What Are Growers Doing About Sustainability?

What Are Growers Doing About Sustainability?

Consumer and market interest in green, environmentally friendly, organic, local and sustainable products has encouraged much discussion and debate about sustainable production practices and certification in the commercial floriculture industry. Many ask: “What is sustainable production and why should I become certified?”

Depending on who you ask, you will get a variety of opinions and answers. Broadly defined, the goal of sustainable production is to reduce environmental degradation; maintain, enhance agricultural productivity and profitability; promote economic viability; conserve resources and energy; and maintain stable communities and quality of life.

As we all know, the floriculture industry is not alone when it comes to selling ornamental plants. It is part of the collective $148 billion green industry that includes nursery and greenhouse producers and landscape service providers, as well as wholesale and retail distributors. Therefore, it is important for us to determine what the entire green industry is doing in terms of sustainability.

The Questionnaire

In order to determine this, we developed a questionnaire that was distributed to about 1,000 greenhouse and nursery operations across the United States. The objectives of the survey were to create a benchmark of the current and future sustainable production practices of greenhouse and nursery producers, their future plans and to determine if differences exist based on attitudes and perceived obstacles by income, grower type and business classification. 

By examining producer differences, marketers and suppliers may have a better idea which growers would be more likely to adopt the alternative methods and which impediments dissuade businesses to not adopt sustainable production practices or certification.

Grower & Operation Demographics

Florida (16.8 percent) had the highest percentage of survey returns followed by California (10.4 percent), Pennsylvania (8.8 percent), North Carolina (8.9 percent), Texas (5.6 percent) and New York (5.6 percent), thus showing appropriate representation from key green industry production areas.

Survey respondents’ average total square footage and covered production area were 515,822 and 120,536 square feet, respectively. The average uncovered production area was 474,674 square feet.

Fewer than half (46.6 percent) of respondents reported gross income less than or equal to $99,999, with the second largest category (14.4 percent) reported as gross sales between $100,000 and $249,999 showing a large portion of green industry businesses were small based on income.

The majority of respondents classified themselves as growing shrubs and woody ornamentals (36.8 percent) followed by container perennials (14.8 percent) and bedding plants (10.9 percent). Based on income reported, the largest percentage of sales by customer group was to cash-and-carry customers (34.3 percent), followed by landscape service providers (18.1 percent). Survey respondents were equally classified as retailers (22.4 percent), wholesalers (18.4 percent), growers (22.4 percent) or some combination (28.8 percent).

Current & Future Sustainable Production Practices

We asked respondents about their views of sustainability, practices used in their businesses and practices they wanted to implement in the future. Most survey respondents stated the two most common definitions of sustainability were “minimal or no negative impact on the environment,” as well as “going green” as it relates to conservation of water, land and resources.

Respondents were asked to check a list of sustainable production practices that were already being implemented in their operations. The most widely used practices included: recycling plastic pots (69.6 percent), use of controlled-release fertilizers (66.4 percent), composting plant waste (64.0 percent), conservation/efficiency of energy (55.2 percent), use of biological pest controls (44.0 percent), recycling plastic greenhouse coverings/glazings (30.4 percent) and water recycling and chemical runoff protection (25.4 percent).

Survey respondents were also asked which practices their companies planned to implement in one to three years. These included (in order of frequency): biodegradable plant containers (12.0 percent), irrigation water conservation measures (12.0 percent), wind as an alternative/supplemental energy source (9.6 percent) and sun as an alternative/supplemental energy source (9.6 percent). All of the respondents stated their operation was not certified sustainable. However, one in four (25.8 percent) were interested in becoming certified.

Green Industry Opinions About Sustainability

We asked respondents to state how they felt about sustainability using a 5-point Likert scale with 1 equaling “strongly disagree” and 5 equaling “strongly agree.” Overall, respondents had a neutral opinion about most statements but had the highest agreement rating (3.9) regarding “people in my company value sustainable horticulture practices.” Respondents had the lowest rating (2.6) regarding “my state has strict water regulations that affect my company’s production practices.”

