Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Once Viewed as a Traitor, Businessman Sees He Helped Make a Difference

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Once Viewed as a Traitor, Businessman Sees He Helped Make a Difference

Article excerpt

VENICE -- Michael Juchnowicz has been called a traitor, a__ deserter and a double-crosser by his peers. He thinks of__ himself more as a maverick.__ It has been nearly a decade since the founder of Gardenmasters__ of S.W. Florida Inc. broke with the fertilizer industry by pushing__ for stricter nitrogen-control laws -- a proposal many fertilization__ services believed at the time to be a threat to their industry.

He testified before legislators, welcomed county commissioners into his private headquarters and worked with university researchers -- fighting the powerful lobbyists his own industry had hired.

But now that restrictions have been in place for several years -- banning the use of fertilizer in Sarasota and Manatee counties from June 1 through Sept. 30 -- Juchnowicz says he has an established system, while many others are still scrambling to keep their lawns green during the peak summer months.

"Why go against it," said Juchnowicz, a pilot and classic car collector. "Figure out a way to work it. It took years for us to develop a program -- a new way of doing it."

Gardenmasters now is the largest lawn and garden fertilization company based in Southwest Florida, with a 15,000-square-foot warehouse in Venice and a satellite office in Naples.

With customers from Apollo Beach to Marco Island, Gardenmasters services nearly 20,000 accounts and grosses millions in annual revenues.

The company has 45 trucks and almost 50 employees. It put down more than 1 million pounds of fertilizer last month alone.

Founded in 1997, the company also does outdoor and indoor pest control.

The way it was

For decades, companies that provide services like Gardermasters would fertilize heavily during the summer to help combat the heat.

But environmentalists began leading a campaign to change that in the early 2000s, when scientists showed that applying fertilizer during the rainy season can cause nitrogen and phosphorous runoff, even from what are considered to be more inland neighborhoods, to pollute the water.

"There's not one single measure that will correct the systemic problems that have happened over decades," said Jon Thaxton, a former Sarasota County Commissioner who championed the ordinance. "The fertilizer ordinance is a critical tool. The bay's recovery -- and the reduction of nitrogen -- has been remarkable."

The fertilizer industry fought hard to prevent change.

Juchnowicz was one of the few in the business to rebel against his peers, citing the importance of clean water.

A better balance

He began experimenting with using fewer products -- a method used to maintain golf courses on tighter budgets -- and eventually he found the right balance that complies with the new regulations.

The company now uses a slow-release product line that it says is a "custom blend mixture that is environmentally friendly and compliant. …

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