing their property values.


 


L&I: What do you feel are the most significant trends of the past year in the irrigation industry, and will those trends continue in 2008?


Johnson: For some time now, environmental concerns have been inching their way to the forefront of both consumer and commercial consciousness, and this trend will continue to gain traction throughout 2008 and beyond. Water conservation plays a major role in our current environmental picture, but the fact remains that irrigation systems are necessary for the undeniable aesthetic, economic and environmental benefits they offer to both homeowner and commercial landscapes. As a result, customers will continue to seek out irrigation experts who can help them understand the water-efficient technology that offers a much-needed balance between quality landscapes and responsible water usage.


 


L&I: Do you think the 2008 presidential election will have an impact on the irrigation industry?


Johnson: Presidential elections tend to affect consumer outlook. If the majority of Americans believe that the winning candidate will have a positive or negative effect on our overall economy, that over-arching belief will trickle down to the housing market. Because the irrigation industry is tremendously impacted by new housing starts and existing home sales, it makes sense to say that the election will have a definite bearing on the irrigation industry.


 


L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2008?


Johnson: In 2008, only the strongest players within the industry will continue to thrive and they’ll do so by distancing themselves from the competition. It’s all about who has the most unique, innovative and credible approach to irrigation and how they choose to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.


 


L&I: What one other piece of advice you would give to irrigation professionals in 2008?


Johnson: The future of this industry is firmly linked to the development of new technologies that help customers use water in the most efficient manner possible. As irrigation professionals, we must learn everything we can about these technologies and share that knowledge with our customers. Success within this industry will only be found by those who recognize the importance of water efficiency, educate their customers about available technologies and aggressively up-sell the resulting products.


 


 


Bayer Environmental Science


Jason Kuhlemeier, Lawn & Landscape Industry lead


L&I: What would you like landscape professionals to know about your company as we head into 2008?


Kuhlemeier: This past year was a difficult one for lawn and landscape businesses. Bad weather, a poor real estate economy, and the threat of increased regulation are a few of the reasons businesses may not have grown. However, Bayer Environmental Science has many of the tools necessary to redesign a typical offering to make a truly professional difference. Our newer products offer opportunities in ornamental management, lawn disease control and professional fire ant control. These add-on services can give a boost to the standard lawn and landscape operation, and will help differentiate your company. In addition, Bayer has placed an emphasis on labor-savings technology in its product development. Products such as CoreTect Tree Tablets for trees and shrubs combine insecticide and fertilizer for one handy application. Our products Allectus, Merit and TopChoice insecticides are all available on fertilizer to save time and application costs.


 


L&I: What do you feel will be the biggest issue for landscape professionals in 2008? How should they address it?


Kuhlemeier: Though lawn and landscape service providers may have had a difficult year for the reasons noted above, they should realize that the economy will turn around. Operators should be thinking about what they want their business to look like when it does turn around, and what they need to do to get there. By demonstrating the value of using a professional lawn and landscape service to their current and potential customers, operators can bridge the gap. We have to produce a better product than the typical homeowner can produce himself. We have to offer the additional services that demonstrate the greater value of hiring a professional.


 


L&I: What do you feel are the most significant trends of the past year in the landscape industry, and will those trends continue in 2008?


Kuhlemeier: One trend is the advent of products that increase efficiency, such as the fertilizer plus pesticide products mentioned above. In addition, lawn and landscape professionals are realizing they need to provide better training to their employees and better ways of communicating to their customers, such as e-newsletters and Web sites. Bayer’s Lawn Care Institute holds educational seminars throughout the country each year.


 


L&I: Do you think the 2008 presidential election will have an impact on the landscape industry?


Kuhlemeier: It certainly could. Some of the presidential candidates are much more apt to approving regulations than others.


 


L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2008?


Kuhlemeier: Unprecedented growth for the industry.


 


L&I: What one other piece of advice you would give to landscape professionals in 2008?


Kuhlemeier: Continue improving business plans and price your services to the market.

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