Kube-Pak’s Bill Swanekamp: Preparing For Downy Mildew In 2013

Bill Swanekamp

Impatiens downy mildew was one of the biggest disease stories of 2012, and the potential for more issues next spring has growers considering new ways to manage the situation.

Impatiens walleriana is traditionally a big crop for Top 100 Grower Kube-Pak, in Allentown, N.J. Greenhouse Grower asked president Bill Swanekamp to talk about his plans for impatiens in 2013 and how he’s already working hard to protect his customers and his business this season.

Greenhouse Grower: How was Kube-Pak impacted by downy mildew last year?

Swanekamp: Even though there was downy mildew in our region, there wasn’t much of an impact on our 2011 season. We didn’t really hear about it from our customers because it showed up late in the summer. I think, in many cases, people assumed it was from the hot weather or the plants were just petering at the end of the season.
Then, as we got into the winter months, articles in the trade journals and different researchers, including Cornell’s Margery Daughtrey, started to confirm that’s what was happening in 2011.

In 2012, we were prepared to keep our plugs clean. We’re a plug producer so we’re spraying every week as a preventative against downy mildew and, of course, we’re spraying our finished crops every two weeks to keep the crop clean. We didn’t see any instance of the downy mildew inside the greenhouse this spring.
Once we began shipping material out, I think it was the first or second week of June that we started to get some calls about impatiens that had been put out in April. We had a very damp and mild spring here, so the conditions were perfect for downy mildew.

We had no reports the entire season on any of the plugs we produced. It was all finished product and we mostly heard from landscapers. We had very few reports from garden centers.

Greenhouse Grower: Are you adjusting your production for next spring to account for the possibility of more downy mildew?

Swanekamp: Once we heard about downy mildew last winter, we did cut our impatiens numbers by 6 or 7 percent on finished lines for spring 2012.

For spring 2013, the one thing we feel pretty certain about is our landscape customers — about 35 percent of our finished business — are not going to use Impatiens walleriana in their landscapes. I don’t think they will take the risk.

If you’re a landscaper and your customer says, “I want you to plant this bed,” you have to hit a home run. You can’t tell them, “I’m going to plant this, and there’s a chance six weeks into the season they’re all going to be dead.” Across the board, the landscapers I have spoken to have said they’re not going to use impatiens.

There are alternatives. We think using other alternatives until we know more about this disease is important.

Greenhouse Grower: What do you expect from your retailer customers this year?

Swanekamp: The garden centers are a different story because not all of them have gotten reports back from their customers. The public doesn’t necessarily know why the plants died. So they may want impatiens again.

We’re making an analogy to spring vegetable plants. A customer may want us to deliver peppers and tomatoes on the 15th of April. We tell them there’s a very good chance those plants are going to die. They say, “I know, but my garden center customers want them.” And we say, “OK,” and we ship them out. They’re willing to take that risk.

We feel the same way about impatiens. There are going to be people out there willing to take the risk that they aren’t going to get downy mildew. We will cut back, but for 2013 we will probably produce about 50 percent of the impatiens we grew this past year.

Now, if you feel as a grower morally you shouldn’t produce that item, that’s perfectly fine. But there are going to be people out there that want impatiens. I think our job as a business is to inform them of the consequences and let them make their own decision.

Greenhouse Grower: What are you going to do to make up for that volume?

Swanekamp: Good question. We don’t want to cut our production by those numbers. We think there are really three items that are going to be replacements: not necessarily in this order, but SunPatiens, begonia and vinca. We will grow some proportion of those three.

SunPatiens are attractive because they don’t get downy mildew. They’ve been out in the market about five years. It’s been a slow process getting people to accept them, but they are a phenomenal bedding plant and this may be a good opportunity for people to learn that.  
The other thing we’re going to push is the new more vigorous begonias. We’ve always grown begonias. We been doing the dragon wings, the Whoppers and the Big begonias for years, and I think that’s going to fill a bit of the niche.

