Challenge and Change

Sep 1, 2013

Superintendent Magazine

Synthetic fertilizer manufacturers are ready to roll with the punches that the future will bring

Just like pesticides and water, synthetic fertilizer manufacturers face an array of challenges in the short- and long-term future of the golf course maintenance industry.

Legislative regulations related to the environment and economics are two issues that synthetic fertilizer manufacturers must deal with now, and will continue to deal with in coming years. Challenge and change could be two words that define the business climate for fertilizer manufacturers.

THE AGE OF BIOLOGY

Dave Heegard, general manager of the professional products division for LebanonTurf, remembers the age of chemistry in the 1950s and 1960s and the slogan, “A better living through chemistry.” He believes the industry, and the world as a whole, are on the verge of an “age of biology” with a similar slogan.

LebanonTurf, well known for its conventional nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (N-P-K) fertilizer products, began offering biological products when it acquired the Emerald Isle Solutions line of foliar and granular fertilizer products from Milliken Chemical in 2008. LebanonTurf didn’t stop there. In July 2009, LebanonTurf acquired the turf and landscape business from Novozymes, including the ROOTS Turf brand of organic-based granular fertilizers. And in early 2011, the company purchased the U.S. horticultural and turf division of Plant Health Care, another manufacturer of biologically based products.

Heegard believes that, over time, more and more superintendents will begin using biological-based products.

“It’s a slow process of integrating the biological components into traditional turf nutrition programs,” Heegard says, noting that plant nutrition programs that include bionutritional products will soon become the norm rather than the exception.

Synthetic fertilizers blended with biostimulants will become more commonplace, says Heegard, whose company recently released Country Club MD (Maximum Dispersion) fertilizer, which features Meth-Ex, a slow-release nitrogen combined with the biostimulants sea plant kelp and humic acid to fight turf stress.

“There has been a lot of work done in the last 30 years with trying to make fertilizers better in terms of performance,” Heegard says. “This is one way that you can make them better.”

The Andersons is also delving into bionutritional products, such as Humic DG, which is designed to improve fertilizer efficiency and soil moisture retention, as well as increase the uptake of nitrogen.

The company actually introduced a humic product to the golf course maintenance industry in the mid-1990s. “But it was before its time,” says Chuck Anderson, director of professional products for The Andersons in Maumee, Ohio.

Anderson says more superintendents are open to bionutritional products because they are what he likes to call “renewable.” But it’s not just superintendents who are interested in renewable products, it’s people in general.

“There’s a fundamental change that’s happening globally,” Anderson says. “People are becoming more caring of the planet. People will pay more to be ‘green.’ ”

Mike Johnson, director of sales and operations for Vereens Turf Products in Longs, S.C., says many superintendents formerly fertilized strictly with synthetics, while others used organics. But now a lot of superintendents are using both and requesting custom-blend fertilizers from Vereens.

“We still sell a tremendous amount of synthetic fertilizer, but a lot of superintendents are using more blends,” Johnson says of Vereens, which sells synthetic, organic and custom-blend fertilizer throughout the Southeast.

Superintendents are also distinguishing between pasteurized organics versus unpasteurized organics. A pasteurized organic is baked. But when it is baked the carbon source is depleted, Johnson notes.

“More superintendents are beginning to realize the importance of carbon in the soil,” he adds.

While not a bionutritional, Vancouver, B.C.-based Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies has introduced a sustainable fertilizer, Crystal Green. It’s made from recovered phosphorus and nitrogen from municipal and industrial wastewater streams and transformed into a slow-release fertilizer. Ostara says it’s the first nutrient technology to offer plant-activated, slow-release fertilizer sustainably made from renewable sources. A blend of phosphorus, nitrogen and magnesium, Crystal Green is an enhanced efficiency fertilizer that offers lower application rates and reduced nutrient loss through leaching and runoff, according to the company.

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