The Growing Business of Hydroseeding

July 1, 2000

Hydroseeding is increasingly recognized as an efficient and cost-effective means of erosion control. Many of its practitioners are still small and medium-sized companies working in niche markets. Erosion Control sought out a group of people in the hydroseeding business and asked them to talk about their work: who their clients are, what types of projects they like (and dislike), and their equipment of choice. These are the people who talked to us:

EC: What got you started in business?

Barry Cook: We’ve been in business 20 years. We did things a little backward. Rather than gearing up and then going to look for work, we actually bid on a project and got a five-year, 200-ac. contract to reseed the St. Johns Landfill in Portland. Then we went out and located the equipment. We didn’t even know how to turn the machine on. We had to wait for a Bowie rep to come and give us some indication of how big an acre was-I mean, we just didn’t have a clue. But it’s turned out very well for us.

Mark Myrowich: I discovered hydroseeding from a local lawn-care company looking to sell its business of applying fertilizer on home lawns. I asked the owner what he would do if I bought the business, and he said he would start hydroseeding. It ended up that I could not afford to buy his business, but I convinced him to keep running it and I started the hydroseeding business under his lawn-care company. The next year I found a buyer for his business who is a friend of mine-and to this day we share office space but run two separate businesses.

Ron Dietz: I have been involved in hydroseeding since 1974, when I began working for Jack Hatton at Sta-Soil Corporation. In 1979, I was a co-founder of Environmental Seeding Company, which became Dietz Hydroseeding Company.

Dennis Richmond: I was introduced to the hydromulch industry while working in the landscape business. I saw it as something that would complement my college schedule, so I began to dabble in it. It wasn’t long until business grew so that it became my primary focus.

EC: How much of your work is involved in erosion control?

Mark Myrowich: Nearly 100% of my work deals directly with erosion control. I am usually a subcontractor to the large earthmoving contractors.

Barry Cook: Revegetative erosion control is probably 65-70% of our work.

Ron Dietz: I would estimate that approximately 75% or more of our work is involved specifically in erosion control. Historically the fall erosion control season is the busiest time of year for our company. One of the advantages of hydroseeding is that it provides immediate erosion control upon application, which in effect makes every project an erosion control project.

Brian King: One-third of our business is in erosion control.

Dennis Richmond: Currently, only about 30% of our business is erosion control. Our primary focus has been installing sod-quality hydromulch on residential and commercial properties. Although this hasn’t changed, we see that the erosion control industry is a natural extension for our business. We are excited about the rapid growth and our involvement in the erosion control industry.

EC: Do you specialize, or do you take on a variety of jobs?

Ron Dietz: I guess the best answer to this question would be “both.” Although we are licensed landscape contractors, our company specializes in hydroseeding, mat installation, straw, and polymer application. We do not offer irrigation installation or other general landscape services. We do, however, take on a variety of projects-public works, private works, remediation projects, sports fields, golf courses, film locations, and homeowner projects, to name a few.

Mark Myrowich: I specialize in all the soft-armor erosion control techniques and have done a little cellular confinement and concrete work. The majority of work I do is highway construction erosion control, but I also hydroseed large residential yards half an acre and up. I basically stick to seeding and the protective measure involved in the soft armor of the area. I have not been involved in landscaping, such as trees, decorative stone, or paving stones.

Brian King: We specialize in golf course projects and midsize projects that require special seed blends and slurries.

Dennis Richmond: We are involved with a variety of hydromulch projects. Our primary projects involve large commercial developments and golf course construction.

Barry Cook: We take on a variety of jobs, from specialty seed in wetland riparian zones all the way to golf courses and things like mine reclamation, Forest Service mountain logging roads, and cut-and-fill slope erosion control work. Most everything we do, though, is based around establishing vegetation with some type of erosion control medium. We aren’t out there landscaping and putting in irrigation systems. We’re strictly an erosion control hydroseeding contractor.

EC: Do you have competitors, and what makes you better than or different from them?

Brian King: We have a few competitors, but not directly. We have a niche of 10,000 ft.2 to about 200,000 ft.2 with our two T-120 Finns. We can do volume, still make smaller work profitable, and maneuver around tight areas that larger machine can’t get to or where it will cause damage. Beyond 200,000 ft.2, let the big boys fight over one-eighth of a cent.

Mark Myrowich: I have competitors for different areas of my business. I have two hydroseeding competitors that are very large landscape companies doing the full range of landscaping services. They do not specialize in erosion control work; they’re more on the landscaping side of things. In terms of installing rolled erosion control products and drill seeding, I have to compete against the general contractor if he decides to do it himself or another subcontractor who has done this work before. Mid Canada Hydroseeding is the only full-range erosion control contractor in my area.

Dennis Richmond: We have several competitors in our area. Our customers tell us that it is our personalized service that brings them back again and again. We are the only “uniformed” hydromulch company that I know of in our area.

Ron Dietz: Of course we have competitors in our business. The majority of them are very qualified contractors, and we have a good working relationship with our competitors. One of the major advantages we have over our competition is our experienced staff. Our employees are long term, very highly trained, and knowledgeable. Our crews are certified for all of the equipment they operate as well as other safety certifications. The average length of experience per person of our field crew is 19 years.

EC: Who are your customers-individuals, private contractors, government agencies-and if you work for more than one, do you have a preference?

