In depth Interview with Chip Osborne

Q & A with Osborne Organics President, Chip Osborne


Describe Osborne Organics:

Osborne Organics is a natural turf and landscape consulting company that works with local, state, and federal agencies, universities, and other institutional clients to transition landscapes to organic practices and protocols. We work with all types of plant material and specialize in organic turf grass management.

Our company has a 25 year history of developing practices and protocols to successfully grow turf grass that meets communicated expectations without the use of synthetic materials. Osborne Organics has developed the Systems Approach to Natural Turf

We believe that the most widespread reason that more landscape professionals and municipalities do not embrace natural turf management is they simply do not understand or know how to do it. Osborne Organics develops professional training
modules in a variety of forms to meet that demand.

What is the state of the organic landscape industry?

I believe the organic gardening, landscape, and turf industries are strong and continually growing. We are currently experiencing a tipping point or change in the marketplace that we have pointed to for the past twenty years. Organic practices are no
longer on the fringe but are now mainstream.

The concept of the organic landscape began with the homeowner (residential property) some time ago. It is now widely being considered as the management protocol of choice for larger properties, both commercial and private. When interest in the private sector is combined with interest by the municipal sector for organic practices, we can point to growing numbers.

The public’s perception of pesticide dangers is driving this. We are seeing the results of tireless efforts by many advocates over the years who have worked at the grassroots level to educate and broaden people’s minds regarding the use of synthetic water-soluble fertilizers and chemical pesticides. It is a change in the marketplace that continues to move synthetic-free management forward. In addition to that, legislation is now being enacted around a variety of issues at the state, county, and local levels regarding restrictions on different types of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer use.

What kind of properties and where are they?

There is growing interest across all segments of society regarding organic practices. They include residential properties that range from small homes to large estates, commercial properties, hotels, resorts, colleges, universities, and golf courses. The main theme across them all is the desire to have a healthier environment for work and play.

There is a geographical component to the acceptance of organic practices. There is no question that Massachusetts, Connecticut, Long Island, and Westchester County in NY are the birthplaces of organic land care. We are excited to see the growing interest in
New Jersey, the mid-Atlantic particularly Maryland, the upper Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Arizona, Southern California, and others.

What are some of the most common challenges professionals face in caring for the land organically and what approach do you take to solving them?

From my perspective, the problems are not entirely product oriented. There are limitations in materials that we can use, but for the most part, resources are available to us. The organic product industry has evolved to a point where we now have access to
state-of-the-art fertility and soil health inputs that focus on the biomass more than the plant. Knowing that a natural system, in many cases, can manage itself, the product becomes somewhat secondary. Certainly, project input is needed, but it is not the sole
focus of organic programs. We now have a variety of organic insecticides and fungicides should we need to intervene.

For those who manage turf grass and hardscape, a factor can be the minimal, cost-effective product available to address weeds. Unlike the conventional industry, we do not manage weeds with products alone. It involves the integration of soil health and
cultural practices.

Developing a tolerance, or weed threshold, is critically important in all aspects of the managed landscape. We need to move beyond the concept of monoculture. All organic landscape professionals, at some point in time, are faced with managing a misplaced plant effectively for a client. It can be a challenge, but it is getting easier as new materials are developed.

Why do you do it and how do you communicate it?

The greatest challenge in my mind is the comfort of organic professionals to communicate to others what we believe in and do. Many of us have adopted these practices to reduce the use of pesticides, others to reduce synthetic runoff, and others because they have always done it that way. Some of us came from the conventional industry and have adopted organic management practices because of what we experienced firsthand.

Communicating what we do for residential clients, municipalities, and other professionals in the conventional industry can be a challenge for some. We are managing a natural system of plant material, whatever that may be, without the use of synthetic inputs. We are not looking to swap one product for another. We integrate soil biological life, cultural practices, and the wise choice of product inputs to manage the system and meet communicated expectations.


Why did you decide to do this?

The driving factor for me was the reduction and elimination of pesticide use in the landscape. Contrary to information put forth by the conventional product industry, landscapes do not get better with the use of synthetic materials. I know firsthand that movement towards an organic approach improves the landscape. There is absolutely no question that the organic landscape looks, performs, and pleases to a far greater degree than its chemical counterpart.

What advice do you have for conventional land care professionals who are
considering transitioning to organic?

Forward-thinking conventional practitioners are beginning to seek out opportunities to understand and learn about organic lawn and land care. It may take a change in market demand to bring many to the table. They may not approach organic from the same
perspective that we do. It might be, and probably is, more rooted in financial interests, but whatever it takes is fine. I firmly believe that the more widespread adoption of organic lawn and land care practices and protocols on a national level is simply limited by the lack of education about how it needs to be approached.

Osborne Organics has responded to the challenge for the past twenty-five years to meet that demand. When I interact with the conventional industry, I make them aware that there is a learning curve and that it is in their best interest to seek out education.
Because what we do is not just putting down product, those that try the product swap-out will usually fail. In addition to the initial learning experience, keeping abreast of changes with continuing education is, and will be, critically important for all of us.