We also asked respondents to indicate the biggest obstacles that would affect the adoption of sustainable production practices. On a scale of 1 equaling “small obstacle” to 10 equaling “biggest obstacle,” respondents rated other factors such as “unavailability of biodegradable pots” and the “economy” as the biggest obstacles (8.0), followed by “inadequate financing to change to sustainable production practices” (7.0) and “little incentive to growers to convert to sustainable practices” (6.8). The smallest obstacle was based on “customers not valuing sustainability” (4.6).

Green Industry Attitudes By Percentage Crop Grown

We asked respondents to identify the percentage of crops grown in their operations, which was later categorized into four categories based on a 70-percent classification or higher into: nursery only, greenhouse only and greenhouse/nursery. We then separated their attitudes and biggest obstacles toward sustainability based on each group.

Grower groups varied on where they placed the highest importance on attitudes about sustainability based on a 1 (1 equaling strongly disagree) to 5 (5 equaling strongly agree) scale. For example, the greenhouse-only group placed the highest importance rating (3.8) on “the amount of energy used by our company is a concern to the business” and “people in my company value sustainability.”

Based on a scale of 1 equaling “small obstacle” to 10 equaling “biggest obstacle,” all groups stated that “inadequate cash flow to change to more sustainable production practices” and “little incentive to convert via tax credits or federal grants to sustainability” were the two biggest obstacles in switching to sustainable practices. The greenhouse-only group rated these two items the highest as obstacles as shown by the mean ratings for cash flow (7.0) and little incentive to convert (8.8).

Although respondents agree on the biggest obstacles facing conversion to sustainable practices, two obstacles significantly varied by group: “Insufficient knowledge of potential financial effects of sustainable practices on the business” was a higher obstacle for the greenhouse-only group (6.8) than the greenhouse/nursery group (5.9). The greenhouse/nursery group (5.2) thought “some sustainable production practices were not compatible with existing systems of production.” Thus, making it an obstacle was a medium concern compared to the greenhouse-only group (1.5), which thought it was of minimal concern.

Green Industry Business Classification

Finally, growers were asked to classify themselves as retailers, wholesalers, growers or combined. Four categories were created based on their percentage allocation of 70 percent or higher into retailers only, wholesaler only, growers only and combined. Attitudes about “the amount of energy used by our company is a concern” were different for retailers (3.2/5.0) and growers (4.0/5.0), with growers having the highest concern about energy. Wholesalers saw the issue of customer sustainability–”our customers value sustainable practices”–as a bigger obstacle than retailers (6.3/10.0), whereas the retailer group stated it was a small obstacle (3.2/10.0).

Our results show operation size and customer type may influence an operation’s motivation for engaging in sustainable activities now and in the future. Past Purdue research shows that smaller operations in floriculture were more willing to adopt sustainable practices, but size alone was not the only predictor. Positive attitudes toward sustainability, as well as the grower’s ease of implementation and perceived level of production risk, also played a role in adoption.

Operations within the green industry have different concerns that may affect their perceived value of risk to implement sustainable production practices. Each segment of the industry will have different issues that will affect their perceived risk and ease of implementation for sustainability.

Interestingly, none of the green industry respondents in this survey were sustainably certified, but at least one quarter (25.8 percent) was interested in certification sometime in the future. The lack of certified firms could be due to the size of the operations surveyed because past research shows large greenhouse growers have more incentive to become certified sustainable. In a 2008 survey, 38 percent of floriculture producers were interested in certification, with 60 percent and 21 percent having heard of VeriFlora and MPS, respectively.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “What Are Growers Doing About Sustainability?

  1. Sustainability is nothing more than the latest marketing scam. It will hopefully fade away when the next green fad shows up.

More From Plant Culture...
Oso Easy Lemon Zest rose_featured

August 4, 2015

Oso Easy Lemon Zest Rose Honored With Award Of Excellence

The American Rose Society (ARS) announced at the 2015 National Conference that Proven Winners received the Award of Excellence for Oso Easy Lemon Zest rose. To receive the Award of Excellence, a rose must prove itself in six different no-spray trial locations across the U.S. This is the second Proven Winners rose to win this prestigious award; Oso Happy Petit Pink rose received the Award of Excellence in 2012. “We are thrilled to receive this award from ARS for Oso Easy Lemon Zest, as its one of our favorite roses and a top seller,” says Tim Wood, product development, Spring Meadow Nursery. “A healthy-growing, self-cleaning rose that does not fade to white has been on a lot of people’s wish list, and this award confirms that this is a very special rose.” The Oso Easy Lemon Zest rose was developed by Chris Warner, the highly acclaimed rose breeder from Shropshire, England. […]

