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    Top 6 Industry Trends

    It's a great time to be in the mulch and soil business.

    So says Robert LaGasse, executive director of the Mulch & Soil Council, the national trade association for mulch and soil producers. He says the industry rebounded from the recession faster than most other garden areas and has been doing well since, as consumers turn to mulch for beautification, erosion control, moisture retention and other uses.

    But there are trends companies need to be aware of to help keep the good times rolling. LaGasse shares 6 things to watch for:

    1. Domestic and foreign energy policies are having an adverse effect on the industry by diverting raw material to cogeneration plants and pellet mills. That increased competition for wood is driving up prices and reducing supply.
    2. Colored mulch continues to grow in popularity. Producers need to be vigilant about quality because consumers want the color to last. Colored mulch also lets producers mix more raw materials together. That can help with supply issues, but producers need to be aware that different materials absorb colorant at different rates.
    3. Finding qualified and dependable labor is a big issue for the industry. "I know companies that schedule 10 people on a shift because they need 5 to show up," says LaGasse. Automation of systems is a growing trend. It can reduce labor needs, but LaGasse says producers will need workers with the skills to run an automated system.
    4. Labor also is a concern in the transportation industry, where there is a driver shortage. This affects the cost and effort needed to get products to market. LaGasse says mulch and soil companies are responding by exploring different contracts, doing business over a longer season and even handling their own transportation.
    5. Look for continued aggressive weights and measures inspections in key market states. Until all states use the same test procedures, the industry is at risk of heavy costs for short-filled products.
    6. Premium soils will remain popular because they are high-performing and time-saving for the growing number of vegetable and decorative gardeners. Also, smaller packages are in demand as people undertake smaller projects, like container gardening, and don't want to store excess product.

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