Moving nursery producers toward sustainable production practices

Final Report for ES09-097

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $76,237.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Gary Knox
University of Florida
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Project Information

Abstract:

Nursery producers are adopting sustainable practices thanks to training provided to county Extension agents using SARE grant-developed sustainable resources. The website, Moving Nursery Producers Toward Sustainable Production Practices (http://blog.caes.uga.edu/snpp/) contains resources pertaining to nursery sustainability, including You Tube videos, publications, websites, and presentations. County agents attended an in-service training to learn about these resources, also receiving a Sustainable Nursery Toolbox containing printed references and other resources (books, pest ID cards, hand lenses, etc.). County agents and growers provided feedback during resources development. Results from their evaluation indicate strong support for the website, Moving Nursery Producers Toward Sustainable Production Practices (http://blog.caes.uga.edu/snpp/).

Project Objectives:

The long-term goal of this project is to enhance the environmental sustainability of nursery production while maintaining economic sustainability. To achieve this goal, our objectives are for Extension agents and other service providers to (1) understand the components of sustainable nursery production as well as the business practices necessary for economic viability, and (2) gain confidence in the applicability of the knowledge and their ability to carry out sustainable nursery production.

Objectives for this grant include:

  • Planning and development, including meetings with collaborators, nursery producer (“farmer”) advisers and interested clientele.
  • Preparation of presentations, handouts and activities for a comprehensive training on sustainable nursery production.
  • Review of materials by “farmer” (nursery producer) advisory committee. •
  • Revision of presentations, handouts and activities for a comprehensive training on sustainable nursery production.
  • Filming of modules for a series of You Tube videos, also placed on our website. •Submission of annual progress reports.
  • Distribution of presentations, handouts and activities for a comprehensive training on sustainable nursery production.
  • Two-day training for up to 45 Extension agents and specialists, including visits to regional nurseries using sustainable production methods.
  • Final revision of presentations, handouts and activities for a comprehensive training on sustainable nursery production.
  • Distribution of evaluation instrument after training, and assessment of results.
  • Final website distribution of videos, presentations, handouts and activities for a comprehensive training on sustainable nursery production.
  • Submission of final report
Introduction:

Greenhouse and nursery products are the largest agricultural commodity in Florida (valued at more than $1.7 billion in 2010) and the fifth largest agricultural commodity in Georgia (valued at $364 million in 2010) (http://www.ers.usda.gov/statefacts/). The most recent data from the USDA Economic Research Service (http://ers.usda.gov/Publications/flo/2007/09Sep/FLO2007.pdf; 2007) indicated Florida and Georgia combined nursery crops sales represented 20 percent of the total U.S. sales value of nursery crops. The nursery industry provides plants for home gardening, involving 71 percent of all U.S. households (about 82 million households) (National Gardening Association, http://www.gardenresearch.com/index.php?q=show&id=2989; 2007).

Nursery producers (“farmers”) have often resisted the implementation of sustainable practices in the past, be it due to the increased infrastructure/input cost of producing sustainable plant material or simply the opportunity cost of training employees on new production techniques. However, in recent years there has been increased interest in sustainable production practices for several (mostly economic) reasons.

First, sustainable production techniques such as the use of ‘organic’ peat or paper based pots has increased profit margins for nursery producers compared to traditionally produced plant material in plastic containers; as once niche markets have expanded into more mainstream urban and suburban markets. Second, the cost of complete (N-P-K) synthetic fertilizers has increased dramatically, leading nursery producers to investigate the use of non-synthetic (organic) fertilizer products. Third, the cost of pine bark substrate (“potting soil”) and shipping costs have steadily increased over the past decade, leading nursery producers to investigate locally available alternatives such as whole tree chips and cotton gin waste. Last, the cost of water and energy cost associated with pumping have increased significantly for nursery producers in the southeast.

Nursery producers have traditionally applied excessive irrigation to crops to promote rapid growth and avoid heat and drought stress during summer months. In recent years, nursery producers have increasingly requested information on production techniques that require less water. This final example of reducing water use is a perfect example of how a single production practice (reducing irrigation volume) can have multiple benefits; as research has shown that reducing irrigation volume also reduces nutrient leaching and disease incidence/severity. While these four production facets represent broad measures that producers have expressed interest in pursuing, there are many other sustainable techniques that hold potential economic and environmental benefits if incorporated by nursery producers in the southeast.

