Monday, October 13, 2008

2009 Florida Environmental Horticulture Industry Prognosis

The following is in response to a request from the Ornamental Outlook Magazine to provide my thoughts of the 2009 market for the Florida Nursery and Landscape industries.

I do not claim any prognostication abilities, but here's a few thoughts:

I sense this economic crisis is like a bad cold. It will get worse before it gets better and it will take as many days to recover back up from the worst day, as it took to get down to the worst one. Hopefully, it is not an incurable disease! And hopefully the stimulus packages being put together across the globe will be the right medicine needed. If we ever had any doubts about the legitimacy of being a global village, may be this worldwide economic crisis will convince those skeptics.

As far as our industry goes: For the most part, our industry has followed the curves and bends of the building and real estate markets that accompany discretionary spending associated with bull markets. That's not to say that it should be that way. Many industries are less effected by down turns. For example people will still go to the doctor when sick, because that is a Quality of Life issue that is a must. We have been reactive and not as proactive in this regard. I feel that our industry needs to be more proactive in continuing and expanding the promoting of the Environmental Horticulture industry's products as necessary Quality of Life products... not something that is optional. Some examples of plants being a required Q of L purchase include: interior and exterior air purifiers, energy saving and the original GREEN products, stress relieving outdoor rooms that create a sanctuary from the rat race outside, and spending more time enjoying your back yard as a Staycation destination - for example - saves money while at the same time adding value to the home and generate more entertainment opportunities that also add to ones Q of L. And don't forget the ability that only plants have to create a natural environment at home that is also associated with a back to nature Q of L component attracting wildlife and generating a sense of peace.

But, even if we more aggressively adopted and promoted these ideals at the highest of levels, it would probably take years to make a paradigm shift accepted by the masses, and so for 2009 I am preparing for market conditions to be worse (if they are better... great! And I will happily accept everyone's "You were wrong"), as individual states and government entities continue to cancel large projects from lack of taxes and other funding, banks continue to heavily screen lending (if someone even wanted to build), political fears add to concerns of the future, and Wall Street tries to recover, to name just a few contributing factors.

I sense that the wholesale plant growers who have no service divisions will suffer as they try to keep up quality inventories while competing in a market of previously over produced, and mostly paid for, surplus. And with current growers selling plants for half of what they were 30 years ago, just to generate cash, how inventories will be replenished seems to be a cross-that-bridge-when-I-get-to-it mentality for many right now. Nurseries going to auction will also add to the devaluation of product. The landscape companies that have cut expenses to the bone, gotten creative by thinking outside the box, and have enjoyed a solid customer base will hopefully survive, but with more competition for fewer jobs, quality and service levels will have to remain high, or even higher, even with the lower prices needed to sell the work. High end residential and commercial Lawn Maintenance companies who have a solid customer base and established business will probably feel the strain the least, as those customers are less likely to start pushing mowers as a way to cut back expenses. But as more landscapers and others, see the lawn maintenance market as a way to survive, pricing will probably decline as well, as hungry companies vie for the remaining work.

In a nutshell, I sense that all segments of the Environmental Horticulture Industry will have to "do a lot more, for a lot less" than they have been used to, in order to survive. In addition, having no sacred cows accompanied by creative diversification will be the game plan for many companies in 09'.

Finally, it’s obvious I am not a head-in-the-sand optimist, nor am I a sky-is-falling pessimist. I call myself a realist. But a realist, with optimistic “silver-lining” tendencies, as I feel times like these call for a very beneficial and positive recounting of all our blessings to help put things into perspective. A perspective often lost when we are in the “me” mentality often associated with good economic conditions. And I think it would do us all good to get back to a “being thankful” and “this is the day” mentality, as we return to putting a more basic emphasis on things like: health, honor, acceptance, freinds, family, freedom, safety, peace, and love, to name just a few.

