Pre-formulated Growing Media: A Trend To Watch

More growers are moving to mega bales to save on media costs. One caveat: machinery is required to break the bales.

Developments in growing media may not be as exciting as, say, those in technology, but growing media plays a significant role in crop production. It is an important purchase for greenhouse operators, and as a result of changing market demands, there are some significant trends for growing media that you should know. Here are the most important ones:

Super-Size Me

One of the most important trends has been the change to larger-format packaging. Many large and medium-sized growers see the need for labor-saving machinery, reduced worker injuries and faster processing methods. Large, mega-bale packaging reduces handling of materials, storage requirements, labor and plastic waste, which translates to an overall reduction of costs. Whether it is a loose-fill package or compressed bales, growers are moving to larger-size packaging.

For loose fill needs, 60 to 80 cu. ft. bulk bags have replaced the majority of the 2.8 cu. ft. loose-fill bags, except for germination mixes, where growers apply a smaller volume of growing medium. For general-purpose mixes, requests for large 110 to 135 cu. ft. mega bales are on the rise. While there is an investment required for machinery to process and break mega bales, the benefits far outweigh the costs. Small packaging requires workers to pick up, move, handle and clean-up the media. There are more labor costs and a greater potential for lifting injuries.

With a mega-bale breaker, one forklift operator can load the equipment, process the mega bale and clean-up. There is less plastic waste with a mega-bale than with the equivalent volume of smaller, 3.8 cu. ft. bales. Another bonus is that most mega-bale breakers process and fluff growing media faster and more uniformly. Uniform fluffing of growing medium results in consistent yields, consistent filling of pots and trays and uniform physical properties in the media from one container to the next.

Holds The Sticks, Please

The introduction of automated equipment for potting and transplanting has presented the need for cleaner growing media. The majority of growing media is made with a base of sphagnum peat moss, which contains sticks in its natural state. These sticks are actually the roots of plants that were once present in the peat bog.

The challenge for peat producers is to screen and remove these roots while maintaining the integrity of the fiber in the sphagnum peat moss.

Automated transplant and tray/pot filling machinery today are less tolerant of sticks. Recent advancements have allowed growing media manufacturers to produce cleaner fibrous growing media for automated machines and other equipment such as Ellepots.

New Menu Items

With new plant varieties and changing growing techniques, growers are looking for ways to improve crop production and reduce costs. This may mean a modification to growing medium formulation in order to meet a specific growing need or reducing certain ingredients to lessen costs. Most growing media manufacturers offer custom-blended growing media to address these special requests.

Keep in mind that reducing ingredients changes the physical characteristics of the growing media and often produces different results. Making custom-blended mixes can be more expensive since special ingredients may need to be sourced. Blending may also require additional labor.

Before considering a custom blend, consult with your growing media representative, as manufacturers have introduced enhanced growing media formulations with ingredients to improve plant production, save labor and make the grower’s job easier. Providing new solutions for specific growing situations is one of the more popular trends.

The Main Course

Sphagnum peat moss and peat/bark have been the mainstays as base components for all commercial growing media in the U.S. and Canada since their introduction over 40 years ago. In the last few years, we have seen the introduction of coconut coir, rice hulls, whole tree, wood fiber … the list goes on. Most recent trends have involved refining of some of these ingredients to produce desired results.

For example, at Premier Tech Horticulture, we recently introduced a high-porosity mix that contains a specific type of chunk coir that provides better air porosity and improves water mobility of the growing medium. This is important for long-term potted crops, such as poinsettia, phalaenopsis orchid, tuberous begonia, etc. Chunk coir also resists settling and compaction and does not fracture like perlite in potting machines. For this application, chunk coir enhances and improves the physical properties of the growing medium. Wood fiber is another material that shows promise. It is hydrophilic (quickly takes water), readily available, can be easily compressed and decompressed and is lightweight and fibrous in structure. To be sure of all the benefits, however, more research is needed.

Adding Bioadditives

There are many proven bioadditives on the market today that can be incorporated into growing media. Bioadditives fall into two general categories: biofungicides and biostimulants. Biofungicides are preventative tools that suppress root disease and reduce the use of chemical fungicide drenches. Biostimulants enhance plant growth and help the plant tolerate nutritional and water stress (i.e. mycorrhizal fungi).

Biological additives are useful additions to growing media that work well with integrated pest management programs and are acknowledged by growers to improve plant production. With many different types of bioadditives available, it is important to know a specific bioadditive’s intended use to be sure it meets your needs. While there is additional cost associated with incorporating bioadditives, the benefits of healthier plants, decreased mortality and improved plant quality and crop uniformity far outweigh the costs.

Going Organic

With fewer flowering plants grown on speculation, growers are looking for new markets to maximize the space in their greenhouses and improve the bottom line. In the last few years we have seen an increased demand for organic fruits and vegetables at the supermarket. Because of this, some traditional growers have switched hats to produce organic greens, herbs, greenhouse vegetables and transplants.

This switch presented challenges for growing media manufacturers because ingredients like chemical wetting agents and water-soluble fertilizers offer proven performance and superior results compared to their organic counterparts. The challenge for media manufacturers has been to develop organic growing media products that work as well as or better than traditional growing media. Growing media manufacturers have responded and now offer organic certified or OMRI-listed growing media products that provide good results for professionals and consumers.

Recipe Changes

In the past, it may have made dollars and sense to blend your own growing media. In the last year or so, though, the trend has been for medium- and large-sized greenhouse operations to move towards pre-formulated packaged media. When you calculate the costs of the equipment, raw materials, labor, depreciation costs, product consistency, risk factor for errors and other costs, buying a pre-formulated growing media is often a better choice.