Several SARE projects have explored aspects of sustainable nursery production. Project LNE07-265, An integrated approach to developing nutrient management schemes for container-grown nursery crops, evaluated a number of nutrient management techniques, including plant inoculation with mycorrhizae. Another evaluated alternative irrigation systems (Project FS06-199, Capillary Irrigation for Container Nurseries: a practical alternative to overhead irrigation?). Finally, two of this proposal’s team members were involved in SARE Project LS06-186, Increasing use of sustainable plants in production and landscape design. This project identified low input, pest resistant plants for nursery production as a means of reducing pesticide use and other aspects of pest management in nursery production.

Practices that move producers towards sustainable production of nursery plants could foster the development of new specialty sustainable-production nurseries thus creating a new market niche for small and mid-size farms (i.e., “locally grown using sustainable methods”) as well as promoting productivity and sustainability for limited resource farms. With the adoption of more sustainable practices, producers should also have the ability to reduce input costs related to fertilizers and chemicals and hence reduce potential point source nutrient and chemical pollution.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Alejandro Bolques
  • Matthew Chappell
  • Edwin Duke
  • Linda Landrum

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Project Background.

Conventional nursery production relies heavily on use of plastic containers, chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and imported substrate (“potting soil”) components. This reliance on non-indigenous and/or synthetic materials is costly as well as unsustainable. Social, economic and regulatory trends suggest nursery producers will be receptive to sustainable production methods. Higher oil prices are increasing the costs of fertilizers, pesticides, plastic containers and shipping. Climate change is becoming widely accepted and consumers are responding with the desire for all producers to reduce their carbon footprint. Federal regulations such as Worker Protection Standards, the Clean Water Act and regional irrigation restrictions have caused nursery producers to become more aware of and manage more judiciously their use of synthetic or resource-intensive production components such as pesticides, water and fertilizers. Due to the competitive nature of the nursery business, producers need a solid business plan to be financially sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable.

Project Methods, Materials and Training Activities: Introduction

We instructed county Extension agents on sustainable nursery production practices using curriculum and other resources developed via this grant. The completed curriculum and resources is available nationwide from the website, Moving Nursery Producers Toward Sustainable Production Practices (http://blog.caes.uga.edu/snpp/).

Project Methods, Materials and Training Activities: Advisory Committee
  • Sheila Gmeiner, Board of Officers, Big Bend Chapter of the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association
  • Jay Fraleigh, Fraleigh Nursery, LLC
  • Alan Shapiro, Grandiflora
  • Ed Thornton, Griffin Greenhouse and Nursery Supply
  • Ken James, James Greenhouse
  • Stewart Chandler, Monrovia
  • Betty O’Toole, O’Toole’s Herb Farm
Project Methods, Materials and Training Activities: In-service Training

Eighteen county Extension agents from Florida and Georgia were brought together for a two-day training. Fewer county agents participated than planned because the economic downturn resulted in greater retirements and fewer or delayed replacements of county agents with nursery production responsibilities.

During the in-service training, county Extension faculty:

-Learned about sustainable nursery production practices as compared to conventional nursery production practices.

-Visited existing nurseries to view conventional and currently-practiced sustainable nursery production practices.

-Interacted with producers from conventional and sustainable nursery operations to learn about these producers’ backgrounds, experiences, attitudes, motivations and barriers to adopting specific sustainable nursery production practices.

-Received a curriculum and tools to “reach and teach” existing and new nursery producers about these sustainable practices. The curriculum included PowerPoint presentations, Extension publications and activities.

-Learned about other resources on sustainable nursery production including off-site resources such as ATTRA as well as in-house websites and web-accessible video modules of actual nurseries, producers and Extension personnel showing or discussing sustainable nursery production practices.

Pre- and post-test evaluation instruments assessed county Extension agent grasp of concepts, initial assessment of resources and tools, and goals in reaching existing and new nursery producers. These assessments occurred via web-based evaluation tools Survey Monkey (http://www.surveymonkey.com/) and Kwik Survey (http://kwiksurveys.com/). Results of the evaluation instruments (presented below) were used to revise resources and curriculum.

