2014 Seeley Summit: Thinking Differently About Water

After a two-year hiatus, the Seeley Summit (formerly Seeley Conference) returned this year after re-branding and moving from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., to Chicago Il.

The theme of this year’s Seeley Summit was “Water: Horticulture’s Next Game Changer.” The summit provided an opportunity for industry members to learn and develop strategies to tackle the issue of water scarcity.

Speakers at the event challenged industry professionals to think differently about water. Globally, water demand is predicted to outstrip availability by 40 percent in 2030. Changes in distribution, use patterns and price will make conventional use of water unsustainable in the long run.

Implications For Society And Agriculture

Shortages of water have occurred throughout history, but what has changed is consumer attitude. Water has been seen as a commodity that can be taken for granted — but that can no longer be the case. The real challenge is how to manage this change.

Currently, 70 percent of water is used by farmers, and global water usage grew at twice the population rate over the last 100 years. Going forward, growers will be faced with doing more with less as population and demand continue to increase.

Water is thought of as an inalienable right, but drought will only become more common in the U.S., and two-thirds of the world’s population could experience a water shortage by 2030. To keep up, the rules will have to change. Growers won’t be able to accept that it takes 100 lbs. of water to grow 1 lb. of a crop, because the resources are just not there.

Today’s consumers have a desire to conserve. Small is becoming the new big as home and car sizes shrink. Among the millennial generation, there is a demand for more transparency from business operations.

A grower’s prominence in the market will be determined by what he knows. Growers should be prepared in the next five years to know their water footprint and have that information ready for consumers.

Water Scarcity In The U.S.

Featured speakers at the Seeley Summit came from Texas, Florida, Colorado and California to offer their perspectives on how water scarcity affects their regions.

As of 2012, just 4 percent of Texans identified water supply as the state’s most important problem; however, Texas is currently in the seventh year of a very serious drought. The worst inflow year in history was 2011, and the first four months of 2014 were worse than 2011.

As the state’s population grows, there is an increasing competition between rural and urban demand for water. The state uses 270 billion gallons per week, and while agriculture use is the largest use of water, urban use is the second largest. The Colorado River already has a long history of legal action surrounding it, and state and federal dollars have been spent to control and divert waters to agricultural and urban areas.

One solution has been to implement water use restrictions. Thirty-one percent of the residential water use is in the landscape. That percentage goes up to 60 percent in the summer. The state’s response has been to restrict use to a certain day of the week. Some cities, like Austin, have implemented permanent regulations.

In California, there is more water available in the north, but much of the state’s population is in the southern half. That, plus a lack of reservoir capacity, means that drought is a year-to-year issue for the state. One of the speakers, from Paramount Farms, the state’s largest agricultural water-user, presented the company’s experience addressing water scarcity by attempting to secure long-term water availability.

Surface water projects like the State Water Project and Center Valley Project were expected to yield 4.2 million acre-feet of water per year and 2.1 million acre-feet per year, respectively; however, the projects were never completed. Yields have dropped because of political decisions that have reallocated water for environmental use instead.

Part of the reason for reduced exports has been the health of the Delta, in particular certain native fish species. Water was reallocated without any compensation to water contract holders.

California is currently estimated to have an annual overdraft of groundwater of 2.2 million acre-feet. This is due to reduced surface water availability, increased agricultural economy and increased urbanization. This could result in mandatory sustainable groundwater levels within 10 to 20 years, which will lead to a reduction in irrigated acreage in the state.

Florida instituted water management districts in 1961, which had authority over all water in the state. The districts could grant the right to use water if it was reasonable, beneficial and in the public interest.

In the meantime, the state has experienced huge growth, particularly along the coasts. Development in those areas has created problems for the state, due to a lack of water access. The solution has been to restrict water use and educate the public about wasteful use. Water shortages date back to 1973, with the first written water plan in 1984. When the first written plan went into effect, some of the water restrictions were arbitrary and not based on science. Those restrictions had a profound impact from the beginning. Residents stopped planting and retail sales declined 50 percent.

Now, restrictions are science-based, and monitored by local government. Members of the industry in Florida have stayed engaged in a number of ways, such as by establishing relationships with policymakers, helping to write water restrictions, identifying gaps in research, following university-endorsed science and providing funding opportunities.

Managing Change

Since the 1950s, consumers have used plants for fashion versus function. The growth of the middle class led to the development of suburbs, where individuals found a new use for plants: décor. Baby Boomers have grown up in the current marketplace, and have always seen plants as fashion.

In recent years, a return to urban areas, and the implementation of green roofs, rain gardens, branded flowers and plants and outdoor living spaces has led to a need for the integration of fashion and function. Those in the industry can help consumers by formulizing plant selection and purchasing. Some ways to do that include:

  • Clearly identify the functions and requirements of a plant
  • Identify the unit size, as well as the necessary inputs and add-ons
  • Merchandise plants for dimensions of space or purpose

One of the speakers, a large grower in Colorado, discussed his state’s response to a severe drought in 2002. The state had previously had water use restrictions in place since 1977, which allowed residents to water every third day. That policy continued until two years before the next drought hit in 2002. At that point, there was growing concern about water availability in the future, and gardening among consumers was starting to become seen as politically incorrect.

To get ahead of this, multiple industry organizations came together to come up with best management practices and develop a message for the public. It was an opportunity to establish Xeriscape principles, which were:

  • Plan and design practical turf areas
  • Use appropriate plants and zone by watering needs
  • Improve the soil when appropriate, and consider using mulch
  • Irrigate efficiently
  • Maintain the landscape properly.