Read More
Heating Roundup Feature Image

August 1, 2015

5 New Heating Options For The Greenhouse

Five heating systems manufacturers share their latest and greatest products. Tubing And Aluminum Heat Pipes (BioTherm) From Megatube and MicroClimate tubing to DuoFin and StarFin aluminum heat pipe, BioTherm is dedicated to providing heat solutions that can withstand the toughest greenhouse environments. The MegaTube and MicroClimate tubing options are easy to install and ideal for bench or floor heating. The tubing has a conductive heating surface that allows for maximum root-zone heating. The DuoFin and StarFin aluminum pipe options are great for perimeter heating and melting snow trapped in the greenhouse gutter. It can also be useful for bench heating. Both pipe options provide gentle, radiant heat for plants and don’t require welding. TrueLeaf.net Infinite Energy 2 Condensing Boiler (Delta T Solutions) With up to 98 percent efficiency, the IE2 condensing boiler boasts a stainless steel heat exchanger with larger waterways to ensure maximum heat transfer. The product’s design ensures flexibility while […]

Read More
Basil_Persian-AAS2015_620x329

July 31, 2015

All-America Selections Promotes Garden-Fresh Cooking

All-America Selections (AAS) has stepped forward with another first when promoting AAS Winners, this time in the form of cooking videos using vegetables/edibles that have performed extremely well in the AAS Trials. These days, a love of gardening is directly related to a passion for cooking. Tying the two together is a natural when marketing joys of cooking with fresh vegetables from the garden and farm market. After 82 years of conducting trials where only the best performers are declared AAS Winners, the organization now has more than 325 individual varieties that have been “Tested Nationally & Proven Locally.” It is some of these many varieties that culinary storyteller, entertainer and horticulture industry veteran Jonathan Bardzik will use in a series of five videos demonstrating cooking techniques with AAS Winning herbs and vegetables. “I am excited to partner with All-America Selections to show people across the country that AAS Winners perform […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Mike McGroarty, owner of Mike’s Backyard Nursery

July 29, 2015

Backyard Success: Mike McGroarty Educates Aspiring Grow…

Mike’s Backyard Nursery sits on a long, narrow, 5-acre property located in Perry, Ohio. There, customers can find a variety of flowering shrubs available, all in 2-quart pots, and all for sale for $5.97 each. Owner Mike McGroarty, a lifelong resident of Perry, says the town has a lot of plant nurseries, including 100 wholesale growers within a 10-mile radius of his house. That doesn’t discourage McGroarty, because he knows that while there are a lot of nurseries in his area, no one else is doing what he is doing. McGroarty has learned about plants — and marketing them to his audience — through decades of experience. He has never hesitated to pass along his knowledge to other growers looking to start their own backyard operations, and has created an entire program to educate aspiring growers. McGroarty Likes To Practice What He Preaches McGroarty’s operation serves as the laboratory for […]

Read More
cannabis, marijuana plant

June 27, 2015

Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabi…

As most growers know well, the federal government regulates all insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and other commercial chemicals used on agricultural crops. Therein lies the problem with use of chemicals on cannabis crops – so far, the feds want nothing to do with legalized marijuana. According to “Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabis,” a June 17 article on the National Public Radio (NPR) network by Agribusiness Reporter Luke Runyon, the lack of regulated chemicals for cannabis has left growers to experiment on their own. “In the absence of any direction the subject of pesticide use on the crop has just devolved to whatever people think is working or they think is appropriate,” said Colorado State University Entomologist Whitney Cranshaw in the NPR report. “Sometimes they’ve used some things that are appropriate, sometimes unsafe.” Denver officials held tens of thousands of marijuana plants earlier this year due to safety concerns, but […]