Project Methods, Materials and Training Activities: Components of the training, curriculum, videos and other resources on the website

Website: Moving Nursery Producers Toward Sustainable Production Practices, http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/:

1)About Us
•Project Goals
•Project Description
•Team Members

2)Sustainability Resources by Topic
•Containers (2 resources listed and linked)
•Energy Efficiency (15 resources listed and linked)
•Fertilization (14 resources listed and linked)
•Field Production (25 resources listed and linked)
•General Best Management Practices (BMPs)(10 resources listed and linked)
•General Production (11 resources)
•Greenhouses and Growing Structures (9 resources)
•Irrigation (28 resources)
•Marketing and Business Management (42 resources)
•Miscellaneous Sustainability & Environmental Links (12 resources)
•Pest Management- Arthropods & Insecticides (34 resources)
•Pest Management- Diseases & Fungicides (16 resources)
•Pest Management- Integrated Pest Management (IPM)(14 resources)
•Pest Management- Safety & Application Equipment (50 resources)
•Pest Management- Weeds (11 resources)
•Recycling (6 resources)
•Runoff Management & Reclaimed Water Use (13 resources)
•Substrates (24 resources)
•Water Sources and Quality (23 resources)

3)Sustainability Videos (each is 3 – 9 minutes and is also posted on You Tube)
•Moving Nurseries Toward Sustainability – Project Overview
•Why is Sustainability Important?
•Sustainable Options for Nursery Containers
•Effective Overhead Irrigation
•Low Volume Irrigation
•Use of Reclaimed Wastewater for Irrigation
•Managing Nursery Runoff to Remove Contaminants
•Low Tech Methods to Improve Production Efficiency
•New Technology to Improve Production Efficiency
•Recycling and Re-purposing in the Nursery
•Overview of Sustainable Pest Management in the Nursery
•Sustainable Substrates for Container Nursery Production
•Improving Energy Efficiency in the Nursery

4)Contributors
•Big Bend Chapter of the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association, Board of Officers, Sheila Gmeiner, President
•Clinton Nursery, Kay Phelps
•Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Sciences, Gary Seamans
•Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association, Jim Spratt
•Fraleigh Nursery, LLC, Jay Fraleigh
•Georgia Green Industry Association, Chris Butts
•Grandiflora (nursery), Alan Shapiro
•Griffin Greenhouse and Nursery Supply, Ed Thornton
•Hackney Nursery, George Hackney
•James Greenhouse, Ken James
•Monrovia (nursery), Stewart Chandler
•O’Toole’s Herb Farm, Betty O’Toole
•Riverview Flower Farm (nursery), Rick Brown
•University of Florida/IFAS Information and Communication Services, Al Williamson & Michael Munroe

5)Sidebar
•Southern SARE
•Welcome
•Contact Us: Gary Knox, UF
•Contact Us: Matthew Chappell, UGA

Project Methods, Materials and Training Activities: Sites of activities

Training took place at the University of Florida North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) in Quincy, Florida. County agent training included lectures, video presentations, interactive hands-on activities, a producer panel discussion, visits to nurseries and interaction with nursery owners and growers.

The producer panel discussion was composed of George Hackney, Hackney Nursery, Greensboro, Florida; Kay Phelps, Clinton Nurseries of Florida, Havana, Florida; and Sue Watkins, Tallahassee Nurseries, Tallahassee, Florida.

During the training, county agents visited Clinton Nurseries of Florida, Havana, Florida; Nursery runoff management research plots, Alejandro Bolques, Florida A&M University, Havana, Florida; and Monrovia (nursery), Cairo, Georgia.

Sites for filming videos, developing resources and interviewing producers and industry representatives were Clinton Nursery, Kay Phelps, Havana, FL; Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Sciences, Gary Seamans, Tallahassee, FL; Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association, Jim Spratt, Orlando, FL; Fraleigh Nursery, LLC, Jay Fraleigh, Madison, FL; Georgia Green Industry Association, Chris Butts, Epworth, GA; Grandiflora, Alan Shapiro, Gainesville, FL; Griffin Greenhouse and Nursery Supply, Ed Thornton, Ball Ground, GA; Hackney Nursery, George Hackney, Quincy, FL; James Greenhouse, Ken James, Colbert, GA; Monrovia, Stewart Chandler, Cairo, GA; O’Toole’s Herb Farm, Betty O’Toole, Madison, FL; Riverview Flower Farm, Rick Brown, Riverview, FL; and University of Florida/IFAS Information and Communication Services, Al Williamson & Michael Munroe, Gainesville, FL.

