Enhancing Cut Flower Production and Marketing for Produce Growers: Methods of Diversification Into Proven Niches

2006 Annual Report for LNE04-195

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $73,241.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $17,052.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Steve Bogash
Penn State Cooperative Extension

Enhancing Cut Flower Production and Marketing for Produce Growers: Methods of Diversification Into Proven Niches


As originally cast, this project directly assists produce growers and others in diversifying into cut flowers by providing some of the answers to three of the most important issues that effect cut flower growers: The evaluation of new cut flower cultivars against industry standards, developing production budgets, and working out the details of succession planting protocols. In addition, the 2006 research program continued the evaluation of biorational fungicides for control of powdery mildew and other foliage / flower diseases in zinnia. By providing this information, growers will directly benefit through improved profitability.

Current flower growers, Master Gardeners, and research staff cooperate in the cultivar evaluation part of the project by growing and evaluating cut flowers for compatibility with our climate and growing conditions, marketability, and saleable yield. Flowers grown on cooperator farms as part of this program and sold through normal market channels are used in developing pricing sensitivity on production budgets. Production budgets for Sunflowers, Zinnias, Karma Dahlias and Summer Bouquets are in various stages of development. A new publication for the Penn State Agricultural Alternatives Series is due out in Spring 2007 dedicated to getting started in cut flower production and marketing.

The open house program for 2006 focused on activities at the Penn State Southeast Research and Extension Center, Landisville, PA and the Franklin Horticulture Education Center, Chambersburg, PA. All project publications such as the annual trials reports continue to be posted to the Capital Region Horticulture Team website as well as printed and provided for growers at meetings. In 2006 the completed reports on Cut Zinnia, Cut Sunflower, Summer Bouquets, and New Grower cut flowers were added to the new cut flower section of the Penn State Department of Horticulture Trial Gardens website.

This project has greatly expanded the existing Penn State Cooperative Extension Cut Flower Evaluation program began in 1999 by providing the resources for the program to expand beyond simple, single site, cultivar showcases. The results of the programs’ trials were disseminated at the 2006 ASCFG (Association of Specialty Cut Flowers Growers) New Growers School, Trial Gardens Summer programs as well as at other venues.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1) Of the more than 250 cut flower growers that attend the annual Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable conference and hundreds more that attend the cut flower field trials on 5 sites around PA, at least 50% of those attending project activities will utilize the flower cultivars identified in the trials program as superior and increase marketable materials per production area.

Milestone: Participating growers will adopt the cultivars that are indicated in the annual reports or seen in cooperating growers’ trial plots. At least 50% of those attending these trials or related program will adopt these cultivars. During each growing season at least 75 growers will attend the evening programs or open houses at each trial plot.

The same group as identified above will have access to yield data and succession planting protocols which will enable them to develop specific crop budgets in order to improve their management skills and business planning.
Milestone: : Growers will use the production budgets developed in the trials program to create their own business plans. By the end of 2005 at least 5 growers will have used the budgets in their business plans.

Milestone: Participating growers will adopt the protocols for succession planting developed at the Franklin County Horticulture Education Center trial plots / high tunnel demonstrator. At least 20 growers will attend the twilight session in the summer of 2004 and 2005 focusing on succession planting. Of those attending at least 8 will use these protocols in their farms production system.

Milestone: 60 new cut flower growers or those exploring cut flower growing and marketing will attend the PSU Cut Flower Short Course in the summer of 2005. 100% of this group will understand the cut flower industry and the basics of operating a cut flower operation.

This program will build on the structure that has been created in the current Penn State Sunflower cut flower trials program by expanding cultivar evaluations to species other than sunflowers. Field-ready transplants will be provided to the 3 cooperating growers and planted at the Franklin County Horticulture Education Center trial plots and evaluated for yield, marketability and grower friendliness. Results will be widely published in a number of grower-friendly outreach publications including web and industry targeted newsletters.