As for vinca, I did a little of my own surveying this summer, looking at people’s houses and developments. It was surprising how many people had vinca that were doing very well. And I saw almost no impatiens. So the homeowners here have already started to move toward vinca.

Greenhouse Grower: What would you recommend to other growers that may find themselves in the same position?

Swanekamp: Get educated. As an industry, all of us have to educate ourselves, and we have to educate our customers. We are going to call our top 200 customers and have a personal conversation with each one of them. We will ask if they want us to send them information, and at the same time, get a feel as to what their plans are going to be for 2013. We want to know if they think they’re going to buy vinca or begonias or SunPatiens or marigolds.

We sent eMails to all of our landscapers explaining the problems with downy mildew last summer. We had an open house here with a couple of talks about downy mildew. We’re going to have another in January specifically for our landscaper and garden center customers, showing them the alternatives. We posted information on our web page about downy mildew. And when we send out our spring price sheet, we will include a letter explaining the downy mildew problem.

Growers need to talk to their customers. If they don’t know anything about it, you need to educate them. As an industry and as a grower, you don’t want someone coming back to you and saying, “You should have told me.”


Leave a Reply

More From Annuals...
Double Whammy Merchandise Display At CAST2015

May 28, 2015

Grow Inspiration To Grow The Horticulture Industry

We need to work together as the horticulture industry to inspire and instruct consumers with our plant knowledge and marketing expertise.

Read More

May 28, 2015

PlantSelect.org And FindPlants.net Assist Consumers With Growing And Finding Plants

The recently launched PlantSelect.org and FindPlants.net websites offer growing and maintenance tips, where-to-buy information and design ideas to help consumers have success with growing and finding plants.

Read More
Cal-Poly fields

May 27, 2015

Cal-Poly Students And Faculty Ask Industry To Help Save Horticulture Facilities

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has released an update to its Master Plan that indicates that almost all of its orchards, horticulture facilities and field sites could be repurposed for buildings, including residential, and/or recreational space. According to a letter from Scott Steinmaus, the horticulture and crop science department head, the proposed changes directly affect the current orchard plantings and other long term plans for the department. The department is committed to making sure that its facilities remain invaluable teaching environments that enable its students to learn about crop, fruit and horticulture production, food safety and pest protection, in addition to providing sites for externally funded research projects that benefit the industry. Industry members are invited to submit comments to the university. According to Steinmaus, a recent eMail to the Cal-Poly community from the university president indicates that all of the input gathered through the end of May will be studied by the planning […]

Read More
Latest Stories

May 27, 2015

Vote For Your Favorite New Annual For The 2015 Readers&…

VOTING IS NOW OPEN FOR: ANNUALS It’s time for you, our readers, to decide which variety is picked as the best new introduction in 2015. We’ve expanded our Readers’ Choice program to include a wider variety of plants. Breeders have entered their best varieties by category and the winners will advance as finalists to face off to win the Readers’ Choice Award. Categories are Annuals, Perennials, Edibles and the Best of the Rest. Finalists will be announced in June and the Readers’ Choice winner will be announced July 13 at Greenhouse Grower’s prestigious Evening Of Excellence event at Cultivate’15. Which annual is the most promising introduction? Vote here now! Thanks to our 2015 Medal Of Excellence sponsors, Landmark Plastics and Stockosorb by Evonik. Readers’ Choice Voting Schedule: Annuals – May 22 to May 28 (closes at 12 a.m. EST) Perennials – May 29 to June 4 (closes at 12 a.m. EST) Edibles – […]

Read More
Salvia 'Ember's Wish'

March 11, 2015

Annual Salvias – Not Just Red Bedding Plants Anym…

Salvias are popular — and they need not all be the same. Here are a few you know well, and perhaps a few you do not. All are easy to grow and may be found through a broker or grower.