Outreach and Publications

Website

Website: Moving Nursery Producers Toward Sustainable Production Practices, http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/

Videos

Videos may be accessed at http://blog.caes.uga.edu/snpp/sustainability-videos/. Nine videos are currently available through links to YouTube which also provides captioning, and 5 additional videos will be added. Video titles, length and description:

Project Introduction and Overview – Moving Nurseries Toward Sustainability (2:27 min.)
This is an overview of the research project findings which are presented in documents and additional videos at the project website: http://snpp.caes.uga.edu

Why is Sustainability Important? (6:24 min.)
Several growers provide their ideas on the need for container production nurseries to adopt sustainable practices. More information is available at the project website: http://snpp.caes.uga.edu

Sustainable Options for Nursery Containers (6:36 min.)
Growers discuss re-using and re-cycling plastic containers as well as using eco-containers made from alternatives to oil-based plastics. More information is available at the project website: http://snpp.caes.uga.edu

Effective Overhead Irrigation (5:04 min.)
A review of efficient methods for container irrigation. More information is available at the project website: http://snpp.caes.uga.edu

Low Volume Irrigation (6:23 min.)
A review of drip, trickle and micro-irrigation systems for container nurseries. More information is available at the project website: http://snpp.caes.uga.edu

Use of Reclaimed Wastewater for Irrigation (2:11 min.)
George Hackney of Hackney Farms in North Florida explains how his nursery benefits from a supply of treated municipal wastewater. More information available at the project website: http://snpp.caes.uga.edu

Managing Nursery Runoff to Remove Contaminants (5:06 min.)
Nursery runoff containing fertilizers and pesticides is one of the obstacles to becoming more sustainable. This video presents solutions for treating runoff, ranging from small scale bio-retention “rain gardens” to large sophisticated systems for collecting and purifying nursery runoff. More information is available at http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/

Low Tech Methods to Improve Production Efficiency
Nursery sustainability can be improved by increasing nursery production efficiency through nursery design and uniformity in production. The low tech, low cost methods described in this video can improve production efficiency by reducing input costs, labor and production time, all of which ultimately make a nursery more sustainable. More information is available at http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/

New Technology to Improve Production Efficiency
Sophisticated soil moisture sensors and robots represent some of the new technologies becoming available to nurseries. These and other new technologies in this video often have high investment costs but offer improved production efficiency and sustainability, especially considering increasing labor costs and decreasing labor availability. More information is available at http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/

Recycling and Re-purposing in the Nursery (7:00 min.)
Creative recycling, re-purposing and reusing materials and supplies can lead to cost savings and improved sustainability of many nurseries. More information is available at http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/

Overview of Sustainable Pest Management in the Nursery
A variety of sustainable pest management strategies are available for nurseries ranging from simple items requiring little investment to major infrastructural changes. This video presents an overview of sanitation, IPM and “systems approaches” to sustainable pest management. More information is available at http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/

Sustainable Substrates for Container Nursery Production
Growers can incorporate alternatives to peat and pine bark in their nursery substrates, or potting soils. This video illustrates how locally available waste organic materials or composts can substitute for costly and less sustainable substrate components. More information is available at http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/

Improving Energy Efficiency in the Nursery (5:59 min.)
Improvements in energy efficiency almost immediately help your nursery become more sustainable while reducing costs. This video presents ideas for how your nursery can become more energy efficient using techniques from “low-tech” to “high-tech”. More information is available at the project website: http://snpp.caes.uga.edu

Journal Articles

Bolques, A., G. Knox, M. Chappell, L. Landrum and E. Duke. 2011. Components of Sustainable Production Practices for Container Plant Nurseries. Proc. Florida State Horticultural Society 124:294-298.

Knox, G.W., A. Bolques, M. Chappell and L. Landrum. 2012. Sustainable Production Resources for Container Plant Nurseries. Proc. Florida State Horticultural Society 125:In press.

Publications

Hundreds of existing Extension and other resources were reviewed by grant PIs. A final list of more than 350 publication resources relevant to nursery sustainability were compiled and catalogued by topic (http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/snpp/sustainability-resources/) for access by interested parties. In addition, six new publications were developed to fill gaps in nursery sustainability information:

Chappell, Matthew and Gary W. Knox. 2012. Nursery Crop Selection and Market Implications, Bulletin 1398. Cooperative Extension, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Athens, GA. 6 pp. February 2012.

Knox, Gary W., Matthew Chappell and Robert H. Stamps. 2012. Alternatives to synthetic herbicides for weed management in container nurseries. 5 pp. August 2012.

Chappell, Matthew, Jean Williams-Woodward and Gary W. Knox. 2012. Sanitation in propagation. 6 pp.

