Surmounting Drought

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Surmounting Drought

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 show organizers say they were pleased attendance 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 with 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.

Sounding Off By State

A panel discussion represented 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 a 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. Barton also suggested engaging municipalities in the America In Bloom program may be a way to get local officials to value our industry and see plantings as essential versus nonessential.

The next day Greenhouse Grower facilitated an industry luncheon and panel discussion, “Seeking Clout In Times of Drought,” sponsored by Fafard. Moderated by UGA’s Dr. Allan Armitage and Fafard’s Dr. Hugh Poole, panelists included Thomas from UGA for Georgia, James Harwell of Alabama Nursery & Landscape Association (ALNLA) and Mark Peters of Piedmont Carolina Nursery & Landscaping representing North Carolina Green Industry Council (NCGIC).

Both ALNLA and NCGIC have conducted economic impact studies, which have shown the huge impact the green industry has on the economies of those states. “It’s opened more doors than anything,” Harwell says. ALNLA also has been able to transform an adversarial relationship with the Birmingham Water Works Board into a partnership to educate consumers about plantings and water use. Advertisements and yard signs communicate that once a week is enough to water turf and plants in the yard. A Young Water Ambassadors summer internship program educates young people about water-wise landscaping at local senior centers.

NCIG is following California’s lead in pursuing tiered water rate structures as a way to assess all water users equitably. The rates go up as consumption increases. The organization also received a $280,000 grant to produce print, television and radio ads and brochures to communicate water-wise gardening and landscaping practices.

Production Pointers

The Southeast Greenhouse Conference would not be complete without an extensive offering of seminars that help growers produce better crops. Three hands-on workshops were offered on container gardening, insect and mite identification and disease identification.

Other sessions included:
–Fuel-effcient, low-temperature crop production
–Plant growth regulator for herbaceous perennials
–Best new bedding plants
–Problem crops
–Profitable poinsettia production

On the marketing side, our own ranting and raving columnist Laurie Scullin led three hours of marketing mania in a workshop he put on with Brenda Vaughn from The John Henry Co. and Dr. Bridget Behe of Michigan State University. After reviewing some of the more successful marketing programs in the industry, attendees broke into groups to develop their own products and programs for a plain white piece of paper and an abstract plant.

The next Southeast Greenhosue Conference & Trade Show will be June 18-20. For more information, visit

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at

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