Sustainability Saves Money
Research shows consumers are willing to pay more for sustainably grown crops, and the latest greenhouse equipment and technological advancements can help growers reduce their environmental footprint.

by Michael Kovalycsik, National Sales & Marketing Director, Delta T Solutions

 

Increasing concern about how plants are grown means many consumers are willing to pay more for plants – both edible and ornamental – that are grown sustainably
Increasing concern about how plants are grown means many consumers are willing to pay more for plants – both edible and ornamental – that are grown sustainably.

Sustainability can be tough to define, but for growers, the concept is actually quite simple. “Sustainably grown plants meet the needs of both the grower and the consumer without using excessive inputs, and not compromising future producers or users,” says Dr. Lois Berg Stack, University of Maine Extension Specialist in Ornamental Horticulture and Professor of Sustainable Agriculture.

In 2008, Stack, along with colleague Stephanie Burnett and a graduate student, surveyed consumers to find out if they were interested in organically grown, sustainably grown and locally grown plants. One of the objectives was to find out if consumers would be willing to pay a premium for both ornamental and edible plants grown in these ways. “We found that people were more interested in organically and sustainably grown plants than in locally grown plants, but they valued all three types of production enough that they would pay 15% more for food plants (vegetables, herbs) and 10% more for ornamental plants, compared to what they would pay for conventionally grown plants,” Stack says.

Overall, the study showed that there is increasing concern about how plants – both ornamental and edible – are grown. Stack shares four ideas growers can consider to start growing crops more sustainably:

  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Consider investing in creative greenhouse installations such as solar panels, heat curtains and energy-efficient heating systems.
  • Reduce inputs. Convert to more efficient irrigation systems, such as flood floors; implement IPM to identify problems early when they can be more easily resolved; match fertilizer delivery to crop growth stage; manage temperatures to be optimal for plant growth but not excessive.
  • Integrate your operation. Select crops that consumers want that you can produce with lower inputs; design production systems that are more efficient in terms of energy and labor; concentrate on marketing efforts that will ensure crops are sold at peak crop quality and peak consumer interest.
  • Pay close attention to crop scheduling. In Maine, for example, many small-scale growers buy in plugs and liners at a lower price than they could produce them locally, allowing them to delay heating their greenhouse until March 1, yet still schedule the crop for spring sales.

Stack adds that greenhouse structures and equipment are constantly evolving. Efficient heating systems, improved glazing materials, heat curtains and lower-wall insulation, for example, are all part of new greenhouse builds. But, growers with older greenhouses can also use these methods to make their existing structures more efficient. For more information on greenhouse upgrades that improve efficiency, click here.

Delta T Solutions has designed and manufactured customized heating solutions for greenhouse growers using hydronic (hot water radiant) heat for 30 years. To learn more about cost-effective in-ground bench and perimeter heating systems; high-efficiency boiler systems; and other systems that improve crop health, contact Delta T at 800-552-5058 or email mkovalycsik@deltatsolutions.com.

 

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