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Scotts Miracle-Gro: Would You, Should You . . . Buy From This Man?

Taking Phosphorus Out of Fertilizers is Just a PR Ploy

The phone has been ringing off the proverbial hook this week, if only phones still had hooks. All sorts of media have been asking for opinions about the Scotts Miracle-Gro decision to take phosphorus out of its synthetic chemical lawn fertilizer.

Overall, I say, it’s a good thing that probably should have been done sooner, although taking the phosphorus levels to zero is extreme. I’m also telling everyone who asks that I think there’s an ulterior motive here — that Scotts Miracle-Gro is making a carefully calculated public relations move aimed at nothing more than gaining even more of your lawn care dollars. The company that controls the majority of the lawn and garden marketplace fundamentally believes phosphorus should NOT have been taken out of fertilizers, but it knows that public opinion believes otherwise.

Yesterday I was a bit taken aback by a question from a national reporter who asked, “You seem to have it out for Scotts. There are other chemical fertilizer companies out there, why don’t you single them out, too?”

I answered without a moment’s pause.

“Because Scotts has it out for us, for all of us. Their profit goals blatantly ignore what is best for human health and the environment. So, yes, I do feel differently about Scotts.”

The truth is my animosity isn’t directed toward the company; I like a great many of the people who work there and I’m not a big fan of putting anyone out of business. My issue is the company leader, a czar named Jim Hagedorn, who sees your lawn as his own personal battlefield to be conquered. Whereas his father, Miracle-Gro founder Horace Hagedorn, was one of the most beloved figures in the history of gardening, Jim is still emotionally embedded into the cockpit of his F-16 fighter jet and is easily the most feared and loathed person and the gardening industry.

On Tuesday he wanted everyone to know that the company was taking phosphorus out of fertilizers “on World Water Day, and also at the start of another lawn and garden season.”

I, personally, want shoppers to know who’s making their Turf Builder and Miracle-Gro. As you head out to spend your hard-earned dollars this year, I want you know to know that there are plenty of company owners out there who really are trying to do the right thing by selling environmentally friendly products — and not just greenwashing a package.

A disclaimer is that I’ve never actually interviewed Jim Hagedorn myself. I’ve requested interviews on several occasions and once challenged him to a debate, but I’ve been rebuffed or ignored by the company every time. Each time he consents to an interview with someone else, though, the same theme recurs.

“(Business is) all warfare. Instead of being this fat guy sitting behind a desk, it’s like being the general of an army! Because it’s commercial warfare – it’s economic warfare!,” Hagedorn told author Peter Han in the book Nobodies to Somebodies — within which the future leader of the chemical fertilizer industry detailed his life as a high school dropout who came back and outcompeted his older siblings for the top job in the company.

In an April 2006 article with the magazine Wired — in which Hagedorn was making the case that all lawn grasses ought to be genetically modified — he was tossing out the war references yet again.


“Four years ago, he ordered that the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag – the one with a coiled snake and the slogan DON’T TREAD ON ME – be flown at ScottsMiracle-Gro headquarters in Marysville, Ohio,” said writer David Wolman. “Some on the company’s board of directors would like to remove the flag. Hagedorn won’t budge. ‘Until bin Laden goes down,’ he says, ‘the flag stays up.’”

Standing at his home in Marysville, Ohio, which he dubs “Fighter Field,” he told Wall Street Journal reporter Wendy Bounds that business is like “old school Roman fighting. You go in, you attack, and you can steal all their money. It’s economic violence.”

Wouldn’t you rather buy your gardening products from someone for whom profit is an outcome and not a strategy?

In that same conversation with Wendy Bounds, the owner of Scotts Miracle-Gro scoffed at any suggestion that lawns were bad for the environment.

“Lawns are American. They are wonderful places to be. They are not harmful to the environment — and the only people who would say that are people who are ignorant of the facts,” said Hagedorn.

And, yet, here we have Jim Hagedorn this week announcing that his company is taking phosphorus out of fertilizers — after nearly a century with phosphorus in the bag. Is it because he experienced some sort of environmental epiphany and realized phosphorus in fertilizers really IS bad for the environment, or is it because he’s afraid to lose your dollars? Is he, in effect, admitting that Scotts has been harming the environment all this time by including all that phosphorus? Or is he really just admitting that he’s afraid the company’s stock price will dip if he doesn’t make this move?

If he were honest, he’d say, “The environmentalists win and we lose, so we’re taking out the phosphorus.” But in preparation for war, the gladiators are trained never to admit defeat until all is lost.

