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
Penn State University Trial Day

August 26, 2016

How Greenhouse Growers Can Broaden Their Horizons

Allan Armitage says you can learn new ideas to help your business when you get out to visit plant trials and other growers.

Read More
Albert Grimm, Jefferys Greenhouses

August 25, 2016

7 Ways Albert Grimm Strives To Be An Effective Leader

Grimm, Greenhouse Grower's 2016 Head Grower Of The Year, tries to live by the "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People” from author Stephen R. Covey.

Read More
Tidal Creek Growers

August 25, 2016

Maryland-Based SunMed Growers Nabs Cannabis License

The company was one of 15 licensees selected by the commission out of a pool of 145 grower applicants to receive one of the license pre-approvals.

Read More
GrowSpan Light Deprivation Greenhouse

August 25, 2016

New Light Deprivation Greenhouses Help With Light Manag…

The GrowSpan light deprivation greenhouse from Growers Supply is outfitted with a blackout system that provides growers with control over the light cycle.

Read More
Albert Grimm GOY feature

August 25, 2016

Up Close And Personal With Head Grower Of The Year Albe…

According to Grimm, Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Head Grower Of The Year, the key to being a successful grower is educating and inspiring yourself, your staff, your customers, and the next generation of growers.

Read More
To offer consumers an attractive crop, Local Appetite uses high tunnels to grow cherry tomatoes

August 24, 2016

New Food Safety Compliance Resource Available For Green…

The FSMA Wizard from Registrar Corp makes it easy for food producers, including greenhouse vegetable growers, to determine their possible requirements under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Read More
Cannabis Structure

August 23, 2016

5 Factors To Consider In Your Cannabis Structure

Along with the size and specs of your greenhouse, it's also important to focus on ventilation, light deprivation, benching, irrigation, and odor control.

Read More
Penn State Plant Bud

August 23, 2016

AmericanHort Is Helping Plant Importers Adjust To New R…

A report from Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort says the government is implementing a streamlined system for imports, in which all required data will be submitted electronically through a single window.

Read More

August 23, 2016

Kick Spring Sales Up A Notch With 18 New Plant Introduc…

It’s time to look forward to the spring season and what plants will get your business off to the right start. These 18 new cultivars have all the traits of good breeding — uniform habits, bold colors, showy blooms, good vigor, and excellent branching.

Read More
Bees And Pesticides

August 23, 2016

Studies Offer Conflicting Views On Neonic Effect On Bee…

How much exposure to neonicotinoids do bees need before their health becomes affected? That’s the question two research teams look to answer.

Read More

August 23, 2016

Gardens Alive! Parent Company Buys Zelenka Farms

  Zelenka Farms, which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, says LM Farms, which owns Gardens Alive!, has purchased the company and all of its assets. BFN Operations LLC and its affiliated entities, d/b/a Zelenka Farms, operated one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the U.S. Its products include shrubs, trees, perennials, roses, and groundcovers. The owners of Gardens Alive! have successfully purchased several other companies from bankruptcy and are experienced nursery managers. Niles Kinerk, Chairman of LM Farms, stated that “the opportunity to purchase Zelenka Farms assets and to continue the turnaround that is well underway is exactly the kind of opportunity that we look for. We understand the efforts of the management team led by Eric Ek and others have been successful, and we will support the management team in the coming months and years.” Zelenka Farms operates its six facilities across the key growing regions in the […]

Read More
Chrysanthemum Aphid

August 22, 2016

How To ID And Manage Black Aphids In Chrysanthemums

Growers in Michigan have recently been reporting a higher presence of this pest. Here are some tips on how to control it.

Read More
LuxFlora - feature

August 22, 2016

Check Out Luxflora’s International Adventures In Europe

A new, women-led professional organization provides its members the opportunity to gain insight, develop ideas, and build connections on its annual international trip.

Read More
Cannabis Crop Protection

August 22, 2016

Cannabis Group Stays Focused On Consistent Standards Fo…

The Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS), is an independent, third-party, not-for-profit organization, is in the process of developing cannabis-specific standards for everything from cultivation and extraction to packaging and retail.

Read More

August 22, 2016

Syngenta

Growers have new broad-spectrum fungicide options with new Segovis and Mural, as well as a new systemic insecticide with Mainspring GNL.

Read More

August 22, 2016

PL Light Systems

With the introduction of PL Light System’s new HortiLED light systems, growers no longer have to choose between quality and energy savings. Three different systems, designed for both standard and multilayer application, deliver exceptional uniformity and efficiency.

Read More

August 22, 2016

Emerald Coast Growers

Emerald Coast Growers has answers to the top trends in gardening with Chick Charms Sempervivums, two beautiful and sterile Miscanthus varieties, and the pollinator-friendly Bee You Monarda series.

Read More

August 22, 2016

PanAmerican Seed

The gorgeous large flowers of Megawatt begonias offer high-voltage color in the landscape, pots or baskets. Easily grown from seed, Megawatts come in four colors and are accompanied by eye-catching free retail kits including posters and bench cards.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]