To support the concept of zoning by watering needs, the X-rated program was implemented. Plants rated X need one inch of water per week, XX need 1/2-inch per week and XXX needed 1/2-inch every other week. The program was promoted by independent garden centers, and served a tool to educate the public.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Latest Stories
Adult Aphidoletes in web - Feature

May 27, 2017

How to Overcome Biocontrol Challenges by Thinking Outsi…

With a little creative thinking and adjustments to your strategy, you can overcome your greenhouse biocontrol challenges.

Read More
Greenhouse Plant Nutrition

May 26, 2017

University of Florida Course Helps You Improve Greenhou…

The University of Florida (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is offering an Advanced Nutrient Management course through its online greenhouse training program.

Read More
Boxcar Central Monitoring Farm Environmental Conditions

May 26, 2017

New Software System From Boxcar Central Takes Growing D…

Boxcar Central’s data-hub platform allows growers to log mass amounts of data and use it to compile information on crop quality.

Read More
Tyler Beasley and Allan Armitage

May 25, 2017

Allan Armitage: Two Great Examples of Young People Movi…

In his latest column, Allan Armitage says perhaps we should, as an industry, extend our hands to our youngest members. We might be pleasantly surprised what happens.

Read More
Stepables Tough-Ten Tags

May 25, 2017

Jury Awards Damages in Stepables Photo Copyright Case, …

According to a press release from Under A Foot Plant, Co,, a jury awarded Under A Foot Plant (which owns the Stepables product line) $900,000 in actual damages for The Perennial Farm’s use of Stepables’ copyrighted photographs.

Read More

May 25, 2017

AmericanHort Hosting Advocacy Visit to Capitol Hill in …

AmericanHort has announced it will be hosting Impact Washington, an inaugural advocacy and policy summit, in Washington, DC, Sept. 12-13.

Read More

May 25, 2017

Genetically Modified Petunia Update: Breeders Take Swif…

Now that the initial shock of genetically engineered petunias is wearing off, breeders continue testing for tainted stock and look toward the future. On the consumer side, uncertainties remain.  

Read More
Bell Nursery Panorama Photo

May 24, 2017

Sustainability in the Greenhouse is More Than Just Abou…

Bell Nursery has taken several steps over the years to make our operation more sustainable from a technological standpoint. Here’s how we are doing it.

Read More
2016 Perennial Plant Of The Year Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

May 24, 2017

What to Expect at the Perennial Plant Symposium in Denv…

The Perennial Plant Association’s annual Symposium takes place July 23-28 in Denver, CO, and features 28 educational sessions, six local tours, and a trade show.

Read More
Irrigation boom at Cavicchio Greenhouses

May 23, 2017

The Road to Sustainability at Cavicchio Greenhouses

Incremental changes to reduce its carbon footprint have paid off in greater efficiency and public recognition for this Massachusetts greenhouse grower.

Read More

May 23, 2017

USDA-APHIS Bulletin on Unauthorized Distribution of Gen…

On May 2, 2017, USDA-APHIS was informed that an orange petunia variety was potentially genetically engineered and had been imported and moved interstate without required authorization by APHIS. This led to testing of numerous petunia varieties, which confirmed this particular variety and several others are genetically engineered, and meet the regulatory definition of a regulated article under APHIS regulations. APHIS continues to work with the industry to ensure unauthorized GE petunias are not distributed in the United States.

Read More

May 23, 2017

6 Simple Ways to Acquire New Customers

Even the most successful brands need new customers if they want to grow their business, or stay profitable.

Read More
Dr. P. Allen Hammer, Dummen Orange

May 22, 2017

New Dümmen Orange Scholarship Honors Legacy of Dr. P. A…

“Our industry’s future depends on attracting and supporting bright, hard-working students into horticulture programs across North America, and the support of Dümmen Orange will aid that effort,” Hammer says.

Read More
Petunia F1 African Sunset from American Takii

May 22, 2017

Genetically Modified Petunia Update: Question and Answe…

AmericanHort’s key role interfacing with the USDA on the recall of genetically modified petunias has helped the horticulture industry rapidly address the problem. Senior Vice President Craig Regelbrugge talks about recent updates, the impact on the industry, and where it goes from here.

Read More
Tyler Beasley

May 21, 2017

Final California Spring Trials Thoughts From Allan Armi…

“I went home from California Spring Trials realizing that the students enrolled in our Greenhouse Management program at Spokane Community College need to experience the trials. Attending opened many doors of opportunity for me.”

Read More
Cannabis Seedling

May 20, 2017

Biocontrols: A Practical Option for Cannabis

With limited options for chemical pest control, cannabis growers are incorporating biocontrols into their integrated pest management programs. More education will cement this solution as a viable option in this emerging market.

Read More
The Greenhouse and Hoophouse growers handbook

May 19, 2017

New Book Highlights the Benefits of Growing Vegetables …

Andrew Mefferd’s new book, “The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook: Organic Vegetable Production Using Protected Culture,” covers the many benefits of protected culture food production, from being first to market, to more effective pest control.

Read More
MedMen New Facility

May 18, 2017

MedMen Cannabis Production Facility in Nevada Nearly Co…

Construction is expected to be completed this summer on the facility, which will include a 26,000-square-foot greenhouse and a 19,000-square-foot extraction and production wing.

Read More