Gary Roberts

Thursday, August 7, 2008

2006 Dodge 2500 Diesel fuel efficiency experiences

I have a 2006 Dodge 2500 (5.7) SLT 4 Wheel Drive extended cab short bed Diesel Pick Up truck (with no camper top) for my nursery and landscape business. When purchased new I got about 17 mpg. Concerned even then about fuel costs, I immediately put a K&N air filter system on and began getting over 18 mpg. It made the engine sound like a jet too... cool. I was happy with 18-19 mpg until prices started to rise dramatically in 2007. After seeing a spot on TV about hyper-mileing, I decided to give it a try, but less fanatically as the driver on the news segment was. My driving developed into what I call semi-hyper-mileing. Simply, I define that as: coasting to stops, never idling (if the truck is not moving, the engine is off), trying not to exceed 1500 rpm's while accelerating, and going the speed limit. This rose my mileage to about 22.5 mpg. These numbers were for city and highway driving. I did not see fluctuation. About this time I started to look into home brew bio diesel production. That was/is not feasible for me. First, I found restaurants charging for the old oils and often having contracts already established for the used oil with others, anyway. Then after learning the heating and explosive/flamable chemical needs in the process, I could see my liability insurance for my business going through the roof and my agent having a heart attack.... so home brew bio diesel was scratched of the list of possibilities.
Having given up on home made bio diesel I started to look elsewhere for some added miles, and having heard how additives were a waste of money, I was hesitant when I came across a website for diesel fuel additives. The product was Stanadyne Performance Formula Jr., and they claimed 8% increase, explaining lubricity as the reason for the success. I took a chance and was glad I did. After the second tank full I drove on the interstate at 70-75 mph for 3 hours and jumped up to 24.5 to 25 mpg. That mpg continued as I drove to and from work for the next two weeks. The daily drive for me is 7.5 miles in distance, with two traffic lights that usually catch me and speed limits that range from 25 to 55 mph. The cost is about $1.00 per 30 gal fill up in the 16 oz size by the case, and I feel I was saving approximately $12.00 per tank, or about $415.00 per year.
Trying to eek out even better mileage I decided to fill my tires up to at least the sidewall manufactures psi rating cold. I grew up being told to always fill tires to 5 lbs below sidewall rating, but after having taken a classic car to an open track event that mandated over filling of tire pressure, I felt fine with the extra psi's. This got me to 26 mpg. Having huge torque with this truck and being at 45,000 miles and soon to be in need of a new set of tires, I looked into a higher profile tire, but could not find a better one that came with it originally. I was told, however, that used tires get better fuel mileage than new tires due to the resistance factor being less on a used tire, so I decided to try and get another 5000 miles out of my current tires. I'll let you know when the new ones go on if they do indeed reduce the mileage.
Realizing it was going to be even tougher to squeak more out of a gallon, I bought an aftermarket mandrel bent exhaust system instead of the factory crimp bent system currently on it. I have yet to put that on, but at $285.00 - plus labor to install, I am going to have get a good improvement to make it worth the extra money. The jury is out on this investment at present. I'll advise when completed.
Not having yet given up on the warm and fuzzy bio diesel idea, I decided to try to find a petroleum distributor that might sell ready to burn bio in bulk. I called a few local suppliers and they said it was unavailable and not a good alternative anyway. Almost giving up I went to the Internet for one last google for a state wide search and found a supplier in Jax that recommended a supplier in Melbourne, who just happened to be pproviding the local school district buses with 100% bio diesel, and after a short discussion set me up with my own tank for my pick up and my company's fleet of diesel trucks and loaders.
We started out with B20 a week ago before we can go to ultimately desired B100, because the supplier said that we needed to run a tank or two of B20 through each vehicle to burn off the old petrol diesel sludge that would clog filters etc... if we went to the straight B100. I have run two tanks of the B20 through my truck so far. The first tank with the Stanadyne product still in it, and the mpg's stayed the same as with straight petrol diesel with the additive. The second tank I left out the Stanadyne, after speaking with the company's rep and she advised me that the lubricity of Bio diesel probably would not be improved by their product, and my leaving it in did not improve mileage any further either. That seemed to be the case, as the mpg's again remained the same without the additive. Since B20 is about 15 cents less per gallon than traditional petrol diesel I am saving significantly more that before. I am anxious to get the B100 and see how performance and mileage react. I notice no less performance with the B20. Besides the money, B100 is 30 cents less on average than petrol diesel, I feel good about burning a cleaner, renewable, and domestically produced diesel.
Just prior to going bio, I felt that wind resistance was key to getting better mileage, and decided to try a product called AirTabs ( and although I could have handled the Batmobile look they gave my truck if my mileage improved significantly, I was disappointed with my test drive, the same day I installed them, and I pulled them off fast enough, before they completely stuck to my paint, and transferred them to my car trailer. I did leave 12 on the roof. They looked kinda cool up there. I must admit that after pulling car the trailer before and after Air Tabs, the trailer did not sway on the road, as the manufacture claimed would occur, and although I promised myself a sway bar for the trailer, I do not feel I need one now.
I have two more ideas to implement in my search of a 30 mpg truck. The first continues the aerodynamic theme. I plan to put a thin sheet of something (PVC, Plastic, Aluminum... not sure yet), on the undercarriage to help the truck slip stream. And my local dealer is actually promoting a hydrogen generator system they will install for under $500.00. If 20% improvement is actually achievable, I will have my 30 mpg. The first systems I looked into were $1200.00 plus and hard to justify. Again, I will update as these additions are implemented and tested.
The following are my actual mpg findings with the B20.
1) Truck alone interstate driving:
a) 55 mph = 27.5 mpg
b) 65 mph = 25 mpg
c) 70 mph = 24 - 24.5 mpg
d) 75 mph = 22.9 - 23.5 mpg
e) 79 mph = 22.5 - 22.7 mpg
2) Truck alone in town = 24.5 - 26 mpg
3) Truck pulling loaded 20' classic car trailer:
a) 65 mph = 15.5 mpg (prior to any of my improvements, when I first got the truck, I pulled the same trailer with the same car and only got 11.5 - 12 mpg on the interstate doing 70 - 75 mph)
b) 70 mph = 14 mpg
c) city driving = 15 mpg
Recently I googled bio diesel decals, as I am now a proud user and want people to know, and found some really neat decals as well as factory looking chrome BIO DIESEL lettering and license plate frames. I put them on all my trucks and equipment.

Gary at GRNL