Growers Find Sustainable Business Saves Money And Empowers Employees

A recurring problem with spider mites on poinsettia crops lead D.S. Cole Growers to use predators, including Eretmocerus eremicus and Encarsia formosa. The change led to being able to eliminate pesticide applications on poinsettias and a major chemical cost savings.
A recurring problem with spider mites on poinsettia crops lead D.S. Cole Growers to use predators, including Eretmocerus eremicus and Encarsia formosa. The change led to being able to eliminate pesticide applications on poinsettias and a major chemical cost savings.

Sustainability may seem like an overused, overhyped and misunderstood word depending on to whom you are talking. Business Insider reports that “sustainability” ranked as the third most overused word in 2013.

“The definition of sustainability itself has been bantered about, particularly in recent years,” says Charlie Hall, professor and Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University. “Sustainability has always been centered around the 3 Ps: people, planet and profit.”

The planet side has to do with the environmental dimensions, and the people side has to do with making sure employees, customers and all stakeholders are taken care of, says Hall. Being a sustainable business means that you pay your employees a wage with which they can support themselves.

“All of that fits under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility and whether it is advantageous for a business to act in a socially responsible manner,” Hall says. “In my mind, the things that a company does to be more sustainable from a planet and a people standpoint also make sense from a profit standpoint.”

Business Sustainability Includes Upgrading Systems

Hall says one of the first elements of being sustainable is making sure a company is leveraged properly, but not overleveraged.

“When you are implementing new technologies, adopting mechanization and automation and making processes more efficient, usually that also means you are utilizing fewer resources,” he says. “You’re not in a situation where you’re generating externalities from an environmental standpoint. You’re doing business better and that usually leads to a cost savings.”

Another area where growers have the opportunity to be sustainable, according to Hall, is the willingness on the part of some consumers to pay more for products that are considered to be environmentally friendly.

“We have found in our research that half of consumers have actually tried green products vs. having not tried green products,” he says. “There are some consumers who are willing to pay for products they deem to be more sustainable and more environmentally friendly.

“We also found that people were willing to pay a premium if the product was labeled carbon saving vs. carbon intensive. People weren’t told the difference between what those labels meant.”

Improving Sustainability With Lean Flow

Hall says one of the first things growers should do if they are serious about improving their business sustainability is doing a Lean Flow analysis.

“There are gains to be made in efficiencies with a Lean Flow analysis,” he says. “Twenty-five percent of a grower’s labor involves getting the product to the bench or out into the field. Another 25 percent is used to take care of the product — all of the cultural practices. Another 50 percent of the labor is involved in order pulling and assembling, loading and unloading trucks and delivering the product to the customer. Shipping and handling activities are some of the last things that are typically looked at from an efficiency standpoint. There is a lot of low-hanging fruit just in analyzing this last part of the value chain.”

The same Lean Flow efficiencies that can be applied to production- and shipping-related activities can be adapted to office management practices, Hall says.

“Any function within a business that involves a repetitive task is a candidate for doing a Lean Flow analysis,” he says. “Lean Flow is all about minimizing wasted movement and gaining efficiencies, so office management practices such as processing orders and handling invoices are logical areas to investigate.”

An Early Adopter Of Sustainable Solutions

D.S. Cole Growers, a young plant producer in Loudon, N.H., was the first U.S. greenhouse operation to receive MPS certification in 2008. Owner and president Doug Cole says his interest to certify his company began when he was president of OFA, now AmericanHort.

The certification process was tough because it had been originally set up for European growers, Cole says.

“Everything was measured in metric,” he says. “We had to convert all kinds of measurements, including water, natural gas and pesticide use. The people at MPS tried to help us, too.”

Cole says the toughest part of the whole certification process was that MPS was originally set up for finished plant growers.

“In Europe, plant propagators similar to our company weren’t as involved in the MPS program,” he says. “A pot plant grower may produce a crop every 12 weeks or more. When rooting vegetative cuttings, we can be cycling crops every four to six weeks. Propagation requires more inputs per year, including pesticides, heat and electricity for supplemental lighting.”

Initially, the Dutch flower growers wanted to show government officials that they were not polluting and were monitoring themselves and their impact on the environment, says Cole. The growers were trying to be proactive in showing officials the things they were doing to be better each year, so they developed these parameters to reach a higher level of certification.

Cole says that his company would not have been able to achieve and maintain MPS certification without the cooperation and interest of his employees. He says employees need to be on board in order to make the program successful.

“Being the guinea pig, we did this for a couple years using the metric program,” he says. “As more American growers looked to become certified, MPS officials realized that the U.S. growers were only going to sign up if the metric system was changed. It was just too much extra work. The certification program has been changed so that there is a U.S. template. The conversions we had to make don’t have to be made anymore.”

Growers don’t need to be mechanized or automated in order to become certified, Cole says.

“There are a number of certification programs, but the one that many U.S growers have been involved with is MPS ABC,” he says. “They’re not measuring efficiency and wastefulness in regard to labor. It’s all about environment and quantitative measurements, which is a lot more meaningful. You want to keep your inputs as low as possible, whether you are measuring fertilizer-, pesticide- or energy-use.”

