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On the Editor's Radar
A Review of Trends, Rulings, Events and More that Impacted the Landscape Trades

By Mike Dahl, LC/DBM


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At GIE+EXPO this year, I was given the rundown on the New Holland L234, which was launched at the show in Louisville, Ky. At 90 hp, it represents the most powerful model in the manufacturer's line-up. An earlier test drive of a different brand of skid steer helped show me why these flexible, powerful machines are very popular with landscape contractors. However, for the first time they were outsold by their fellow compact track loaders, or as a contractor at the show preferred to call, track skid steers.


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Electric-powered equipment continued to become more commercially viable thanks in part to the increase to 82-volt power sources. This chainsaw has a pushbutton start, which besides providing ease of use, is an important safety feature when operating high up in trees.


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One use of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, that's found its way into the green industry, is in the design of golf courses.


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Still important in the fight to reduce water consumption, artificial turf might have lost some status as concerns grew about the loss of the environmental benefits - decreased heat, improved air quality, better stormwater control, a habitat for pollinators - that natural turf, even under-watered, delivers.


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Landscape businesses adding peripheral services such as holiday light installation continued as a trend last year.


Since the number of calendar dates with 2016 in them is waning, the time is right to remember, evaluate and wax upon the issues that had the biggest effect on the landscape construction and maintenance fields.

Trends
A common topic of discussion in 2016 was landscape businesses adding peripheral services. Among those was holiday light installation, which is facilitated by franchisors like We Hang Christmas Lights.com and Christmas Décor, and factory-direct sellers of holiday lighting such as Creative Displays Incorporated. Low-voltage outdoor audio systems now allow contractors to install audio equipment without an extra license according to Jon Bowman, the director of sales for audio and lighting manufacturer Coastal Source. Another business add-on example is pavement maintenance services such as sealcoating, cracksealing and parking lot striping, all of which will be demonstrated in conference sessions at the National Pavement Expo 2017.

Shortage of labor, especially skilled labor, was in the news a lot. The construction industry consistently reported difficulty filling jobs, and an effort is in place to get a federal bill passed that would help more students gain the essential skills needed to work in the industry. Ralph Egues, the executive director of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance stated that the biggest challenge for his member companies in 2016 was almost universally "that it is very hard to get workers."

Track loaders are increasing in popularity. The numbers say as much - 2015 was the first year ever that track loaders outsold skid steers - and Brad Wenger, product specialist at New Holland, confirmed it at GIE where they launched their new skid steer, the L234. Reasons cited by Wenger include their superior traction and stability and the fact that maintenance costs are going down thanks to better reliability of the tracks.

It seems that public opinion on combatting the effects of drought is moving away from the "all grass is bad" camp and realizing that simply tearing it out is not the best solution. Helping to motivate this pendulum swing are stories such as the one in which KCBS-TV in Los Angeles documented that the Department of Water and Power actually irrigates the artificial grass at 10 of their substations to wash away dirt and dog urine, and the Bloomberg Businessweek story that showed how shoddy "xeriscape for turf" jobs ruined people's yards and could actually do more harm than good to the overall environment. The National Hispanic Landscape Alliance and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute among other groups have active campaigns in support of natural turf.

Speaking of OPEI, when asked about his association's view on the increase in electric power equipment, president and CEO Kris Kiser said, "we're all in," noting that they have created an electric products committee. Discussing the current state of that sector with product specialists from battery-powered equipment manufacturer Greenworks, which launched its first commercial landscape line this year, I learned that 82 volts is the new leader of the pack with no end in sight on where technology may go. As a battery-powered chainsaw buzzed through a sizable log behind me, the specialists ticked off a number of benefits of their equipment such as less operator fatigue due to less vibration, savings on fuel costs, and no ethanol issues.

And lastly, decks are on the upswing. Basing their conclusions on how often a home amenity appeared in listings of homes, real estate data website Trulia found that decks "won by a landslide," and that they were number two on their latest list of top home improvement projects - giving homeowners an 80 percent to 120 percent return on investment when it's time to sell.

Rulings
Following is a list of legal actions taken or proposed and what they mean to businesses as a whole and specifically the green industry in some cases:
Overtime Rule: This raises the threshold that white-collar salaried workers have to earn less than to qualify for overtime from $23,660 to $47,476. Set to take effect on Dec. 1, a federal judge put the rule on a temporary hold on Nov. 22.
H-2B Returning Worker Provision: Returning workers that have held H-2B status in the last three years were exempt from fiscal year 2016's cap of 66,000 workers allowed into the country. This expired Sept. 31 but there are efforts to get it added to the final appropriation bill that as of press time, could be put off until March 31.


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Audio Installation - Thanks to low-voltage outdoor audio systems, contractors can now install audio equipment without needing a license, and with the tools and skills they have mastered for other jobs.


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Dust Exposure Limit Reduced - OSHA's final ruling on the permissible exposure limit to silica dust - 50 micrograms of silica exposure in a typical day, down substantially from the previous 250 microgram limit - was petitioned for review in federal court by eight construction industry organizations, including the Associated Builders and Contractors, American Subcontractors Association, and Mason Contractors Association.


