Smooth Transition For Southeast

With drought shutting down markets in much of the Southeast last year, many were concerned attendance also would be down at the Southeast Greenhouse Conference. But last week, show organizers were pleased to see the numbers did keep pace with last year.

Held in Greenville, S.C., at the Carolina First Center June 19-21, the Southeast Greenhouse Conference is a true regional show, with most of the attendees driving in for the event. Seven state associations and supporting land-grant universities organize the event, representing Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. This was the first year the show was managed by OFA, which also manages the Short Course in Columbus, Ohio, America In Bloom and Ohio Produce Growers & Marketers Association.

One of the conference’s traditions is recognizing an individual who has made a major contribution to the floriculture industry by presenting the Horticulture Initiative Award. This year’s honoree is Anna Ball, president and CEO of Ball Horticultural Co., who also was the keynote speaker, presenting her evolving take on industry trends from a global perspective from one of the world’s leading breeders and distributors in flowering plants.

The conference also presents the Doug Hull Service Award to recognize a dedicated volunteer. This year’s recipient is Loraine Sutton of M&L Greenhouse in Shelbyville, Tenn., who is currently serving as the conference’s secretary on the board of directors.

Dealing With Drought

This topic has been so important at both the state and municipal level, that a full day of seminars was devoted to “What You Need to Know Right Now to Survive the Drought.”
The program was facilitated by Dr. Paul Thomas, Extension agent and professor at the University of Georgia (UGA), who has seen more than 40 percent of the state’s wholesale growers close their doors in the last year due to watering bans.

The seminars began with guidance on how to weather any type of disaster that could shut down your business, man-made or natural. While representatives of Nationwide Agribusiness walked attendees through putting together an Emergency Action Plan, UGA ag economist Forrest Stegelin emphasized the importance of cash flow and the need to restructure or scale back your business during recessionary times.

On the water use side, UGA’s Marc van Iersel demonstrated ways growers can implement more efficient irrigation systems, store more water for future use and be more in tune with the amount of irrigation plants require by using moisture sensors. If legislators view growers as water wasters, the burden is on growers to prove they are not, he says.

On the varieties side, UGA’s Bodie Pennisi asked growers and retailers to reconsider their crop mix and promote plants that will perform well with less watering. Varieties came under fire in Georgia when the state legislature adopted a very limited list of annuals and perennials that could be grown and sold in the state as “drought tolerant” species. Our industry supports a best management practices approach and putting the right plant in the right place. Any type of list would be too limiting and not based on research that truly defines drought tolerance.

The day concluded with a panel discussion representing key Southeastern states and the green industry’s experiences working with water districts, municipalities and state government in each. Panelists included Dave Self of Wyld West Annuals in Florida, Robert Milks of Van Wingerden International in North Carolina, Carole Barton of Barton’s Greenhouse & Nursery in Alabama, UGA’s Mathew Chapel representing Georgia Green Industry Association and Chris Butts of Georgia Urban Ag Council. The take-away message was how important it is for the green industry to have unified voice at the state level and for state associations to invest in lobbying and promotion. Florida Nursery Growers & Landscape Association has a strong track record, which has led to the industry participating in solutions at the state and water district levels.

The next day Greenhouse Grower facilitated an industry luncheon and panel discussion, “Seeking Clout In Times of Drought,” sponsored by Fafard. For the highlights of this event, click here.

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