Greater efficiency of inputs leads to increased savings for nursery operations across the Willamette Valley

Using your inputs efficiently
April 30, 2018

Eshraghi Nursery has signs marking each block of plants with the fertilizer rates and time last fertilized, so the info is available at a glance. Photo by Curt Kipp

Although labor is the largest expense for many nurseries, it isn’t the only expense. Inputs such as water, fertilizer, growing media and even artificial light also impose significant costs for the grower.

Entire books could be written on saving water and electricity in a nursery. The Oregon Association of Nurseries and the Oregon Environmental Council worked in partnership to create the Climate Friendly Nurseries Project to help growers find many of these efficiencies. You can find the information at www.climatefriendlynurseries.org.

In terms of other input efficiencies, companies like Marion Ag Services in St. Paul, Oregon and lighting providers like Fred C. Gloeckner & Company Inc in Clackamas, Oregon are a boost to business.

Controlled release fertilizers

Plants have a constant need for sustenance — but nurseries don’t have time to give them constant attention.

The development of controlled release fertilizers means longer feeding intervals than ever before. The fertilizer itself does the work of slowly releasing the nutrients on a predictable schedule. This saves on the input cost and it also saves on labor.

Marion Ag Services Inc. offers one such product line. Known as Polyon, the polymer-coated product is available in different formulations that can be custom blended based on grower needs.

“It’s different than a slow release fertilizer,” said Hayden Hockett, a researcher and registrar with Marion Ag. “It’s controlled release. They can get very predictable release rates of nutrients over a long time. With some fertilizers, your nutrients can easily leak out of the bottom of the container in a heavy rain. But because this is a controlled release fertilizer not affected by rain, you’re going to get the most out of that fertilizer.”

Hockett said that in some cases, the fertilizer only has to be applied once per year. The consistent release of nutrients can help prevent pests and diseases that are associated with boom-and-bust plant growth, he said.

Such growers as Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas and Eshraghi Nurseries, among many others, use the extended release fertilizers.

Terry Menninger, plant manager and plant health manager of Eshraghi Nurseries, said that by incorporating the fertilizer into the soils, they get greater incorporation of the extended release prills into the soil. They end up using more fertilizer initially, but less in the long run due to the greater longevity of the prills. It reduces the need to top dress the plants later on, he said.

LED lights in greenhouse
LED lights shine over plants at Iwasaki Bros. Inc.
Photo courtesy of Gloeckner & Company
Being LED to the light

Another input that’s able to crank up the processes for some nurseries is lighting, specifically light emitting diodes (LEDs). Nurseries have long used high pressure sodium lights and LEDs, but advances in LED technology, coupled with incentives from entities like the Energy Trust of Oregon, have made LEDs an attractive option for some growers.

Iwasaki Bros. converted large portions of its operations to Philips LEDs, installed by Fred C. Gloeckner & Company Inc., about two years ago and has already seen notable improvements. According to Kathleen Baughman, operations manager for Iwasaki, rooting time has been reduced on some plants by a third to a half; cuttings that once took six weeks to be ready to plant now take three.

Ben Verhoeven, president and general manager of Peoria Gardens, recently said he installed LEDs in about a quarter of his propagation area. He’s hoping to see improved growing conditions and increased energy efficiency — and, as a result, financial savings — in the very near future.

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