Read More

February 18, 2015

California Spring Trials Sneak Peek: New Annuals For 20…

If you're like us and you can't wait until the 2015 California Spring Trials to see some of the new genetics that will be hitting the market in 2016, never fear. We contacted the breeders who will be displaying their new varieties in California in April, and they gave us a sneak peek. Check out our slideshow to see some of the new annuals making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More

November 14, 2014

First Vegetatively Propagated All-America Selections (A…

All-America Selections (AAS) honors two vegetatively propagated impatiens with AAS winner status.

Read More

October 13, 2014

Growing Tips For Verbena

Rich Schoellhorn, product manager at Proven Winners, shares some tips for growing verbenas successfully.

Read More

October 13, 2014

Greenhouse Grower 2014 New Varieties Guide: Petunias [S…

Greenhouse Grower asked more than 40 breeders to send photos of new introductions they think are worth your attention. The result is the 2014 New Varieties Guide. See what petunias made the cut.

Read More

June 12, 2014

New Begonia Variety And Coleus Series, Plus Two Lobelia…

Terra Nova Nurseries introduces seven new varieties and one new series.

Read More

May 27, 2014

Two New Salvias Added To Southern Living Plant Collecti…

Two new salvia varieties are now available exclusively to growers from the Southern Living Plant Collection and Sunset Western Garden Collection.

Read More

May 9, 2014

New Petunias Making Their Debut In 2015

Take a look at the new petunia varieties that will be making their appearance in 2015.

Read More

April 23, 2014

Foliage Begonias May Be A Big 2015 Trend [Spring Trials…

A number of breeders debuted their rex begonia and begonia hybrid lines at 2014 Spring Trials.

Read More
Petunia 'Success Violet' from Benary

April 11, 2014

What’s New With Petunias For 2014? [Slideshow]

Breeders are rolling out great new petunia introductions for 2014. Take a look at the variety of petunias they have to offer.

Read More
Verbena 'Superbena Royale Whitecap' from Proven Winners

November 11, 2013

Three New Verbena Superbena Introductions From Proven W…

Three new varieties have joined the verbena Superbena line-up this year: 'Superbena Royale Plum Wine,' 'Superbena Royale Whitecap' and 'Superbena Violet Ice.'

Read More
Calibrachoa 'Mini Famous Double Blue' from Selecta

October 17, 2013

6 New Calibrachoa For 2013

Check out these lovely new introductions in calibrachoa.

Read More

October 10, 2013

Begonia ‘Silhouette Lemon Rose’ Doubles The Bloo…

Begonia ‘Silhouette Lemon Rose’ is a striking begonia hybrid with phenomenal basal and lateral branching. Plant sterility gives maximum continual flowering throughout the season with double the bloom number of a traditional non-stop begonia. Dark mahogany foliage with contrasting emerald green veining provides a dramatic contrast to the soft lemon yellow 1.5- to 2-inch diameter blooms that blush apple blossom pink in high light. This easy-care beauty is ideal for mixed pots and containers, hanging baskets or the summer border. For more information, visit PlantHaven.com

Read More
Petunia 'Flash Mob Bluerific' Burpee Home Gardens

October 7, 2013

18 New Petunias To Add For 2014

Tried and true, petunias are a garden staple. Here are some new introductions breeders are rolling out for your consideration in 2014.  

Read More
Verbena 'Hurricane Hot Pink' from Westflowers

October 7, 2013

New Verbena For 2014

Check out these eight new verbena varieties and consider them for your 2014 greenhouse production.  

Read More
Dahlia Dalaya Shari from Selecta

September 25, 2013

4 New Dahlias For Your 2014 Season

Looking for new dahlia varieties to incorporate in your crop mix? Here are 4 beauties your customers will love.  

Read More
'Wall Street' Coleus from Dummen/Red Fox

September 25, 2013

4 Colorful New Coleus For 2014

Gorgeous foliage makes these new introductions must-haves for next year.  

Read More