Read More
Great-spangledFritillary

June 16, 2015

The Butterfly Effect: Insect’s Wings Key To Azalea Poll…

A researcher from North Carolina State University (NC State) has found that in the case of the flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), all pollinators are not created equal. In fact, due to the flower’s unique reproductive structure, butterflies — and specifically, their wings — are the key to pollination. The flame azalea is commonly found in the Appalachian Mountains, ranging from as far north as New York to Georgia in the south. Like most azaleas, the flowers are large, and have an unusual structure: both the anther (male) and stigma (female) parts are very elongated and separated from one another. NC State biologist Mary Jane Epps was interested in how the azalea’s flower structure affected its pollination. “In order for a plant to reproduce, a pollinator — usually an insect — has to spread the pollen from the anther to the stigma,” Epps says. “In the case of the flame azalea, […]

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

March 17, 2015

4 Key Pollinator Research Projects To Be Funded By Hort…

The Horticultural Research Institute will grant $125,000 in financial support for four key projects as part of the Horticultural Industry Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative. The Initiative has three primary goals. First, to convene a task force to develop a bee and pollinator stewardship program, including creation of best management practices for plant production. Second, to identify and fund research that will help answer key science questions and fill gaps needed to design and refine the stewardship program. Third, to seek to positively position the horticultural community and its customers by collaborating with other compatible groups interested in augmenting pollinator habitat and protection.

Read More

March 11, 2015

Pollinator Initiative Promotes Bee-Friendly Talking Poi…

AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists are working tirelessly with the ornamental industry's Pollinator Stewardship Initiative on a number of new projects.

Read More

February 11, 2015

Infusion Technology Boosts Seed Performance, Study Sugg…

Seven-year-old wheat seed germination can increase by as much as 83 percent, according to a Vital Force Technology Study that looks at the effects of energy infusion technology on plant vitality.

Read More

February 3, 2015

American Floral Endowment Accepting Research Pre-Propos…

If you are pursuing a floriculture research project, now is the time to apply for funding through the American Floral Endowment. Research pre-proposal applications for 2015-2016 funding are due to AFE by June 1, 2015.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Marijuana’s Trajectory And Ascent To Horticultural Cr…

Marijuana growing is poised for change as growers and researchers focus on improving production practices.

Read More

December 9, 2014

Greenhouse Production: Two Years Of Basics & Beyond…

Greenhouse Grower's Basics & Beyond articles cover some of the latest news and research going on in greenhouse production. Here are article links for the last two years.

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

November 24, 2014

GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile &…

The social garden app GrowIt! takes the Gold Winner award at the design100 2014 Mobile & App Design Awards.

Read More

November 10, 2014

The Perennial Farm Joins HGTV HOME Plant Collection

The Perennial Farm joins the HGTV HOME Plant Collection growers' network for 2015.

Read More
AmericanHort

November 4, 2014

AmericanHort Publishes Revised American Standard For Nu…

AmericanHort announces the revised American Standard for Nursery Stock (ANSI Z60.1) is now available for industry use. The Standard reflects the consensus of the industry regarding how nursery stock — living plants other than annuals — should be specified and sold within the trade.

Read More

September 26, 2014

Master The Art Of Watering

Watering is elemental to healthy plants, but one of the hardest concepts for new employees to master in the greenhouse. Recommend these tips to start them off right.

Read More

September 16, 2014

Ball FloraPlant’s Las Limas Facility Provides Gro…

Ball FloraPlant’s Las Limas farm in Esteli, Nicaragua, is one year away from full production, but sales and quality from the two-year-old facility are right on track.

Read More
Erysimum 'Cheers' from Darwin Perennials

September 15, 2014

Darwin Perennials Takes Production Offshore In Bogota, …

With its recent purchase of a farm in Colombia, Darwin Perennials is ready to amp up supply of its perennial genetics, to provide growers with tried-and-true varieties and comprehensive production specifications.

Read More

July 23, 2014

Plan Now To Prevent Bract Edge Burn On Poinsettias

Reduce fertilizer and water, and allow your poinsettias to develop slowly during the final four weeks of production to avoid bract edge burn.

Read More

July 11, 2014

Growing Your Crops Above Their Base Temperature

Lowering temperature set points in the greenhouse may help you combat rising heating costs.

Read More

May 1, 2014

Growers Report Nutritional Problems On Geraniums

In recent weeks, several growers have contacted Michigan State University Specialists about leaf discoloration on geraniums, especially the purpling of lower leaves.

Read More