I challenge lawn care customers to click on the links within this post and read or watch the interviews with the owner of the world’s largest lawn care fertilizer and pesticide company. In the old days, people used to buy from people. Folks they knew and trusted. If you’re buying Scotts Miracle-Gro products, you’re buying into an image, a false ideal — and from a guy who doesn’t care how the war is fought, as long as he wins.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Mike Serant

    This is an important article. Thank you for writing it. To learn more about how evil Scott’s is and the threat Scott poses to all of humanity just read Maria Rodale’s book ‘Organic Manifesto’.Scott’s is knowingly poisoning us in pursuit of short term profits.

  • Paul Holowko

    If my memory servers correctly, phosphorus is only available to plants through fungi in the soil. Plants cannot absorb phosphorus directly in large quantities. There is a microbiology in between the phosphorus and the plant roots.
    When a lawn that has synthetic fertilizers used for an extended time, they will not have the micro-biology established to provide a way to absorb additional phosphorus.
    Therefore, it does not matter if phosphorus is present in synthetic fertilizers or not.
    Over enrichment of phosphate can lead to algae overtake, because of the excess nutrients. This causes more algae to grow, bacteria consumes the algae and causes more bacteria to grow in large amounts. They use all the oxygen in the water, causing many fish to die off.
    And phosphorus is used in the process of making synthetic fertilizer, my guess is that their chemists are working on a new way to create synthetic fertilizers. And they found a way. My guess is they are changing their tune because one of their chemists got lucky with a new formula. And it is convenient.

  • Anonymous

    I also want to thank you for writing what you did about Jim H. It is one thing to be competitive in the business world, but it an entirely another applying the overzealous and destructive, scorched earth approach that he chooses.

  • George P.

    You’ve got some balls my friend. Jimmy is a crazy motherf—–r. He’ll fly a mission over your house if he thinks he can get away with it. But you nailed it. Most of the people who know him don’t like him and the people who don’t know him, but work around him or near him fear him. Horace had his issues, too, don’t you think he didn’t. But Horace never wanted to hurt anyone. That was the difference.
    George P.

  • Hank

    Additional good reasons not to use Scott products, which I always thought were ‘over sold’ to the public. Thanks Paul..and others with first hand experience on this topic.

  • Tom Ramsey

    Once upon a time companies were founded to fill needs and profits were an outcome of hard work. Horace Hagedorn was one of the guys who changed all of that by coming up with a brand name even before he had a viable product. Miracle-Gro, by its very name, sets up unrealistic expectations. The company never actually made anything, but rather was a marketing house with just a few employees. Because Horace was such a good marketer, in fact, his company became a money-making machine.

    When Jim engineered the takeover of Scotts by Miracle-Gro, that’s when all the company’s headaches started. At least Miracle-Gro never wanted to kill anything with its product. Scotts whole business model was designed to satisfy the company’s deep-seeded desire to wipe out all so-called weeds, so it was involved with all sorts of nasty pesticides — which require ridiculous amounts of regulation with the EPA and others.

    Jim’s whole life would have been so much simpler if he had just left well enough alone and stuck with the Miracle-Gro. But he wanted, as you said, to conquer the world, to win the war.

    The whole story is very, very sad and really quite evil at its core.
    Tom Ramsey

  • Kelly Burke

    Of course Scotts would jump on this opportunity to remove phosphorus from their lawn fertilizer. It’s a win-win for them. The cost of phosphorus is going through the roof as countries like India and China demand more and more for their agriculture. Scotts gets to cut their costs, keep the cost of their fertilizer the same, and look like they care about the environment. That’s some economic violence right there. Hoo Rah!

  • John Johnson

    You are, to quote the indomitable Charlie Sheen, winning. My TruGreen flier came today and the “organic option” was front and center. Scotts is taking phosphorus out of their fertilizer. American towns are talking about taking pesticides off their playgrounds.

    You won’t win the final battle overnight, Tukey. In fact this war that Scotts has brought on itself will take a lot of time and stamina. Nonetheless you are winning and Scotts and the chemical industry knows it.

    Your ally,
    John Johnson, Portland

  • BJG

    Personal problem, Paul? Simple economics my friend. Take out Phosphorus, save money, increase profits and an added benefit to the environment. Must every thing a corporation does be malicious?

  • College Student

    I am currently enrolled in a journalism class at the university I attend. Yesterday a PR representative who is working on the Scotts “organic” campaign came to speak to our class. She gave us an “assignment” to write a press release on behalf of the phosphorus-free line of Miracle Gro. Let’s just say she wasn’t too pleased with the questions I had for her. Thank you for writing this. Being the high profile company that they are (around for 150 years), they should not be glorified for FINALLY jumping on the bandwagon. Wish me luck on my “assignment”!

    Concerned College Undergrad

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