Greenhouse Growers Look at Challenges

11/17/2012 7:00 AM
By Chris Kramer Western Pa. Correspondent

WEXFORD, Pa. — Whether they work indoors or outdoors, there are always new challenges for professional growers.

And those challenges come from all aspects of business, according to greenhouse industry professionals at the annual fall meeting of western Pennsylvania greenhouse growers.

During a group discussion led by Washington County Extension agent Lee Stivers, many of the challenges of changing times in the greenhouse were brought up, both for discussion and for suggestions for future Extension workshops.

Many retail growers commented on the increasing age of the gardening customer base and the search for ways to get young people more involved in gardening.

One grower told the group that when he does a gardening class he’s now the youngest person there and, as it ages, the customer base is dwindling.

Growers and agents noted that ready-to-go products — both living and hard goods — seem to be the way to go, noting that nobody wants to mix pesticides.

Allegheny County Extension agent Heather Mikulas also discussed using social media as a marketing tool for retail growers, and Stivers talked about the latest rules and ideas for handling pesticides on a retail level.

Erie County Extension agent Ruth Benner presented a primer on implementing a biological control program in greenhouses using beneficial bugs that will limit harmful pests in the greenhouse.

This also lends itself to being attractive to a younger, more environmentally aware customer.

Benner asked who in attendance was using the methodology, and no one responded that they were. Extension agents and allied trade professionals in attendance noted that biological controls are widespread in Europe and are gaining a foothold in Canada.

“That’s how trends usually occur,” said Scott Sterling of Eason Horticultural Resources. “It happens in Europe and then Canada and then here. So it’s going to happen.”

Benner said that when she presents such programs to groups in areas where there are more Mennonite and Amish growers, the response is usually the opposite.

Grower Eric Gumto also asked his industry colleagues if anyone was considering dropping the growing of Impatiens wallerana due to increased downy mildew and crop failure at the consumer level.

The crop is probably the most popular shade-loving bedding plant grown in the Northeast.

Downy mildew infection has been spreading from south to north in the U.S. over the past several years. There is no known cure.

Most growers with excellent sanitation practices, good airflow and good stock rarely see downy mildew in their crops at the greenhouse level.

However, when the plants are purchased and planted at homes where the soil may already be infected with downy mildew spores, the plants fail to thrive and ultimately die.

The fear is that consumers will quit planting impatiens — or quit planting altogether — when they fail to be successful.

As a mildew resistant alternative, Jim Faust of Clemson University offered a program on SunPatiens, a hybrid breed of impatiens that is propagated by cutting — and is thus more expensive — than the seed-grown wallerana varieties.

SunPatiens and similar varieties commonly known as New Guinea Impatiens tend to be unaffected by the disease.

Growers agreed that the downy mildew is just another issue they have to deal with and that next year there will likely be something else.

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