Solving pest problems

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At Riverview Flower Farms, Gregg Meyer helped introduce new solutions to eliminate pest problems like chilli thrips, mealybugs and spider mites.

April 22, 2020

In the Tampa/ St. Petersburg area, Riverview Flower Farms grows annuals and perennials for Home Depot.
Photo courtesy of Riverview Flower Farms

Riverview Flower Farms grows annuals and perennials exclusively for Home Depot at three different locations in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. With seven acres of greenhouse space in Seffner, Florida, and 30 and 18 acres in Riverview and Wimauma, Florida, respectively, the business grows year-round to fulfill its orders for Home Depot, according to senior manager and head grower Gregg Meyer.

“The advantage of that is that when we produce, we don’t have to change labels or change anything else, and they take everything that we have,” Meyer says. He adds that, ultimately, every product comes through the Riverview location in some capacity and that the operations uses a belt system where everyone works in teams to correctly sort and organize plants. “It’s all done very quickly,” he says.

Meyer, who joined Riverview about five years ago, has had a long career in horticulture. Before starting his current position, he worked at Grower Direct Farms in Connecticut under Leonard Van Wingerden, moving on to become the operations manager at Costa Farms’ North Carolina location. He then moved on to work at Dan and Jerry’s Greenhouse in Minnesota. At these previous stops, he used various SePRO products, including plant growth regulators, to help combat insect pest and disease issues and has since successfully brought his methods to Riverview.

“We’ve taken a lot of the insect issues out of our growing space,” Meyer says. “It’s about taking these products that have worked over my 40 years in the space and bringing them and updating what we were doing here.”

Gregg Meyer, Riverview Flower Farms' senior manager and head grower
Photo courtesy of Riverview Flower Farms

Game-changing solutions

One product Meyer uses is Topflor, a PGR that he calls a “game changer.” The product can be used as an utilizing spray, drench and in pre-plant soak applications, according to SePRO's label. According to the label, it can be used in commercial nurseries, greenhousese and shadehouses.

“It does not delay the buds or the flowering of the plant, so we can use the other products first, but as the buds come up and we switch to the Topflor, it doesn’t delay anything,” he says, noting that this is vital for Riverview when it is working to meet shipping deadlines for Home Depot.

Another product Meyer has had success with is Obtego, a fungicide and plant symbiont. He says Riverview uses it to primarily prevent disease, but has also found that it has helped the operation’s succulents develop roots faster, speeding up the growing process by about two weeks on average.

“It has the benefits of rooting and now we’re dipping our succulents, sticking them and, on certain crops, drenching with Obtego,” Meyer says. “We use it once per crop cycle and always at the beginning of the cycle. [With] certain crops, like our succulents, we have petri dishes with the product in it and the workers will dip the bottom in and then place it into the tray. Other cuttings that come in unrooted, we stick them on the line and at the end of the day, or perhaps the very next morning, we’ll do a drench with Obtego.” He adds that the product is also more affordable than some of the other similar products available to growers.

“It’s all about the timing,” Meyer says. “We see roots in two weeks now coming down to the side of the plugs. The disease pressure is to a minimum. It’s everything we need.”

A key problem SePRO has helped Riverview solve is chilli thrips.
Photo courtesy of Riverview Flower Farms

Handling chilli thrips

According to Meyer, one of the SePRO products Riverview uses and has had the most success with is Rycar. This product, according to SePRO’s website, works via “contact or ingestion to stop insects from feeding within two hours after application before starvation sets in during the next 48 hours.” At Riverview, it has been used for chilli thrips control, the main pest issue at the site. According to Meyer, chilli thrips are the most common issue for Riverview due to the business being near various vegetable farms in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.

“It gives us a different mode of action than we’ve had before,” Meyer says. “And we rotate in between crops and have come to have a very small insect population.”

To apply it, Meyer says the growing team at Riverview mixes the products, loads it into their sprayers, and sets up three-person teams — all wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) — that spray the entire farm all at once. He says the procedure is done once a week with an insect growth regulator mixed in from time-to-time. That, Meyer says, has helped take the chilli thrips population down to a controllable level.

“Since I’ve been here and started using more of SePRO’s products, we have brought the pest population down to a very, very manageable level,” he says. “We used to have issues with mealybugs, which we don’t anymore, spider mites, which we don’t anymore and not as much [chilli] thrips anymore.”

To handle Riverview’s mealybug and spider-mite problem, Meyer says that spraying once a week in a similar fashion as spraying for chilli thrips did the trick.

When dealing with pests in the Florida heat, Meyer says, it’s important to get them under control and deal with any issues right away, particularly in the hottest parts of the summer. In the winter, he is sometimes able to skip a spraying during certain weeks, and he sometimes uses Hachi-Hachi SC, an insecticide, to provide broad spectrum coverage with the added benefit of mildew suppression.

“It gets really big if you let it get out of control,” he says. “You have to stay on top of it all the time just because of the weather.”