Serving soil, mulch, compost and wood pellet producers, Soil & Mulch Producer News provides insight into critical issues facing businesses involved in producing and marketing topsoil, mulch and compost material. I write many of the publication’s feature stories, like the ones posted below:
Taking inventory at Atlanta-based Oldcastle Lawn & Garden’s 30-plus mulch and soil yards used to require hours of manual measuring with a walking wheel and yard stick, then counting and recounting the collected data. After switching to an image-based measurement system, “They are now able to walk around a stockpile with an iPhone in two to three minutes, and entire sites can be measured in 10 to 15 minutes using a drone,” said David Boardman, CEO of Stockpile Reports, of Redmond, Wash.
Federal Hours of Service (HOS) restrictions on truck drivers are costing the mulch and soil industry more than $1 billion per year – averaging close to $5 million per company, the Mulch and Soil Council (MSC) estimated.
Workplace injury reports from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can serve as gruesome reminders about how dangerous grinders and other mulching facility equipment can be when proper safety precautions aren’t utilized.
In the past, determining the volume of mulch or compost in a trailer was often a matter of guesswork. Until recently there was no real method to certify yardage. But many bark, mulch, soil and compost producers are now installing volume scanning systems to accurately measure the volume of material they are carrying.
For almost 40 years, Hardwood Mulch Corp., located about 35 miles southeast of Richmond, Va., hauled loads of wood mulch to a loyal customer in Maryland. That ended this year because of new interstate trucking regulations that mandate the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) to monitor a driver’s hours of service, said Garland Anderson, owner of the company.
In theory, expanding a mulch producing operation into compost production sounds like an ideal way to add an additional revenue stream. Unfortunately, say some people in the mulch business, the complications of permitting and the expense of purchasing composting equipment often can make compost production more trouble than it’s worth.
“Good luck. Tell us how you do.”
Robert Smith, chief of operations for the North Collier (County, Florida) Fire and Rescue District, said he heard that line a lot as he called fire departments around the country for advice about fighting a massive mulch and compost fire at the end of April. The blaze – the second in less than a year at Environmental Turnkey Solutions (ETS) – was identified in one local media report as the largest mulch fire ever in the U.S.
By most anecdotal accounts, mulch industry sales were up in 2016 compared to 2015. Survey responses and conversations with mulch producers from around the U.S. suggested that colored mulch continued to gain in popularity, while consumers increasingly are gravitating toward bagged products over bulk, primarily due to convenience of transporting and spreading the material.
Dry hot weather combined with indoor smoking bans create the ideal conditions for fires in mulched landscape beds. Such fires are on the rise across the country. In many cases fire officials have publicly cited spontaneous combustion as the causes of mulch fires, an explanation that Robert LaGasse, executive director of the Mulch and Soil Council describes as – to paraphrase it more politely – “steer manure.”
The new “Clean Water Rule” defining the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) purportedly is intended to clarify enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). Instead, many observers say, the new rule, which is set to take effect on August 28, has further muddied the waters, creating new vagaries that can stifle even simple plans of businesses and landowners.
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