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
Petal It Forward 2017

October 17, 2017

Petal It Forward Event a Hit for Both Industry Members …

Check out how this year’s Petal It Forward event brought smiling faces to people across the country, including one personal story.

Read More

October 17, 2017

14 New Shrubs With Fringe Benefits

What’s popular with shrubs? Consumers want varieties that will give them more return on their investment, in terms of long-lasting blooms and multi-season appeal that lasts from spring until fall and at times stretches into the winter months. Here are 14 new varieties of shrubs and sub-shrubs to consider for your product mix in 2018.

Read More
NatureFresh Chili Dog

October 17, 2017

NatureFresh Farms Uses Pest-Detecting Dog to Sniff out …

Knowing that many worker dogs are trained to recognize and discover scents associated with drugs or bombs, the company figured it was possible to train a dog to recognize pepper weevil.

Read More
Researchers Study Rose Varieties

October 17, 2017

Rose Rosette Update: Research into Detection and Manage…

Halfway through a five-year, $4.6 million grant to combat rose rosette disease in the U.S., a national research team is encouraged by the amount of information learned, but admits having a way to go before finding how to overcome the deadly problem.

Read More
Seville Production Line

October 17, 2017

Production Technology Conference Tour Attendees See Tec…

AmericanHort’s Production Technology Conference in Dallas, TX, kicked off on Monday, Oct. 10, with a tour of three local production facilities.

Read More
Botrytis Symptoms on Leaves

October 17, 2017

How One Grower is Battling Botrytis with a New Biologic…

CropKing in Lodi, OH, recently began using a new beneficial fungus in its fight against Botrytis in its greenhouse tomatoes. So far, the results have been promising.

Read More
TTA PackPlanter S-2

October 16, 2017

TTA Introduces New Transplanter Suited for Smaller Grow…

The PackPlanter S has 16 grippers and a capacity of 10,000 to 20,000 plugs per hour in a small frame.

Read More
Karen Reardon, RISE

October 15, 2017

Karen Reardon of RISE Honored by CropLife America

CropLife America presented Reardon with its highest staff award for her successful effort to defend against the ban of pesticide use on private property in Maryland.

Read More

October 14, 2017

PlantPeddler Hosting Poinsettia Variety Day in December

The event will feature side-by-side comparisons of more than 100 commercial and pre-released varieties from seven breeders.

Read More
Whitefly adult

October 13, 2017

Researchers Continue to Keep Close Tabs on Whitefly

Dr. Lance Osborne of the University of Florida and Dr. Cindy McKenzie of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service are evaluating insecticide efficacy and the impact of product rotations on whitefly biotype populations.

Read More
GVZ Glasshouses

October 12, 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
Mark Schneid

October 11, 2017

Bayer’s New Head of Environmental Science Has Roots in …

Mark Schneid says one of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the constantly evolving customer — particularly among millennials.

Read More
TreetownUSA

October 10, 2017

Houston-Based TreeTown USA Acquires Village Nurseries

With the addition of the new West Coast division, which will continue to operate under its trade name of Village Nurseries, TreeTown USA will now encompass 16 farm locations throughout California, Texas, and Florida, with more than 4,000 acres in production.

Read More

October 10, 2017

Sharpen Your Skills in Cost Management and Profitabilit…

The University of Florida is offering a new online course on costing and profitability. The course will take growers through the process of how to accurately evaluate cost of production, labor efficiency, pricing, and equipment investment decisions.

Read More

October 10, 2017

Coastal Callas Is a Dream Fulfilled for Founder Adrian …

Adrian Espinoza and his family founded Rancho Espinoza Inc. and Coastal Callas in California seven years ago with a mission and purpose to provide consistent quality and reliable supply of calla lilies to the marketplace.

Read More
Phillips, Ball Seed Partnership

October 10, 2017

Philips Lighting, Ball Seed Partner on Distribution

Ball Seed will now offer Philips GreenPower LED lighting as a complement to its liners, plugs, unrooted cuttings, seed, and prefinished products.

Read More
1B Filling trays for Transplanting Feature

October 9, 2017

Maximize Your Labor Efficiency When Sticking Plant Cut…

Transplanting unrooted cuttings into trays is one of the most labor-intensive activities in greenhouse production.

Read More
AgriNomix

October 8, 2017

Greenhouse Equipment Supplier AgriNomix is Expanding

In an effort to keep up with demand from growers venturing into automation, the company is adding almost 20,000 square feet of warehouses and offices.

Read More