Chappell, Matthew, Jean Williams-Woodward and Gary W. Knox. 2012. Sanitation in nursery production. 7 pp.

Knox, G.W. and M. Chappell. Alternatives to Petroleum-Based Containers for the Nursery Industry, ENH1193. 2011. Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, Gainesville, FL. 5 pp.

Knox, G.W. and M. Chappell. 2011. Nursery Crop Selection and Market Niches, ENH1194. Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, Gainesville, FL. 5 pp.

DelValle, T. and L.B. Landrum. 2011. Integrated Pest Management. Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, Gainesville, FL. 2 pp.

Additional Outreach
Outcomes and impacts:

County Agent Training. Eighteen county agents completed an evaluation instrument following the two-day in-service training. More than 83% of respondents gave “good” or better evaluations for the training organization, length and relevance to county programming. More than 99% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed they have opportunities to use in-service information in their counties, and 77.8% of respondents rated in-service research summaries as “very useful.” Similarly, 94.4% strongly agreed they were committed to using information from this training in their programs. Finally, 50% of respondents replied “A lot” when asked how much the workshop increased their ability to lead a workshop as a result of this training, and 66.7% agreed this training will help them address this emerging issue. Overall, 94.5% of participants rated the in-service training as “good” or “very good.”

Consumers have high quality standards for ornamentals, and nursery producers are skeptical that sustainable practices can produce high quality plants as well as sustain profits. Our resources and curriculum for county extension agents will help them train nursery producers about practical, sustainable nursery practices that are profitable as well as produce high quality ornamentals.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Extension agents who attended the in-service training overwhelmingly reported the resources have been and will be very useful in working with nursery producers. To-date results from the follow-up evaluation found 40% of responding Extension agents strongly agreed and 60% agreed they had opportunities to use the website resources in their county. Finally, 80% of respondents agreed with the statement, “I am committed to using Sustainable Nursery website resources in my program.”

In the months following the in-service training, one Extension agent had a particularly successful outcome using our resources. As a result of this program using our resources, one of this agent’s growers is moving forward in pursuing a grant to implement a more sustainable irrigation management system in his container tree nursery.

We are extending outreach about these sustainable resources beyond Georgia and Florida Extension agents, growers and other clientele. Additional promotion of the resources occurred via listserves and press releases reaching Extension nursery agents and specialists throughout the U.S. as well as directly reaching growers. One specific listserve reached all the nursery/landscape county extension agents in Tennessee. Ongoing value of these sustainable nursery resources will be recorded from the website using a link to an evaluation questionnaire (using Kwik Surveys).

Since the June 2012 public release of the website, Moving Nursery Producers Toward Sustainable Practices (http://snpp.caes.uga.edu/), the site has experienced more than 1318 visits from 375 unique visitors with 1,706 pageviews and an average visit duration of 2:58. The You Tube site for the videos, Sustainable Nursery Production (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0F03B997B5E7D5D7) shows a total of 1,504 views and two subscribers with individual video views as follows: Project Introduction and Overview (77 views), Why is Sustainability Important? (74 views), Effective Overhead Irrigation (79 views), Low Volume Irrigation (74 views), Use of Reclaimed Water (35 views), Managing Nursery Runoff to Remove Contaminants (44 views), Sustainable Options for Nursery Containers (66 views), Improving Energy Efficiency (54 views), Recycling and Repurposing in the Nursery (20 views).

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The economic downturn greatly affected the nursery industry with an estimated 40% reduction in numbers of nurseries in Georgia and Florida. While economic hardships might seem to discourage nursery adoption of sustainable practices, the opposite is true. Nursery producers are seeking ways to reduce costs and most of the sustainable practices being promoted will lead to cost savings or improvements in nursery production or efficiency. Thus, county agents are finding nursery producers to be very receptive to the sustainable practices developed and highlighted by this grant.

Future Recommendations

We propose to develop web-based resources and programming such that growers can voluntarily complete a web-based, interactive questionnaire to gage current levels of nursery sustainability by assigning points for sustainable practices. In addition, the program could identify and suggest areas where the nursery could improve sustainability by adopting specific sustainable practices. Growers would receive personalized information and responses, but the program would provide anonymous information to Index managers for research purposes. Once developed, this Nursery Sustainability Index web resource could be managed by an industry association group such as Southern Nursery Association, Georgia Green Industry Association or Florida Nursery Grower and Landscape Association.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.