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Help with Slip and Fall Liability - To relieve snow and ice management contractors from assuming all the liability for slip and fall accidents on customers' properties, a transfer of liability restriction law was signed in Illinois. A similar bill passed the Michigan House and others are being considered in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Massachusetts.


Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act: Mandates federal agencies to increase their fines to account for inflation since the last time they were raised. OSHA's new maximum amounts for serious, willful or repeated violations went up 78 percent. The EPA's maximum fine for violation of its stormwater permitting requirements increased nearly 40 percent.

The Persuader Final Rule: Requires employers to report all communications with legal counsel regarding union organizing. In the past, employers only had to notify the agency when their legal representatives communicated directly with employees. A U.S. District Court in Texas issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against the rule on June 27, 2016.

The Fair Play and Safe Workplaces Final Rule (Blacklisting Rule): Contractors bidding for certain federal work must disclose any accusation, substantiated or not, that they violated labor laws in the past three years. Set to take effect Oct. 25, it too was held up by a Texas judge.

OSHA's Anti-retaliation Regulation: Essentially restricts post-accident drug testing by requiring an employer's procedure for reporting work-related injuries to not discourage employees from doing so, which the threat of post-incident drug testing could. As of press time, the agency had postponed implementation of it to Dec. 1 to give a U.S. District Court more time to rule on the issue.

In other legal news:
Congress is considering legislation that would block the IRS from implementing a proposed rule that would make it more difficult for a family-owned business from being passed down after the death of an owner by eliminating certain discounts of the value of the business's assets.

The EPA issued a new Pesticide General Permit, which took effect October 31, 2016 and covers mosquito and other flying insect pest control; weed and algae pest control; animal pest control; and forest canopy pest control. Following gas tax increases in Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington in 2015, New Jersey did the same this year - raising it 159 percent. Louisiana, Tennessee, Alaska, Alabama and Minnesota are among the states reported to be considering increases next year.

After OSHA issued a final ruling strictly decreasing the amounts of permissible exposure to silica dust found in sand, stone, rock, concrete, brick, block and mortar among other materials, eight construction industry organizations filed a petition for review in federal court.

Politics
Funding the government still hangs in the balance as of press time. Before they adjourned pre-election, Congress was able to pass a continuing resolution to temporarily keep the lights on in D.C., and vowed to work to finalize an appropriation bill before Dec. 9. The latest report is that the House Republicans now would prefer another short-term spending bill and kick the problem down the road until March 31.

And on the matter of the contentious presidential election: No matter who wins (I am writing this before results are known and I truly think it's a tossup) close to half of the country will not be happy - many quite angry. It could actually be more than half if you account for the supporters of the primary losers on both sides. You may not be among the unhappy (congratulations to your candidate) but undoubtedly customers and potential customers will. Some, maybe many, of your employees may also be dissatisfied with the results. Please keep this in mind as we all get down to the business of making 2017 a very successful year!


Products
Space does not permit discussion on all the new products released in 2016 or the innovations that grabbed LC/DBM's attention this year so following is just a sampler of them.


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A landscaping hand tool carrier that fits 3-point hitches of compact tractors, Earth & Turf Products' CarryCat(TM) features stand-alone storage with adjustable stand-off feet to suit a variety of tractor sizes, adjustable gasoline-can holder, soft-lined chain-saw mount, and receiver for drawbar. www.earthandturf.com


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WAC Lighting has developed a line of fixtures with adjustable beam angles and wattage output. They come in 12- and 120-volt accent, in-ground and wall wash lights. www.waclighting.com


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The Altoz TRX™ is billed as the industry's first tracked zero-turn mower. It has patent-pending technology and is designed to have more stability and traction to safely maneuver inclines, side hills, ditches, varying terrain and wet conditions. Its low ground pressure reportedly reduces compaction and minimizes ground disturbance. www.altoz.com


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Topfires by The Outdoor Plus introduced the patent-pending bullet burner designed to create a higher, fuller flame while consuming less gas. Its hexagonal uniform hub and curved burners deliver gas evenly to the ports, which have an orifice design that compresses gas flow to deliver a powerful flame. www.theoutdoorplus.com


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Yardmax is a new brand of outdoor power equipment developed by a company that has been an OEM for 18 years. At GIE, attendees seemed pleased at the price points. The line includes log splitters, plate compacters, concrete mixers, snow blowers, power wheelbarrows, a power sweeper and a chipper/shredder. www.yardmax.com


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The CAMO Edge Pro is a proprietary guide tool that attaches wood, composite and PVC deck boards directly to joists with CAMO Hidden Fasteners, which are driven into the sides or edges of each board by a drill. www.nationalnail.com


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Avant came out with a small-sized loader, the 200 series, to reach a market segment they didn't have access to earlier. The 225 is 25 horsepower, has a lift capacity of 772 pounds, a lift height of 55 inches and weighs 1,540 pounds. It starts at $18,050. www.avanttecnousa.com


As seen in LC/DBM magazine, December 2016.








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June 18, 2019, 8:43 am PDT

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