Mark Myrowich: Ninety percent of my work is government work, and the other 10% is residential and private. I prefer to work on government contracts because of the size of the projects. Residential work is OK as long as the property size is large enough to warrant the time and effort spent visiting the client and holding their hand through the process. With government work, there is not too much hand-holding.

Ron Dietz: We have a wide spectrum of customers: private individuals, governmental agencies, and developers. We appreciate all of our clients and do not have a preference of one over another.

Brian King: Our customers are private contractors, developers, golf course superintendents, and landscapers.

Dennis Richmond: We like working with all of our clients, but we particularly enjoy working with landscape contractors, developers, and golf course contractors.

Barry Cook: I prefer to work with contractors that are working on nongovernment contracts – local building markets and subdivisions. My second preference would be state, federal, city, or county projects. My least favorite is the homeowner, because I’ll spend as much time talking with them – and rightly so – for a 2,000-ft.2 residential lawn as I will for a 60-ac. project. Sometimes when a homeowner calls and asks for a hydraulically applied lawn, they’re thinking it’s going to be the equivalent of a sod lawn in a week to 10 days. With the number of phone calls you’ll get and the time it takes to work with that homeowner to calm his fears – sometimes it just takes more time, effort, and energy to deal with the 2,000-ft.2 residential lawn than it does the $50,000 state highway roadside project.

EC: What types and sizes of machines do you operate? What kinds of pumps and special equipment?

Mark Myrowich: I operate a Finn T-60 and a Finn T-170 HydroSeeder. I also have a Brillion drill seeder and an AERA-vator seeder for all my drill-seeding work. I also use a Polaris 6×6 ATV (all-terrain vehicle) with various attachments for soil prep. John Deere tractors and the tommy Silt Fence Machine are other types of equipment we use, besides trucks.

Barry Cook: We run one T-170 Finn and two 1100 gooseneck Bowie Hydro-Mulchers. One of the Bowies has an old IB 2300 gear pump. The other has a centrifugal pump with a smaller discharge. The Finn has a big centrifugal pump with a big discharge, a high-horsepower power plant. The specialty equipment on the Bowies includes flush tanks.

Ron Dietz: Our machines range from 1,100- to 3,000-gal. capacity. We operate Bowie Hydro-Mulchers, which are customized to our specifications. Most of our equipment has multiple pumping systems so we can be efficient on any type of project.

Dennis Richmond: We operate 1,100-gal. Bowie machines using various pumps.

Brian King: All of our work is done with two T-120 Finns with hose and turret.

EC: What size crews do you have, and how many employees do you have during peak times?

Brian King: We have two-man crews and one fertilization applicator. I handle sales and scheduling while my director of operations monitors field work, employees, and quality control.

Dennis Richmond: We have several two-man hydromulch crews and several four-man soil-preparation crews. During peak times, we employ 20 people.

Barry Cook: We run three machines with two or three men per crew. If we get into a wetlands project or something that’s a little more specialized where we’ll actually take on some plant material at the same time, or if we have a big netting project, then we’ll pick up labor to accomplish the project. We’ve run as many as 15 guys during peak seasons around different sites.

Ron Dietz: Our crews are two-person crews. Sometimes we will send additional personnel if the project requires it. We do not increase our number of employees for peak times. Our crews are experienced and trained, and we keep employees year-round. We do not believe in seasonal hiring of inexperience people during peak seasons. We communicate and work with our clients during peak season to schedule their work, and they are assured that even during such busy times, they still receive the top-quality service and product that we provide year-round.

EC: Tell us about a recent job that you think is pretty extraordinary.

Barry Cook: We had to seed a 280-ft. vertical rock cliff. It had some cracks and a little bit of seeping in different areas, and it was kind of a scar on the face of the neighborhood. There was zero access from the top, so we rented an 80-ft. heavy-duty manlift. We put two men in the manlift, lifted them up, and had them spray the face of the cliff with a mixture of flower and shrub and grass seed. We had to engineer a booster pump to be able to bring material that high. We had to run it a little light with extra wetting and slicking and gluing agents. And not being real fond of heights, that was a scary one because a little bit of movement one way or another and you’d get a couple of feet of sway on the bucket. We also seeded the sand-based World Cup soccer field for Nike’s world headquarters. It’s fun to work on high-profile projects like Nike. We’ve done a lot of work for Nike over the years-seeded the flag court and main entrance into its world campus and the perimeter berms.

Ron Dietz: We are in the process of completing a Superfund clean-up project that we have been involved with for about two years. All of our crews are HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard) certified, which allows us to work on this type of sensitive project. It involved preseeding testing and amendments and multiple-application processes, including compost applications, straw applications, multiple hydroseeding applications, bonded fiber matrix applications, multiple seed mixes, and fertilization applications. We worked in conjunction with the owner, architects, and general contractor during all phases of our work to achieve safe, efficient completion of this project.

Brian King: Lately we have been seeding golf courses with native fescue and wildflower hydroseeding to cut down mowing areas, provide separation between holes, and really enhance the aesthetic appeal of the course. Also, we have been hydroseeding new bunker slopes and surrounds as an option to sod. It’s less expensive and provides a better result with seed blend and root contact.

Dennis Richmond: I get excited when I see the results of each job. It seems like after every job I think to myself, “This is the best job we’ve ever done!” 
About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.