Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The facts on fertigation

All you need to know about fertigation in a 10 question & answer session By: Jason Stahl Landscape Management

Fertigation has been used in agriculture for more than 40 years, but it's still a relatively new concept in the landscape industry. Therefore, some landscape professionals are still sketchy about what it is and how it can benefit their business. To clear up the issue, we posed 10 questions to Dave Cross, President of Fertigator, one of the leading fertigation companies in the United States. The following questions and answers will give you a good idea of how to make it work for you.

LM: What is fertigation? DC: Fertigation is the process of applying fertilizer through an automatic, in-ground irrigation system. Ideally, true fertigation is applying small, consistent amounts of fertilizer continuously through an irrigation system to achieve the ultimate benefit.

LM: How much does a landscape or lawn care pro have to invest to add this service?DC: The cost would run from $150 to $300 including all accessories on a residential account. On the low-end, you're getting some type of passive fertigation device that uses the irrigation system's flow to push the fertilizer into the line. On the high-end, you're getting an injection-type device that's electronically activated by a control mechanism that lets the injector know how much fertilizer to apply, and it can be varied by irrigation zone.

LM: How much can an installer expect to make by installing this type of system? DC: The potential profit is $150 to $300 per installation. But the real profit potential lies in the ability to sell the fertilizer needed on a continual basis to the customer. On a typical landscape, the profit potential for selling this fertilizer is $50 to $150 a year. You might sell the fertilizer for $100 and make $50, but you're only paying the cost of delivering it to the customer. Then either you or the customer refills the container.

LM: Is this service a better fit for the lawn care provider or landscape contractor? DC: The business that can benefit the most is a lawn care company that's already going to the property to provide fertilization on a regular basis. They already have a customer who wants that service, and they have the infrastructure built in to service those accounts regularly. They also have the route density, serving many customers in a small area.

LM: What would be the cost to the lawn care provider's client? DC: The range of installation price is $300 to $600. Some companies are installing these systems at a more reduced price, though, just to gain a customer that they can sell fertilizer to each year and get their money back through an ongoing revenue stream.

LM: Do you need any specialized training to install this system? DC: Anyone who has installed irrigation systems or other service systems won't need specialized training. But it's important to learn how to install the system properly.

LM: Is the system an easier sell to commercial or residential clients? DC: Residential customers are an easier sell because they're easier to access. You know who you need to communicate with to make the sale. In commercial accounts, the decision maker is harder to reach. Plus, residential customers are often looking for the next cool thing.

LM: What are the benefits to the landscape contractor? DC:This is new technology they can offer to the consumer that does a traditional service and applies that technology to give the consumer more benefit at lower cost. There's also an opportunity to save labor and therefore lower their cost to maintain these properties. You won't necessarily make less visits to the properties but you'll spend less time there.

LM: What are the benefits to the client? DC: The main one is agronomic. You take the human factor out and reduce the chance of misapplication and damaging a property. Fertigation results in a more consistent release of fertilizer that's ideal for plants, and 90 percent of it will get to the plants and not be washed away by heavy rain. Plus, it's safer and more environmentally friendly.

LM: Why isn't fertigation more successful or popular? DC: We believe it's because the consumer as a general rule doesn't know about it. But the consumer likes the idea based on the feedback we've received, and it registers as a good concept with them. Most companies don't develop a business model around it adequately to make it a thriving profit center; they just install a few systems.

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