Realizing The Benefits Of Sustainability Certification

A recurring problem with spider mites on poinsettia crops lead D.S. Cole Growers to use predators, including Eretmocerus eremicus and Encarsia formosa. The change led to being able to eliminate pesticide applications on poinsettias and a major chemical cost savings.
Improvements that Pacific Plug & Liner has made since becoming MPS certified include installation of double layer polyethylene and polycarbonate panels and energy-efficient shade/heat retention curtains.

Pacific Plug & Liner (PP&L), a young plant producer in Watsonville, Calif., is in the third year of being MPS certified. General Manager Hank Bukowski, who has been with the company for 2½ years, says the company has definitely seen benefits from being certified.

“You almost have to go into the certification process with the attitude that you are going to be told what’s wrong with your operation,” Bukowski says. “You have to have the diligence to look at everything that you are doing. MPS wants to see some progress in order to get a better grade. It happened immediately for us and it didn’t take a big financial investment. It was more about how we did things. How we sprayed, how we monitored for insects. It was just a lot of different things that we could do better.”

Bukowski says the area where PP&L had to make the most changes was chemical and fertilizer usage.

“You get graded fairly hard in those areas, the types of chemicals,” he says. “MPS is not like the IRS when they audit you. They are trying to help you. They look at the chemicals you are using, the location where the chemicals are applied. They require that you complete data sheets that include not only the volume of a chemical applied, but also the area that was covered. They may suggest alternative controls, including neem products and biologicals.”

One project that PP&L recently completed that helped improve its MPS audit score was an outdoor water reclamation project for the whole property. The company has 15 acres of outdoor production.

“When I first arrived, we had just begun the reclamation project,” Bukowski says. “We received a $60,000 state grant to take on the project to reclaim all of the water that we use on our outdoor fields. It ended up being a $200,000 project. As a result, we are going to reclaim the unused irrigation water and cut our fertilizer use in half.”

MPS certification is not synonymous with organic, Bukowski says.

“Growers could be producing their crops organically, but not necessarily be growing them sustainably,” he says. “Everyone thinks that organically grown is better for the environment, but that is not necessarily true. MPS is trying to develop a balance for people, the planet and then profits. They don’t want to come in and say ‘do this’ and then have it cost growers a lot of money. Their goal is to help the environment and help growers be profitable.”

To learn more about sustainability certification and how it could impact your operation, contact Charlie Hall, Texas A&M University, Department of Horticultural Sciences at charliehall@tamu.edu or visit EllisonChair.tamu.edu; D.S. Cole Growers at 603-783-9561 or visit DSColeGrowers.com or Pacific Plug & Liner at 831-768-6327 or visit PPandL.net.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

More From Business Management...
protecting bees and pollinators video

March 31, 2015

New Video On Protecting Bees And Pollinators Educates Horticulture Industry Professionals

A new educational video that provides information on the horticultural industry’s essential role in bee and pollinator stewardship is one result of industry collaboration by the Horticultural Research Institute, AmericanHort, Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment. “Protecting Bees & Pollinators: What Horticulture Needs to Know,” narrates the current state of bee and pollinator health, provides information on factors that impact pollinators and the environment and underscores the beneficial role horticulture plays in providing healthy pollinator ecosystems.

Read More
Basil_Persian-AAS2015_620x329

March 31, 2015

California Summer Vegetable Trials To Be Hosted By National Garden Bureau Members

Vegetable breeding companies will come together this August to host the Summer Vegetable Trials in California. Like the long-standing California Spring Trials that are held annually in California, attendees will have the opportunity to visit breeding companies' trial sites in seven locations throughout the state, from August 20-21, 2015. National Garden Bureau (NGB), the non-profit organization promoting gardening on behalf of the horticulture industry, is organizing and publicizing this event on behalf of its members.

Read More
DNA-logo

March 31, 2015

DNA Green Group Will Acquire Rijnplant

DNA Green Group and Riknplant have finalized DNA Green Group's acquisition of Rijnplant, meaning that the breeding and propagation activities in pot and cut anthurium, bougainvillea and heliconia will transfer to DNA Green Group.

Read More
Latest Stories
protecting bees and pollinators video

March 31, 2015

New Video On Protecting Bees And Pollinators Educates H…

A new educational video that provides information on the horticultural industry’s essential role in bee and pollinator stewardship is one result of industry collaboration by the Horticultural Research Institute, AmericanHort, Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment. “Protecting Bees & Pollinators: What Horticulture Needs to Know,” narrates the current state of bee and pollinator health, provides information on factors that impact pollinators and the environment and underscores the beneficial role horticulture plays in providing healthy pollinator ecosystems.