There is currently very little budget and economic information available to growers that seek to develop cut flower-based business plans. The yield data will enable the collaborating business management agent to create individual crop budgets based on accurate yields as well as sales figures. This portion of the program will also include a succession planting study in order to determine the optimum time to replant specific flowers in order to insure a reliable supply.
A summer cut flower short course will be held at or near one of the field trial sites to teach new growers the basics of cut flower production. Growers attending the short course and the cut flower meetings will be surveyed for overall program impact. This project ties in well with other regional extension programs that support news enterprise startup, diversification efforts, as well as a near completed survey of Mid-Atlantic Florists.


1)Cultivar adoption: Based upon in-person interviews with growers and feedback at conferences and meetings numerous growers have adopted cultivars identified in this program. The fact sheets titled “Selecting and Growing Sunflowers for Cut Flowers,” “Selecting and Growing Zinnias for Cut Flowers,” and “Summer Bouquets” are complete and have seen wide distribution. These fact sheets are the results of the trials program sunflower and other cut flower work from 1999 to present. Evaluation of grower use of these publications and all other program resources began in December 2006. The full impact of this evaluation will be in the final program report to be completed by March 2007.

2)Production budgets for sunflowers (single stem and free-branching), zinnia, and summer bouquets will be included in the Agricultural Alternatives Cut Flower fact sheet now working its way through the Penn State College of Agriculture editing process. It will likely be printed by June 2007. Preliminary numbers have been used by many growers in developing their business plans.

3)b) Three growers used preliminary production budgets as well as substantial other production information to develop cut flower-based businesses in 2006. They have been very successful and are planning on substantial expansion for the 2007 growing season. Additional growers that have used program services publications for business development should be identified in the survey that is presently running.

c)This program partnered with the ASCFG in developing their growers school for the September 2005 Annual conference in Lancaster, PA. 120 new growers attended this program from throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

d) Over 300 growers attended the PSU Landisville Research Farm Cut flower and vegetative annual Open Houses in July 2006.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

This project got off to a rocky start as initially (early 2005) it appeared that there was little new grower interest in developing cut flower related business ventures. At this juncture that has now completely turned around. Significant activities have taken place within this grant project and in partnership with ASCFG that have attracted large numbers of new growers as well as present growers seeking to stay on top of the industry. The program participation survey should tell a compelling story of business development as many potential growers contact the project director or attend program activities regularly. There are at least 5 new businesses to report with significant additional program related small farm business development likely to be indicated based on the results of the program participant report.

The 2006 research program focused on a showcase of the best cut flower cultivars from 1999 to 2005 plus a number of new varieties released from breeders. In addition, the 2006 program was sited on 2 public research farms vs. the up to 8 in the past. Experience has shown that the number of sites detracts from the quality of the data collected with no appreciable difference in grower acceptance. Also, a cut perennial trial began in 2006 with plans to expand it in 2007.

Other activities planned for 2007:

Grower field day with seminars in late July at the PSU Landisville Research Farm (final date TBD).

Karma Dahlia High tunnel trial. This should include all 14 Karma cvs. These will be evaluated for yield, quality, pest sensitivity and marketability.

Continued bouquet making classes for Spring 2007. These classes have regularly sold out. This hands-on program has gained wide attention as many new growers indicate a need for instruction in flower arranging.

Continue the survey of all cut flower program participants for impact, cultivar adoption, etc. This report will be completed by March 2007.

Special note: The Franklin County Commissioners have decided to continue to match the salary provided in the SARE budget with enough funds to create a full time project research assistant. This is a direct result of the growing traction this program has in creating local business opportunities. This should greatly enhance the program and the support of new businesses.


David Johnson

[email protected]
Farm Manager
PSU Southeast Research Farm
1446 Auction Rd
Manhiem, PA 17545
Office Phone: 7176534728
Robert Ambrose

[email protected]
Ridgeview Acres
RR 1, Box 210BB
Stahlstown, PA 15687
Office Phone: 7245937506