5 Ways Growers Can Be More Sustainable [Opinion]
Much has been written about how our industry affects the environment. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is focusing on the negative rather than the positive.
We’ve discussed here how growers can promote the responsible practices you already employ to illustrate how we in the original green industry are stewards of the land and the resources we use. But let’s take a closer look at some ways you can enhance your sustainability profile.
1. Water Management. Drought in California and the Southwest is all over the news (our cover included), and conserving water is important no matter where you are. Growers like Metrolina Greenhouses and Lucas Greenhouses are catching rainwater and storing, treating and recycling it in their greenhouses. By doing this, they are less dependent on wells and city water (though those are backups) and can pretty much be self-sustaining operations. Recently, Metrolina has invested in the DRAMMwater ozone system, as well, which injects dissolved oxygen into water and thus improves plant health and reduces need for fungicides and pesticides. Learn more by reading “Talking Shop: Metrolina’s Quest For Clean Water.”
Other ways to be water conscious include recent technology like Rapid Automated’s Water Logic system, an easy add-on to your hanging basket system that measures mass and waters based on need. Sensor technology from Decagon Devices and Damatex allows growers to set the parameters for automated watering, which not only saves time and water, but also reduces risk of disease because plants are getting the water they need, when they need it, instead of being over- or under-watered.
2. Media. The peat-producing regions of Canada are seeing a shortage, due to the past winter’s extremely cold weather. As a result, many growers are looking for alternatives, or increasing the balance of amendments to their media mixes. Choices include pine bark, rice hulls, coconut coir, perlite, vermiculite, biochar and even cork, a renewable resource that supposedly provides more oxygen to plant roots. Products like Stockosorb, a synthetic polymer, provide water and soil management by releasing water and nutrients to plants and soil on demand.
3. Integrated Pest Management (IPM). If you’re not practicing IPM, you should be. Practice responsible use of chemicals by constantly scouting for pests and spraying only those crops that need treatment, rather than the whole crop. Use good watering techniques to reduce disease, and invest in predatory insects to work together with pesticides, or in place of them. New crop protection products on the market, like BASF’s Sultan miticide, have been developed to allow growers to safely use them in rotation with beneficial and predatory insects.
Though it may seem intimidating at first, there is a wealth of knowledge available from growers and researchers across the country on using biocontrols and beneficial insects. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others who have been successful with these practices. And if you’re afraid of using beneficials because of the zero tolerance policy for any kind of bug at retail, they can help you get around that, as well.
4. Lighting. Advances in lighting technology are allowing growers to save energy while controlling more than growth of their plants. Recent research has centered on using LEDs to alter the color, taste, smell, postharvest life and other characteristics of plants, as well as for increasing pesticide efficacy. Diffuse light can help provide benefits such as improved crop yield, higher leaf count, lower crop temperature and shorter crop time. And Lloyd Traven at Peace Tree Farm is testing different types of lighting to extend the life of his beneficial insect population.
5. Energy. Whether by investing in more efficient boilers and heating systems, replacing your coverings, hanging curtains in your greenhouse, replacing a structure or pursuing renewable energy sources, there are so many ways to conserve energy on your farm.
Many of these improvements don’t have to be all on your own dime, either. Grants are available to help you pursue energy efficiency through the Rural Energy For America Program and your local utility company and state government. Fundable projects often include lighting, structural improvement, energy curtains, installing high-efficiency unit heaters and condensing boilers, changing heat distribution systems (hot air to hydronic), renewable energy projects, conservation measures such as rainwater catchment systems or retention ponds and recycling.
Before you know it, you’ll be deep in the throes of production. While you’re still preparing your operation for spring and investing in new ideas, consider employing some of these improvements to save money and resources.