Battlefield Farms, No. 31 on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Grower list, is recipient of Greenhouse Grower’s Excellence In Innovation award and one of three finalists for 2016 Operation Of The Year. It is a state-of-the art facility located in Rapidan, VA, highly focused on sustainability and quality crop production and recipient of . Current owners Anthony and Bobby van Hoven grew up in the business, working with their father Gerritt van Hoven, who started the operation in 1990, growing annuals.
Annuals are the heart and soul of Battlefield Farms, accounting for 70% of sales. The company provides them for large retailers like Lowe’s Home Improvement and multiple grocery chains. A perennial liner and bareroot program accounts for another 25% of sales. The operation also works with greenhouses that are limited on space, storing their perennial plugs in coolers for vernalizing so they can get a second turn out of their space.
As Battlefield Farms expanded from its original 6 acres to 1,960,200 square feet of environmentally controlled space, the need grew to become more efficient while still providing the optimal environment for growing plants. In 2010, advised by their head grower Marco Verdel, Battlefield started looking into an MPS-ABC Certification program as a way to determine what level of efficiency the company was operating at and its impact on the environment, and to provide sustainability information to its customers.
MPS (More Profitable Sustainability) is an environmental accountability program that scores growers based on their reported use of crop protection agents, water and recycling, energy consumption, and fertilizers and pesticides. Battlefield Farms started off with a C grade from MPS and worked its way up to an A, which it has maintained for the last year or so, and now stands one point away from the top ranking of an A+. Anthony says initially it was a big adjustment and a lot of work to record everything the operation did, but it was well worth the effort. The procedure helped the company streamline production processes and become more efficient and organized. As a result, the company has saved money and moved away from using harmful chemicals, and the operation is now neonicotinoid-free.
“Working through MPS helped us maximize everything we do in our operations and reach secondary goals of leading the way in being ‘greener’ and getting rid of everything that leaves a harsh footprint on the environment,” Anthony says.
Battlefield Farms has not only led the way in educating its customers about sustainability, it has shared what it has learned with the industry at large. The company has also partnered with multiple universities and organizations to teach prospective and established growers about the green industry’s environmental impact.
Through its research and development department, Battlefield has implemented several technological advances, including the introduction of biological controls as an alternative to synthetic chemical usage, and the use of light emitting diodes (LEDs) for improved rooting and acclimation rates with perennials. Specifically, with tissue culture, it has achieved a 32% decrease in losses with acclimating heuchera liners. This advance is the latest addition, resulting from a continued focus on embracing new technology and innovation.
Battlefield’s research and development department plays a key role in helping the company become more efficient as a business and adapt to new technologies. One new development that has come out of the department is Battlefield’s nematode program. The company has started rearing its own nematodes for its biocontrol program and has found that extracting them directly from the host is sometimes more effective than typical packaged products.
“We determined that nematodes, applied through our irrigation systems, are one of the easiest biologicals to use when compared to other live predators because they are concentrated in liquid,” Anthony says. “We focused on four different species of nematodes to aid in control of fungus gnat, shore fly, and western flower thrips all during the year at different temperatures. We are to the point, within the next year, where our section growers will be able to decanter their liquid nematode concentrate directly from temperature controlled bubbled vats. Also, the idea of having a constant stream of nematodes through our entire irrigation system has been discussed as a true sustainable preventative IPM buffer. With greater understanding of these organisms, new possibilities continue to surface.”
“The initial investment in new technology hurts, as most growers know,” Anthony says. “What we are trying to do is provide for our customers in the future. You have to be willing to make the initial investment that it takes to install these things before you start seeing the benefits from them if you want to be around five to 10 years from now.”
Of course, van Hoven says none of the many things Battlefield Farms has accomplished would be possible without a dedicated team working together to keep the company in a progressive state. Its employees make that happen.
“Receiving the sustainability award and being nominated as a finalist for Operation of the Year is a 100% testament to the team we have here and how hard they work,” he says. “God has blessed our company with the opportunities we have, and we are trying to make the most of them. It is great to have your peers recognize that you are working hard and trying to make a difference.”