Lawn care companies hit by perfect storm

·3 min read

May 4—You can forgive lawn care companies if they feel like the world is out to get them this year.

First, gasoline and diesel fuel prices have soared in the past year.

Fertilizer prices are in never-before-seen territory.

Grass seeds became scare and expensive — going from 80 cents a pound last fall to $3 this spring.

Oh, and labor costs are rising.

"It's putting a hurt on us," said Aaron Bullington, co-owner of Imperial Lawns. "We don't mow anymore. These days, it's mostly weed control and fertilizer. I've been in business since 2005, and fertilizer is the highest I've ever seen. It's up 20% this year.

"We use quite a bit of it. We've raised our prices a little and ate a little, hoping things will even out. Gas has gone from $1.75 a gallon to $3.80 and diesel was $5.55 yesterday. Two of our trucks use diesel."

At Evergreen Lawn Care and Weed Man, Todd West, the owner, said, "Diesel and gas prices are both up close to 100% from last year. Fertilizer is up 115% to 120%. And there's a problem with availability. It's in very short supply.

"With Weed Man, I ordered fertilizer and grass seed last fall, just to be sure I could get it for spring. By this fall, they say grass seed may not be available.

"We bought 28 semi-truck loads of fertilizer and four semis of grass seed. There's a shortage of trucks and drivers. Just to be sure we could get deliveries, we bought our own semi."

He added, "We tell our customers, we want to be working. But it's hard sometimes to get the supplies we need.

"Most of our grass seed comes from Oregon, and a lot of the farmers who raised grass seed in the past have switched to marijuana because it pays better. And they had drought and wildfires last year."

Fertilizer, he said, includes potash, which comes from Ukraine.

Between the war in Ukraine, marijuana farming in Oregon and whatever is happening with oil prices, lawn care companies are getting slammed, Bullington said.

Brad Bell, owner of Rivers Edge Lawn & Landscape, has been in business for 22 years.

This year is the worst he's ever seen because of the perfect storm of problems.

"Grass seed is up 30% to 40%," Bell said. "Fuel prices seem to have leveled off. It's been crazy."

He said when he quotes a homeowner a price for his services, it's good for 30 days.

And even that is stretching it some days.

"When I do a bid, I have to check prices closely or I'm losing money," Bell said. "You're watching that dollar much closer than you were two years ago."

He said what he's having to charge clients has gone up 7% to 8% since last fall.

"A lot of the urea in fertilizer comes from Russia," he said, "and the war has stopped that. We've started using a liquid product to keep prices down."

And then, there's labor.

"Jobs that used to pay $12 an hour now pay $15 to $16," he said.

Bell said that last year shipments that used to come in a week were taking eight to 10 weeks to arrive.

"We're trying to educate our clients about what's going on," he said.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com.