Market demands for large-format packaging, improved flexibility from manufacturers and enhanced technical support has driven this change to pre-formulated media. This transition affords greenhouse operators more time to concentrate on priorities other than blending growing media.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Pre-formulated Growing Media: A Trend To Watch

  1. Troy I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Trends in media. It isn't sexy, but your article should stir up some interest with those that are looking to cut production costs and improve the bottom line. Keep up the good work!-John

Latest Stories
University of Georgia Trial Gardens

June 30, 2016

First-Ever Academy Of Crop Production Offers Snapshot O…

Hosted by the Georgia Green Industry Association and the University of Georgia Department of Horticulture, the three-day conference covered everything from unmanned aerial vehicles to remote-sensing greenhouse control systems.

Read More
SunPatiens Sakata Medal of Excellence Feature

June 29, 2016

SunPatiens Earns The 2016 Medal Of Excellence In Market…

With its reputation for excellent garden performance from spring to frost, and as a problem-solver for Impatiens Downy Mildew, SunPatiens has become a “hero plant” that helps gardeners succeed.

Read More
Kelly Norris - feature

June 28, 2016

Kelly Norris: Three Variety Trends That Caught My Eye T…

My reflections on promising new plants, the realities of market penetration, and adding value along the supply chain.

Read More

June 28, 2016

10 Things You Need To Do Before And During Cultivate’16

From pre-planning to on-site networking and education, here are 10 things to consider before you depart for Cultivate’16.

Read More

June 28, 2016

How “Brexit” Will Affect The Horticulture Industry

The news this week of Great Britain’s departure from the European Union has sent shockwaves through many industries, including horticulture. Here’s a look at the potential effects of “Brexit” across the horticulture and floriculture industries.

Read More
iPad In Garden Center

June 27, 2016

Inspiring Summer Customers Without A Word Being Said

Now is the time of year to sell your customers what they like, rather than what they need. According to industry consultant Ian Baldwin, one way to do this is to use silent selling techniques and devices that help validate a purchase.

Read More
Oconomowoc

June 27, 2016

Fire Destroys Greenhouses At Oconomowoc Landscape Suppl…

The fire not only consumed the Wisconsin garden retailer's structures, but also major equipment like dump trucks. In all, the owners estimate $1.2 million in damage occurred.

Read More
Robert Conrad, Ball Seed Technology Research Manager

June 27, 2016

Ball Premier Lab Wins Medal Of Excellence Award For Its…

Over the past 30 years, the Ball Premier Lab has set the standard for high-quality seed in the industry, earning it Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Medal Of Excellence for Industry Achievement, for its dedication to advancing seed and helping growers improve their margins.

Read More
Greenhouse Whitefly

June 26, 2016

Michigan State University Offers Tips On Whitefly Manag…

Whiteflies are making headlines in Florida, but they are found across the U.S. Michigan State experts say it’s important to know how to manage each type of whitefly.

Read More
Schaefer Exhaust Fan

June 26, 2016

What’s New In Greenhouse Cooling

Cooling and ventilation companies, as well as structures suppliers, are working to help growers manage efficiencies. Here are some of their latest innovations.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

June 25, 2016

Three Types Of Plant Consumers To Watch

There are three emerging groups of plant consumers that you should be targeting for plant sales in the future, according to Allan Armitage.

Read More
North Creek Nurseries lower trials

June 24, 2016

North Creek Nurseries Is A Finalist For 2016 Operation …

North Creek Nurseries in Landenberg, PA, is one of three finalists for Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation Of The Year award and winner of the Excellence In Sustainable Production award for 2016.

Read More
Cal Poly Logo

June 24, 2016

Cal Poly Ag College Hosting Alumni Reception At Cultiva…

Alumni and friends of The Cal Poly College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences are invited to a reception that will be held Sunday, July 10.

Read More
Stocking spring plants at Petitti Garden Center FEATURE

June 23, 2016

How Growers Can Help Retailers Sell More In Spring

Fresh from a busy spring season, retailers share their wish list of things growers can do to make spring generate even more sales.

Read More
Houwelings Tomatoes

June 23, 2016

Houweling’s Tomatoes Has A New Corporate Head Grower

Arie van der Giessen, who has led the horticultural operations for many successful regional and national greenhouse operators in North America, will start his new role in September.

Read More
Vic Frey, Kurt Weiss Greenhouses Feature

June 23, 2016

Vic Frey Named A Finalist For 2016 Head Grower Of The Y…

Vic Frey, a finalist for the 2016 Head Grower of the Year and recipient of the 2016 Excellence In Production award, was always willing to trial and experiment with the latest technology. He loved the constant change in this industry, and turned every opportunity into a teaching moment.

Read More

June 21, 2016

Sign Up For The First-Ever Flower Run At Cultivate’16

When you pack your bags for Cultivate’16 in Columbus, OH, July 9-12, don’t forget your running shoes! There are still three weeks left to train for the first annual Luxflora Flower Run, which will kick off the start of Cultivate’16 on Sunday morning, July 10. The Flower Run celebrates Luxflora‘s mission to develop a visionary, influential floriculture network in which women leaders can create, inspire, and flourish. The 5k event is an opportunity for all floriculture professionals to come together to network, build relationships, and to have some healthy fun. Running is not required – this event is walker-friendly, as well. If you opt to be an observer rather than run/walk, then join your friends at the finish line to help shower the participants with flowers. Register yourself or your company’s team today, to join in on the fun. Free Flower Run tshirts will be available to participants, while supplies […]

Read More
BASF Orkestra Intrinsic

June 21, 2016

New Mode Of Action From BASF Offers Deeper Disease Cont…

When it comes to disease control, you need all the help you can get. BASF recently hosted growers, Extension personnel, and trade media to present its newest fungicide with two active ingredients, offering dual modes of action.

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