Read More
DNA-logo

March 31, 2015

DNA Green Group Will Acquire Rijnplant

DNA Green Group and Riknplant have finalized DNA Green Group's acquisition of Rijnplant, meaning that the breeding and propagation activities in pot and cut anthurium, bougainvillea and heliconia will transfer to DNA Green Group.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Hor…

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 25, 2015

NASS Reports U.S. Honey Production Was Up By 19 Percent…

Honey production in 2014 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 178 million pounds, up 19 percent from 2013, according to a March 20 report from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Read More

March 23, 2015

UF/IFAS Appoints Joseph Albano As Director Of Mid-Flori…

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a new directors for its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (REC) on Apopka, Fla. The role has been filled by Joseph Albano, a research horticulturist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with more than 25 years of experience.

Read More
Plantbid website screenshot

March 20, 2015

Plantbid Brings Open Sourcing To Greenhouse Growers

Plantbid bridges the gap between buyers and sellers for sales and marketing networking on their own terms. The web-based, plant-sourcing platform aims to save growers time and make the business of buying and selling plants more efficient.

Read More
National Floriculture Forum 2015 029

March 18, 2015

2015 National Floriculture Forum Focuses On Marketing I…

The 2015 National Floriculture Forum, held March 6 to 7 in Minneapolis, Minn., zeroed in on the topic of marketing in horticulture and included visits to Gertens Greenhouses and Garden Center, Bailey Nurseries, Bachman’s Floral, Home and Garden and Tangletown Gardens. The annual meeting allows greenhouse and floriculture faculty, graduate students and industry partners to meet and share updates on current research, issues and initiatives.

Read More

March 18, 2015

H-2B Situation Goes From Bad To Even Worse

On March 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it will no longer accept or process H-2B labor certifications or requests for H-2B prevailing wage determinations in light of a March 4 decision. Shortly after the DOL announcement, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Citizenship and Immigration Services followed suit, announcing it will at least temporarily cease approving visa petitions. These announcements essentially shut down the H-2B program for any company that has not completed the DHS H-2B visa petitioning process.

Read More
SAF CAD

March 18, 2015

Growers Ask For Immigration And Healthcare Reform Durin…

Nearly 90 growers, retailers, suppliers and wholesales attended the Society of American Florists' (SAF) 2015 Congressional Action Days March 9-10. The delegation, representing 18 states, arrived on Capitol Hill at a time when two major industry issues - immigration and healthcare reform - are especially prominent in national headlines.

Read More

March 17, 2015

Pike Nurseries Implements Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Independent garden retailer Pike Nurseries has announced it will become an employee-owned company. Pike Nurseries management has combined with its sister corporation in California, Armstrong Garden Centers, to operate under an established Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Read More
Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center

March 11, 2015

University Of New Hampshire Research Farms Ranked Among…

The University of New Hampshire's university farms were recognized as being among the top in the country by Best College Reviews, which published a ranking of the 20 best university farms in America. The university, which was ranked No. 20, was noted for having an academically centered farming operation. UNH has four horticulture, agronomy, and dairy farms, as well as greenhouses, which are centered on teaching, research and outreach.

Read More
Crop Protection Of The Future

March 11, 2015

Help Us Find Out How Crop Protection Has Changed Among …

Is your environmentally controlled greenhouse production area 500,000 square feet or larger? If so, we want to hear from you. Please take our Top 100 Growers survey to help us get an accurate picture of our industry from the perspective of our largest operations.

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

March 10, 2015

GrowIt! Mobile App Now Available For Android

The mobile app GrowIt! Garden Socially can now be used by gardeners with Android-based smartphones. Now available on the Google Play Market, GrowIt! helps users find plants to fit their lifestyle and connect them with other local gardeners.

Read More
Nexus Corporation's Cheryl Longtin Encourages Women To Seek Volunteer Leadership Opportunities

March 4, 2015

Nexus Corporation’s Cheryl Longtin Encourages Wom…

When Cheryl Longtin came to the horticulture business in 1994, she applied her experience in the automotive industry to promote the adoption of more technology in greenhouse production. Longtin says horticulture, with its rich family tradition, has long promoted women in the industry compared to other industries, but women in horticulture must continue to seek out opportunities to provide volunteer leadership in organizations that shape the future of the business.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Second Annual GreenhouseConnect Will Bring Growers and …

Following a successful inaugural event in Tampa last fall, Greenhouse Grower has announced the dates of its second annual GreenhouseConnect: October 26-29, 2015. Representatives of an expected two dozen leading greenhouse operations from across the U.S. will join senior-level suppliers at Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego for several days of one-on-one strategic meetings, a growers-only roundtable, informational sessions and a variety of networking events.

Read More
cultivate'15 logo

March 4, 2015

Cultivate’15: AmericanHort Announces What’s…

In an industry that has seen major changes occurring at a fast pace, many industry professionals leave Cultivate with their heads spinning and no clear idea of how to regroup and strategize. Cultivate’15 is “Changing the Game.” As this year’s focus, Changing the Game will call your attention to the ways in which our industry has changed and your opportunities to compete successfully.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Maryland Green Industry Associations Unite

The Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association recently announced that it is expanding its reach to include the greenhouse industry, meaning it has become The Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association (MNLGA). The change comes as a result of the planned dissolution of the former Maryland Greenhouse Growers Association and the invitation for those members to join the existing and renamed association.

Read More