How to implement a green program

How to implement a green program

For greenhouse operations, starting a green program has clear benefits, but should be done mindfully.

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October 25, 2018
GIE Media Horticulture Group

According to Heidi Warner, the Eastern U.S. ornamental account manager at Nufarm, there’s more than one way to define a green program. For different growers and their varying goals, the word “green” means something different. 

“It's going to be a little different for different people as far as what their idea of a green program is going to be,” she says. “But the basic idea is to try to practice ‘safer’ measures or measures that are more environmentally friendly.”

Two definitions of green

According to Warner, there are two broad definitions of a green program. One is an organic strategy, where a greenhouse operation uses organic products and stops using conventional pesticides altogether. In this scenario, growers instead use beneficial insects and/or biological controls. The benefit to organic products, Warner says, is that growers are using a less-harmful product in certain cases. Growing organically can also be an effective marketing strategy.

“Right now, there is a push from the homeowners,” Warner says. ”They like the word organic and so growers may be able to actually get more value from their crop.”. 

The other option for growers is to use products that are more environmentally friendly or simply using fewer products altogether. According to Warner, this has the added benefit of lessening workers’ exposure to pesticides, be it from applying the product or the general presence of chemicals in the greenhouse. It also means using products that don’t have to be used as often or are made from softer chemistries – meaning that they are products aiming to recreate actions similar to ones happening in biological systems. 

“For example, there are products out there that'll give you three weeks of residual [coverage],” Warner says. “So, in my opinion, that product is a safer or a more ‘green’ product because you're not having to come in every three to five days and spray. You're able to spray once and get a longer residual. And then there are other products out there that you can use as a drench and that'll give you eight weeks of residual. So, if you're applying a pesticide once and it's going to last eight weeks, that's a huge benefit.”

How to implement a new strategy 

It is vital for growers to implement a new strategy gradually instead of all at once so as to not disrupt the growing process, Warner says. For organic programs, she says it’s important to know going in that when incorporating biologicals or beneficial insects, populations must be first built up before a greenhouse reaps the full benefits. 

“You've got to sustain your efforts until [the population] gets built up,” Warner says. “But you're not applying as often and that saves you on the price of the product. And it also saves you in labor.” 
Warner recommends starting with a trial area first for any new green program. This is particularly important if a grower is moving to a fully organic production plan, as this strategy represents a more drastic shift from traditional pesticide use. 

“You would want to take a small area and use it as a trial area first, so you get familiar with what the results are going to be and what the right control agent is for the pests or problems that you're experiencing in your greenhouse,” she says. “If you are going to use true chemistry - be sure you know exactly what pests you are dealing with, so you can pick the right product. And use different modes of action. If you're using the same product over and over again, you build up a resistance. Use at least three modes of action when using a fungicide or insecticide.”

Mindful implementation 

When considering a green program, Warner says the best place to start is with research. She says that before purchasing any product, it is best to reach out to an extension agent, a green program expert at Nufarm and/or university researchers who have studied the topic and/or trialed plants with green methods. According to Warner, this gives growers information and data to use in their decision-making process that otherwise could take a significant amount of time to compile and analyze. Nufarm is also developing charts that will help growers match their plants with the right product, she says.

“It's better to find the product that will be sure to do the best job so you don't have to apply it as often or just guess what to use,” she says.

Warner also says that it’s important to understand that it may take time to see the benefits in the plant growth. The benefits will come, but won’t be noticeable immediately. 

“It's a learning curve,” Warner says. “For folks that have been used to using certain pesticides over the years, it'll take them a while to get used to what works for them and what doesn't work for them when converting over to organic growing, using organic products or using [beneficial insects] or biologicals.” 

Photo: Adobe Stock