Bigger, badder, battery-operated everything. And robots!
Depending on your perspective, the professional lawn care and land-scape Industry is either ripe with exciting new opportunities or frustratingly full of changes. Today, the Green Industry is undergoing dynamic and revolutionary shifts in many facets of once basic practices—from mowing to pest control. Robotics, battery power, increasing legislation, new tech options, and consumer attitudes are driving the Industry toward new types of equipment, new ways of working, and essentially, new ways of thinking.
“Regulations are popping up at city and town levels that landscapers are having to deal with, changing the way they provide services,” comments Kubota Senior Turf Product Manager Tom Vachal. “Most notably [with] gas-powered backpack blowers. Many areas are pushing for electric solutions, sometimes driving up the input costs which are being absorbed by the landscaper.”
In addition to large, long-term Industry transitions such as battery power, are the more immediate and present issues. “Competition is increasing as the market gets tighter; this is compounded by labor shortages, inflation, and supply chain issues,” says Rick Agajanian, chief product officer at WorkWave. Vachal echoes these concerns, but is optimistic, “Some supply chain issues still exist in the landscape industry, but we do expect improvement in 2023 moving forward.” He adds, “Labor will continue to be a pinch point, but some minor improvement is expected in mid-2023.”
“The landscape industry is being challenged on many fronts—labor, emissions, replacement parts, and environmental stewardship just to name a few,” says Scythe’s Director of Marketing Billy Otteman. “To differentiate themselves, savvy contractors are beginning to make changes in their business to attract personnel and customers.”
Brian Rowan, SiteOne VP of category management, comments, “With an unknown economic outlook in 2023, efficiency is the name of the game. Green industry professionals will continue to be challenged with labor shortages, making it crucial for suppliers to work ahead to support contractors’ needs to help teams be as productive as possible.”
Yet despite the gravity of both long-term and short-term challenges, many agree the Industry still looks quite good moving into 2023. “Despite the challenging atmosphere, revenue for Green Industry companies has been strong overall,” comments Agajanian.
Vachal states, “Landscapers continue to expand their service offerings to increase the amount of work they are doing for their customers, [and] make more [money] at new locations and with good customers. There also continues to be some consolidation among landscape companies. I expect this trend to continue.”
Yes, the Industry has been booming, but how long will the ride last? And at what point do you start future-proofing to ensure longevity in an era of major Industry change?
More Electric Mowers, Many Firsts
Back in 2020 at the GIE+Expo, there was a unique and crowded attraction: a Husqvarna Automower set up on an angle and zipping up and down the display. While exciting, autonomous robotics still seemed like a bit of a novelty in the U.S. It was the growth of battery-powered equipment that was on the tip of every tongue at that Show. Yet the battery-powered options and introductions were largely limited to small engine and handheld equipment.
A mere two years later, at the renamed Equip Expo this past October, it seemed as if nearly every other booth had a robotic and/or battery-powered mower. Not just small mowers either. Large zero-turns were debuting. Of course, many introductions were still in prototype phase, but the writing is clearly on the wall.
A large driver is California’s recent legislation. “California recently became the first state to pass legislation that will drive the transition to emission-free equipment starting in 2024. Similar laws are becoming more prevalent throughout the U.S., resulting in the Landscape Industry experiencing a growing trend for requirements around the use of emission-free and low-noise equipment in businesses, municipalities, HOAs, resorts, and hospitals,” says Anthony Buxton, group product manager at Milwaukee Tool.
He continues, “To stay ahead of this trend, landscape professionals have had to begin analyzing their purchasing decisions as the number of cities and states considering legislation enacting such regulations continues to grow. Many landscaping businesses and professionals are evaluating the transition from gas to battery-powered equipment to be their primary equipment solution.”
Jack Morrison, co-founder and CEO of Scythe Robotics, echoes the sentiment. “The Industry is hungry for technology solutions that not only solve some of its biggest needs like labor and productivity, but also deliver the environmental benefits of zero emissions and quieter mowing.”
Indeed, reservations for Scythe’s commercial grade autonomous mower, the M.52, surpassed 5,000 in late May of 2022, including large Industry clients like Yellow-stone Landscape, Clean Scapes, and Impact Landscaping & Irrigation. Scythe will continue to accept reservations for M.52 as it ramps manufacturing to reach full-scale production in 2025.
Bobcat threw its hat in the ring of robotics with the announcement of its new autonomous mowing system—as well as a strategic investment in Greenzie, an autonomous software company for commercial lawn mowers and outdoor power equipment. Designed to operate with soft-ware developed by Greenzie, the company’s first electric zero-turn mower, the Bobcat Zt6000, has a ride-and-repeat feature where operators can plot a course and mark areas for the mower to avoid during autonomous operations. Able to detect objects, known or unknown, the mower travels its prescribed path, utilizing mapping to execute an exact route; which can be managed on a smartphone app.
“Our customers are desperate for solutions that help them overcome their biggest challenge: labor shortages,” comments Charles Brian Quinn (CBQ), co-founder and CEO of Greenzie.
While not autonomous, Exmark has launched its first electric commercial walk-behind mower— the Commercial 21 V-Series. “The Commercial 21 V-Series makes it easier for landscape contractors to work in zero engine exhaust emission areas, or HOA quiet zones,” says Jamie Briggs, director of marketing at Exmark.
At just under 81dB of measured sound output, the Commercial 21 V-Series operates well below the OSHA 85dB threshold for hearing protection. A rechargeable 60 Volt 7.5Ah lithium-ion Professional Power System provides up to 40 minutes of run-time per charge, depending on conditions. The 5.5A rapid charger provides 90% charge in 75 minutes. Two 60V 7.5 Ah batteries and a rapid charger are included.
DEWALT® also unveiled its first introduction in a coming lineup of electric outdoor power equipment for professional landscapers: the Ascent zero-turn mower Series. The Ascent Series will offer a total electric solution with smart technology beginning in Fall 2023.
The Series features the C-60, the first-ever mower with 2-in-1 crossover functionality between a stand-on or seated mower. The conversion can be made in seconds (I’ve seen it done). An R-60 sit-only model will also be available.
The Ascent Series will feature swappable, 3.2 kwh lithium-ion batteries with capacity for up to five batteries. The Ascent will also feature a H-E-2™High-Efficiency Deck featuring three spindles, each with dual-blade technology and four cutting surfaces. Complemented by the GroundCommand app, Ascent mowers will give fleet managers real-time visibility into the operational status of each mower. Cellular connectivity will provide live intel about battery life, blade operation, location, driving status, charging status and more with the ability to customize thresholds and notifications.