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
Soil Dosage Bunkers at Meyers Greenhouses feature

September 22, 2017

An Up-Close Look at Meyers Greenhouses’ Central Soil De…

Head Grower Aron Hoff was looking for a way to customize soil mixes on multiple planting lines in real time. The system he’s now using makes the process much simpler.

Read More
Hurricane Irma Damage

September 22, 2017

Hurricane Recovery Update: Aris Resumes Shipping, Assis…

Harvey and Irma wreaked havoc on the floriculture and nursery industries in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere. Here are the latest updates.

Read More
Armitage GWA Buffalo Tour 5

September 21, 2017

Tour of Buffalo Gardens Reveals Hidden Gems And Communi…

This past August, Allan Armitage joined the Association for Garden Communicators on a tour of Buffalo. It was a reminder that that we can make a difference in neighborhoods, in cities, and in people’s lives.

Read More
Quality in the Greenhouse

September 21, 2017

Two Head Growers and a Retail Live Goods Buyer Talk Bes…

Ultimately, the quality of the plants you grow will be responsible for the success of the consumer, and consumer success will ideally translate to repeat sales. That’s why quality must be a top priority for all growers, according to Brad Julian, a Live Goods Buyer for Lowe’s Home Improvement, and Head Growers Dennis Crum of Four Star Greenhouse and Joe Moore of Lucas Greenhouses.

Read More

September 21, 2017

Horticulture Is All About Connections

The beauty of our industry is that we are more than willing to reach out and help those around us. What connections can you make today to help your business, and what can you offer to help another grower?

Read More
SBI Rack Scanning feature

September 20, 2017

8 Questions To Ask, And Answer, Before You Invest in Ne…

Implementing new software in your greenhouse business may seem overwhelming at first, but doing your homework will pay off in the long run.

Read More

September 19, 2017

Horticulture Business Leaders Demand Resolution to Labo…

AmericanHort's Impact Washington event was an importantly timed mission of advocacy for the green industry, delivering messages to lawmakers on three of the most pressing issues – labor and the workforce, research and innovation, and tax reform.

Read More

September 19, 2017

Here’s Your Chance to Earn CEUs in Weed Management

The University of Florida is offering a new online training course covering weed management in the greenhouse. The course offers Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for growers in many states.

Read More
Boxwood Blight

September 19, 2017

Concerned About Boxwood Blight? Here Are Some Updated M…

AmericanHort’s Horticultural Research Institute has released an updated version of its boxwood blight Best Management Practices document.

Read More
Hydrangea mac. Fire Island (Monrovia Nursery)

September 19, 2017

Grower-Retailers Pick Their Favorites From Farwest 2017

Members of The Garden Center Group once again named their top selections in both live and hard goods for the Retailers’ Choice Awards at Farwest 2017.

Read More
Valoya Lights

September 18, 2017

3 Steps to Improving the Efficiency of Your LED Systems

Achieving the largest possible optimal light intensity area with the lowest possible number of lights is essential to making an investment in LEDs pay off.

Read More
Suntory Grandessa argyranthemum - feature

September 18, 2017

Breeders Open Availability for Unrooted Cuttings; Here&…

With new avenues for buying young plants for vegetative production, growers should have an easier time finding availability and receiving shipments of unrooted cuttings for the coming seasons.

Read More
Micandy Gardens Team

September 17, 2017

4 Ways Micandy Gardens Greenhouses Reaches Out to Mill…

Micandy leverages social media to get the word out about its products and spread the word about how flowers can make a difference in people’s lives.

Read More
MANTS

September 16, 2017

Registration for MANTS 2018 Now Open

MANTS, which takes place Jan. 10-12, 2018, in Baltimore, MD, brings together green industry professionals from around the world.

Read More
Proven Winners Potting Soil and Plant Food

September 15, 2017

Sun Gro Forms New Distribution Agreement with Proven Wi…

Sun Gro will distribute Proven Winners-branded potting soils and plant foods to independent garden centers.

Read More
Common Greenhouse Maintenance Problems GVZ Glasshouses

September 14, 2017

How to Deal With Common Greenhouse Maintenance Issues

The most common problems often come from a lack of cleanliness and faulty equipment. Here are a number of tips you can follow in each of these areas.

Read More
Ball, Tagawa Succulents Partnership

September 14, 2017

Ball Seed to Partner With Tagawa Greenhouses on New Suc…

The new program includes in-demand retail products that are popular with younger shoppers, allowing growers to easily build a comprehensive succulent program and stay on-trend in the marketplace.

Read More
GGS Cannabis Production

September 14, 2017

Griffin Workshop to Provide Education to New Cannabis P…

Griffin will be hosting a half-day educational workshop in Lancaster, PA, on Sept. 26, that will focus on crop protection and nutrition, as well as sanitation.

Read More