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...

May 1, 2015

18 New Grasses To Grow

Ornamental grasses fit in with the needs of today’s landscapers and consumers better than ever. Whether your customers are looking for creative solutions for patio containers or a mass planting in a landscape, some of the 18 new varieties included here are sure to meet the need.

Read More

May 1, 2015

Restoration Landscapes: A Specialized Market For Natives And Grasses

Restoration landscapes, depending on their purpose, often require straight native species, along with a confirmation of their known provenance. Research is key in this area and good recordkeeping is a must.

Read More

April 30, 2015

North Creek Nurseries Welcomes Nikki Drake As New Financial Administrator

Nikki Drake will fill the role of new financial administrator at North Creek Nurseries, with responsibility for the accounting department. She will also serve on the strategic planning committee.

Read More
Latest Stories

April 30, 2015

North Creek Nurseries Welcomes Nikki Drake As New Finan…

Nikki Drake will fill the role of new financial administrator at North Creek Nurseries, with responsibility for the accounting department. She will also serve on the strategic planning committee.

Read More
Dummen_Begonia_UnbelieveableFirstKiss

April 29, 2015

Dümmen Orange Is The New Name For DNA Green Group

DNA Green Group has a new name: Dümmen Orange. The company revealed its new name, the and brand values at all of its facilities in 16 countries on Thursday, April 23. The well-known corporate brands Lex+, Bartels, Terra Nigra, Dümmen Group, Agribio China, Agribio Colombia, Oro, PLA, as well as the production locations, are changing their identities immediately to Dümmen Orange. Other established brands like Rijnplant, Ecke, Oglevee, Red Fox, Fides, Japan Agribio and Barberet & Blanc will convert over limited time. The company’s CEO Biense Visser calls it a logical next step. “All companies that have been acquired have a rich and successful history,” Visser says. “We have always tried to respect that heritage. Doing so, we created confusion for our customers. Our employees expressed a preference for a more uniform approach to the market, too. That is why we have chosen one large umbrella brand that embraces the entire […]

Read More
Andy Huntington Pleasant View

April 29, 2015

Pleasant View Gardens Promotes Andy Huntington to Natio…

Pleasant View Gardens recently announced that Andy Huntington will be the company’s National Sales Manager. Huntington, who has years of horticulture industry experience, will oversee national territory and inside sales departments, while fostering strong partnerships with customers. “Our relationships with customers are central to all that we do at Pleasant View,” Huntington says. “In my new role, I am excited to work with a broader base of broker, grower and retail partners to understand their business needs. Pleasant View’s goal is to be so in tune with our customers that we are able to anticipate their problems before they arise.” Huntington has a history of growing sales and forming long-lasting relationships with a diverse customer base. For the past two years, he has been working as a territory account manager for Pleasant View Gardens, responsible for young plant liner sales in New England and New York. Prior to that, Huntington was […]

Read More
RedPeppers_RosanaPrada_Flickr

April 29, 2015

Nature Fresh Farms To Build 175-Acre Greenhouse Facilit…

Growing fresh vegetables in the Midwest is about to take a major turn in a new direction as Nature Fresh Farms has announced a large-scale investment in northwest Ohio. The company broke ground on April 10 to begin construction on a 175-acre greenhouse facility in Delta, Ohio. “This is an exciting time for Nature Fresh Farms as we expand our operations to include a U.S. growing facility,” said Nature Fresh Farms President Peter Quiring in a press release. “This development will allow us to better serve our Ohio customers with locally grown produce, year-round and continue to grow our U.S. operations.” Contingent upon acceptable levels of incentives from the State of Ohio and other government authorities, as well as utility rates agreeable to Nature Fresh, the company would be poised to ship its first case of vegetables in December 2015. The greenhouse project will be completed in several phases over the […]

