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|Another look at the organics vs. synthetics debate
Does it seem as if you're hearing more about organic-based products lately? You are! Even on my radio show. I suppose the real question is, "will true organic fertilizers ever gain a foothold in this market?" Right now, in Houston, less than 1% of homeowners use organic fertilizers. In Dallas, that number is considerably larger - more like 10% -- and it does seem that organic products are gaining more and more ground. However, it is interesting to note that while the organics market has grown considerably in Dallas, the synthetic market hasn't dwindled at all. This proves to me that there's actually room for both camps in this discussion. Those companies that sell organically-based products have always said that the reason Houston is such a BLACK HOLE for organic products, is because Houston is the Petrochemical capitol of Texas. Well, I beg to differ.
The reason I think Organics haven't developed the foot-hold they desire, can be directly related to three reasons. 1. Mass Merchandisers don't carry a full-line of organic products - However, that is changing, and I'll explain more about that in another moment. 2. Unscrupulous organic merchandisers took advantage of the market, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of consumers - again, I'll explain more on that in a moment as well. 3. Lastly, Organic Fertilizers themselves had a bad Public Relations Problem - and yes, again, I will explain that in detail a bit later.
So, last year I asked the question, "Which side do you come down on, Organics or Synthetics?" And for the past year, I've done a consistent job of explaining where I stand on the issue. Nothing has changed. I still think there should be a balance between the two. I don't like extremism, and I'm not just talking about the hard-core organic person either, because there's extremism on both sides. First, keep in mind that while I dispense a great deal of "gardening" information to you, I don't consider myself a just a horticulturist. I'm an Information Specialist, if you will. And as such, I do my absolute best to give you information from both sides - warts and all!
So, back to the issue about Mass Merchandisers; or Reason Number 1: Organic Products are mostly found at very independent nurseries or garden centers - Mom & Pop stores, if you will. The average Joe (or Josephine) on the street, is likely to head to a mass merchandiser first to find anything gardening-related, and almost assuredly their first attempt at anything Organic. And up until now, the mass merchandisers didn't have any focus on this. But my compliments are now going out to select Lowe's Home Improvement Stores in the Houston area for agreeing to set up an Organic Corner. They are working with a company known as A.G. Organics based in Dallas. And they've set up a centralized, concentrated display of multiple organic products. You can actually click on the AG Organics link to see all the products they have in their organics arsenal. www.agorganics.com Now, that doesn't change the real fact, that those independent Nurseries or Garden Centers are still a great choice for Organic alternatives.
Another reason organics may never take a foot-hold in the market can be directly related to the difficulty the commercial landscape industry has had in "going natural." In an effort to be environmentally friendly, they try an organic program if their customer asks for it. But most consumers/homeowners don't understand the difference in response time. When the "delay" in greening and thickening up is longer than anticipated - a serious drawback to the organic/natural method - the contractor is often left holding the bag. And if given the opportunity to return and correct the situation, rather than losing the business, the contractor generally returns to synthetics.
Clearly, the synthetic fertilizer industry also has to do a better job of communicating the safety and the benefits of professionally manufactured fertilizers, rather than stewing over the debate of synthetic vs. organic. And I have to give kudos as well to one of those manufacturers that just also happens to be a GardenLine sponsor, and that's Easy Gro. I applaud their approach in their recent advertising campaign, in which they announce in their ads that not only do they strive to improve their product each year but "when applied according to label instructions, they will never harm the environment."
In the meantime, as your "Personal Gardening Information Specialist" (That's almost as long as my former business card at A&M) here are some of the pledges I give you…
I promise that if I ever find out that something is truly bad for the environment, I'll be o the first person to tell you about it. I will not, however, spread misinformation or twist the truth to bolster one side or the other. The Dursban Phase-Out is a great example, and a horrible mixed message by the government. They take it away from the homeowners and pest control operators, but they still allow it to be used agriculturally - see the mixed message. The ban came about because tests showed that "over-use" at 500 times the recommended dosage caused developmental abnormalities in baby rats. ENVIRONMENTALIST TRANSLATION: DURSBAN CAUSES BRAIN DAMAGE IN BABIES. See what I mean by "twisting" and "misinformation?"
I promise to introduce to you the latest in synthetic and organic technology in a timely cost-effective manner. In other words, it not only better do what it claims, but it needs to be cost-effective too. You see, organicides (organic pest repellant alternatives) don't have to be tested by the EPA the way synthetic chemicals do. That also means that organic products can make all sorts of claims without having to back it up with efficacy studies etc. Another issue that is finally being overcome in the organic marketplace is what I call "taking advantage of your fears, financially." This alludes to that "leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the consumer" issue I mentioned earlier - or reason Number 2. An example that still exists today might be a bag of organic fertilizer that retails for $25, and covers only 1500 square feet. Thankfully, more cost-effective brands have entered the market for 15-18 bucks a bag and cover up to 3500 square feet. I'll let you folks do the math.
The fertilizer market in Houston is definitely on the move. And several organic manufactures are building name recognition as legitimate alternatives. This is different from the "BLACK HOLE" reputation Houston's had in the past, where organic products would come in and disappear into oblivion. To me, the reasons organic fertilizers came in and went away with a whimper were three-fold. (Referring back to reason #3, from earlier)
1. They smelled bad.
2. They cost too much for the square footage they covered (cost-ineffective).
3. They were often impossible to spread.
That's all changed recently. Many of the "organic" alternatives I speak of don't smell so bad, are more cost-effective and are easier to use in broadcast spreaders.
Bottom Line: Just because it says "ORGANIC" doesn't automatically make it a good thing. Especially if the product is ripping you off financially just to take advantage of your environmental fears. During the past few years, the public has become increasingly concerned with health issues and the protection of our environment, and rightly so. While soil scientists and knowledgeable gardening experts agree that organic matter is a key to gardening success, what they are mostly talking about is additives and amendments to the soil. This does not mean that organic fertilizers are automatically good, nor does it mean inorganic fertilizers are automatically bad.
Finally, if you are suffering from what I refer to as "CHEMOPHOBIA", the fear of anything chemical -- remember, that you are made up of chemicals, I am made up of chemicals, organic fertilizers are made up of chemicals.
Until next issue, here's to
Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard
exclusively weekend mornings from 8 to noon
on Talkradio 950 KPRC.
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