Enhancing cut flower production and marketing for produce growers: Methods of diversification into proven niches, part II
The number one question growers always ask each other and researchers’ is “What are the best varieties to grow.” The second question is usually “What is new and worth considering adding to my inventory” followed closely by questions on how to control diseases and Japanese beetles. Providing information to support these answers has long been the primary driving force behind the Penn State Cooperative Extension / NE SARE Cut Flower Trials Program.
Due to the nature of cut flower growing and the current concerns with preserving and encouraging pollinators, the 2008 program built on lessons learned in the 2007 field season to also include identifying pesticides and pest management strategies that fit the description of biorational (including safety for pollinating insects) yet still control the target pest(s). This has the potential to reduce pesticide exposure while still securing the successful harvest of quality flowers. We are developing to develop recommendations for growers to use in controlling several common cut flower diseases as well as provide comparisons between conventional and biorational control methods. These diseases and pests include: powdery mildew on zinnia and dahlia, bacterial and fungal leaf spot on zinnia and sunflower, and Japanese beetle control on many flowers. Preliminary work on biorational recommendations began in the growing season of 2006 with a demonstration powdery mildew control trial on Oklahoma Formula Zinnia using 13 biorational and conventional fungicides. This work continued in the 2007 program with fully replicated trials on zinnia and sunflower. The extremely dry 2007 growing season produced little in the way of foliar diseases, but did provide substantial opportunities to evaluate Japanese beetle control strategies. Unfortunately, the very high beetle pressure in 2007 overwhelmed all of the organic and biorational pesticide options with only Carbaryl (Sevin) providing satisfactory control.
The 2008 growing season was once again very dry. This created conditions that prevented the development of powdery mildew on cut flowers until very late in the growing season. Japanese beetle pressure was much easier to manage than in 2007. The replicated disease management trials have produced sufficient data to create a set of disease management recommendations that are adoptable by growers that are certified organic as well as those that practice IPM.
The field days at both SREC and the Franklin Horticulture Center on July 24, July 26, and August 14, 2008 allowed over 570 program participants to examine the planting trials discuss pest management, and pick up skills on flower arranging.
Publications due out in early 2009 based on project results include: Agricultural Alternatives, Cut Flowers (still stuck in PSUfinal review), Biorational and Organic Pest Materials for Cut Flower Growers, Celosia for Cut Flower Growers Report and an updated sunflower report including work on succession planting. As these are completed they will join the other completed cut flower publications at the Regional Horticulture Team Website: http://capitalhort.cas.psu.edu/Factsheets.html
Performance Target: Of the more than 180 cut flower growers that attend the annual Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference, cut flower field days and ASCFG regional meetings, at least 50% will utilize cut flower cultivars and pest management practices identified in this program as superior. This same group will increase marketable material per production area by 25% and increase pest management using biorational materials and techniques by 50%.
Performance Target: Of the 20 that begin developing business models, 8 will actually start cut flower-based enterprises in 2008 and 2009.
Milestone: At least 50 participating growers will adopt five or more cut flower cultivars that are demonstrated at field days for the next growing season. This milestone will be replicated each year of the project although the participating growers may shift.
1) While the specific number of those growers that have adopted superior varieties from this program will remain unknown until the final survey is tabulated, preliminary anecdotal information from conversations and emails with growers indicates very high adoption.Discussions and meetings with growers has shifted largely from “what to grow” to “how best to grow” specific species and varieties.
2) At a growers evening session held in Hershey, PA in early 2008, much of the discussion focused on succession planting timing, when to pinch for multiple stems and plant density.
Milestone: At least 20 participating growers will adopt biorational pest management methods to gain control of powdery mildew and beetles as demonstrated at project events. This milestone will be replicated each year of the project although the participating growers may shift.
1) Conversations and emails with growers as well as responses at grower meetings indicates adoption of biorational pest management far in excess of 20 growers. Regular threads of discussion include rates of copper, soaps and Neem oil products to use for maximum benefit.
2) Cut Flower weed control has become an increasing issue that has required substantial time on the part of the researcher. In meeting that need, publications on cut flower herbicides, general weed control and building a wick applicator have been developed and distributed both at meetings and through the ASCFG quarterly journal.
Milestone: At least 40 clients will attend the new growers’ schools in January 2008. Of those attending, 20 will follow through and begin developing business models based on information gained at the program and in follow up consultations later with the project coordinator.
1) 39 clients participated in the New Growers School at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference at Hershey, PA. Several of these clients have started producing cut flowers. The principal investigator is currently working directly with 11 new growers that have started operations since this project began in 2007. New grower support ranges from cultivar selection, irrigation system development, market development, post-harvest handling and pest control.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Grower interest in cut flowers continues to increase. Field day and seminar participation at cut flower oriented events has increased steadily as does grower demand for variety trials and pest management information. Existing growers now require very specific crop management information such as planting timing for steady supply by variety, post-harvest recommendations, more demand for cut perennial and woody plant information as well as transplant production guidelines. This programs partnership with ASCFG has greatly increased the access that growers have to program results. That partnership has resulted in a now regular column in the ASCFG quarterly journal on weed control in cut flowers that started in early 2008. This column is named “Crushed Under My Boot.”
The 2009 program will showcase Lisianthus in high tunnel production along with a showcase of the best cut flowers since the beginning of this program. In addition, we will continue pest management materials trials since we have not had a ‘wet’ year to draw data from during the program. Although the 2 participating growers supplied only consultations and advice in cultivar selection in 2007 & 2008 due longer than expected construction of new facilities on their farms, they will both host satellite trials of all of the program annuals in 2009 as well as grower twilight meetings.
This project has developed substantial ties to growers throughout the Mid-Atlantic as well as partnerships with related research programs at other universities. Although still small compared to the former glory of the rose-based cut flower industry from 20+ years ago, increasing numbers of small growers are adding cut flowers to their highly diversified operations. There is little doubt that the support provided to growers by this program, ASCFG, other universities and the grower community has enabled this growth.
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