Read More
RISE logo

April 29, 2015

RISE Delivers Petition Urging President Obama To Protec…

Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE) delivered a pollinator petition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, urging President Obama to create more habitat and forage areas for pollinators, and to consider all sources of information on, and contributors to the pollinator health issue. Nearly 600 citizens from across the U.S. signed the petition. “Our petition shows President Obama that citizens want a balanced and substantive conversation to happen on the pollinator health issue,” says Aaron Hobbs, RISE president. “The pollinator issue is very complex and research points to multiple factors affecting pollinators, including pests and parasites, microbial diseases, nutrition problems, bee management practices and climate change.” According to Hobbs, the petition highlights some of the steps the industry is taking to support pollinators. This includes creating pollinator-friendly habitats and forage areas through integrated vegetation management in utility rights-of-way and large tracts of land. “We do applaud the White House for including in […]

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More

April 21, 2015

2015 Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship Goes To Daniel Klittich

The American Floral Endowment presented University of California Davis student Daniel Klittich with the 2015 Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship. Klittich will receive $5,000 for two consecutive years, provided he continues to meet scholarship requirements.

Read More

April 15, 2015

Redesigned SunPatiens Website Offers New Tools For Saka…

Sakata Seed America's new and improved SunPatiens website launched March 1, 2015 and provides growing information, marketing support, product location and many more tools to encourage consumer success with SunPatiens.

Read More
Farwest2015

April 15, 2015

Online Registration For FarWest 2015 Open, Discount Bef…

Online registration is now open for FarWest 2015, a green industry educational conference and tradeshow, which will take place August 27 to 29 in Portland, Ore. The show promises a full menu of classes, seminars and off-site events, plus a special benefit added this year for attendees.

Read More
Syngenta logo

April 15, 2015

Syngenta Names Chris Freeman Senior Key Account Manager…

Chris Freeman is the new senior key account manager for Syngenta Flowers, Home & Garden's Commercial Sales business in the Americas, effective March 2015. Freeman, who joined Syngenta in 2006, carries more than 25 years of experience in the agriculture and floriculture business.

Read More
Janeen Wright

April 13, 2015

Different Routes Lead To New Growth In Your Greenhouse

The path you take to success in your greenhouse may not be the well-traveled one, but the end result can still be the same — growth for you and your greenhouse business.

Read More
Restricting foliar pesticide applications on blooming plants to early morning or as dusk approaches in the evening reduces direct exposure to bees.

April 10, 2015

10 Steps For Protecting Crops And Bees

Bees stay safe and high quality crops thrive when you use bee-friendly practices designed to help both succeed. Griffin Greenhouse Supply Pro (GGSPro) has been actively discussing bee-friendly pesticide use for years. Based on its current understanding of the science and social factors at play, GGSPro currently recommends these 10 bee-friendly practices.

Read More
Lake Buchanan_LCRA

April 10, 2015

USDA Designates Areas Of West And Southwest As Drought …

The ongoing drought has resulted in disaster area designations in counties across nine Western and Southwestern states, including Texas, where some reservoirs are at or near historically low levels.

Read More

April 9, 2015

Altman Plants’ Online Cactus Shop Shows Strong Sa…

Altman Plants recently opened its new Cactus Shop, an online retail store that sells a variety of cactus and succulents. The store is a take-off of Altman’s original wholesale business, as the company started as a mail order catalog.

Read More
Dummen

April 8, 2015

Dümmen Group Welcomes Jim Devereux And Andrew Konicki T…

Dümmen group recently announced the addition of Jim Devereux and Andrew Konicki to its team. They are the newest members of the Key Account and Broker Support team for Dümmen, and will be responsible for building, developing and maintaining current broker and grower customer relationships.

Read More
Todd Woodfield

April 8, 2015

Sustainable Horticulture Pays Off

Practicing holistic horticulture has saved money and improved plant quality for Abby Farms. Its manager shares where the operation has seen differences from conventional production.

Read More
Gov._Jerry_Brown_California

April 8, 2015

California Institutes First Ever Statewide Mandatory Wa…

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 1 that, for the first time in state history, action will be taken to implement mandatory water restrictions, with the ultimate goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. As Californians are pushed to conserve more, growers will need to think about how demand for products will be affected.

Read More
HRI logo

April 8, 2015

Horticultural Research Institute Accepting Scholarship …

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) is offering seven scholarships for the 2015-2016 school year, totaling $20,000. Applications will be accepted through May 31.

Read More