Wednesday, October 31, 2018

2018 PPA includes inside look at Amazon

This past July, the Perennial Plant Symposium was held in the Raleigh, N.C., area for the first time since 1997. During the event, which took place July 30 through Aug. 3, both established professionals and the next generation were recognized, Amazon’s lead horticulturist presented information about the retail giant’s plant-oriented space in downtown Seattle, and attendees toured several prominent local growers and landscape operations.

Amazon believes in the benefits of plants

2018’s Perennial Plant Symposium was a homecoming of sorts for Ron Gagliardo. Before he moved into his current position as Amazon’s senior manager in horticultural services — and Amazon’s first horticulturist — in 2014, he worked for Tony Avent, a local PPA committee member, at Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh.
Primarily, Gagliardo works on The Spheres, the online retail giant’s take on an urban office combined with biophilic design, which means designing spaces that play to humans innate desire to interact with other life forms. He and other members of the Amazon horticulture team sourced plants from botanical gardens, private gardens and universities across the globe. The Spheres are in the heart of downtown Seattle and are accessible to the public. The overall design of the project, he says, was based on research that indicates that being around nature can improve humans’ brain functionality and boost creativity.
The Spheres project took months of planning and research to find the right plants for the facility, according to Gagliardo. The first plant grown for the plant collection was Herrania balaensis, an Ecuadorean cacao species that produces pods that are often used to create high-quality chocolates. The space is divided into several collections, ranging from the vertical gardens of the Canyon Living Wall to a fernery space. A full overview of the plants at the sphere can be found at
But despite the large scale of the facility, pictured above, and the unique plants inhabiting it, the success of The Spheres is founded in traditional greenhouse growing. In order to grow new plants for the facility and to have a safe space for plants that need to be rotated out, Amazon purchased a greenhouse in Woodinville, Wash., about a 50-minute drive from Seattle, to help supplement The Spheres.

Award-winning horticulturists across the age spectrum

In its 21st year, the Perennial Plant Association’s scholarship program offers college students enrolled in a two- or four-year program a $1,000 stipend, full access to the annual symposium and time to network with industry professionals. This year’s winners were as follows:
  • Phyllis Daugherty, Alamance Community College
  • Lynn Lorio, Cincinnati State Technical & Community College
  • Olivia Fiala, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Kayla Goldstein, Community College of Baltimore County
  • David McKinney, Colorado State University
  • Markis Hill, Kansas State University
  • Christian Jay Moore, The Ohio State University
  • Bruce Moore, Kansas State University
Additionally, several industry professionals were recognized. Hoffman Nursery led the way with three different awards. John Hoffman, owner and founder, received the Award of Merit, and John and his wife and co-owner, Jill, were jointly honored with the Grower of the Year award. Their son, David, was also recognized with the Young Professional Award, which honors a student or newcomer “based on their involvement in the PPA, has contributed to the success of their company, and has portrayed a positive image of the perennial plant industry to the public.”
For the full list of PPA award winners, visit

A look inside Metrolina Greenhouses

On the first day of the event, a group of attendees visited Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, N.C. In Huntersville — one of two locations where Metrolina grows annuals, perennials, mums and other crops — the grower has 170 acres of production space in glass greenhouses. And it plans on expanding in the next few years.
According to Mark Yelanich, Metrolina’s director of research, and Ivan Tchakarov, Metrolina’s director of growing, the business is planning on adding 40 acres of production space over the next five to eight years. The plan is to expand five acres at a time until completion.
And each of the five acres will be constructed in the same way. First, concrete is poured and set to establish a solid base for the facilities. Then, the rest of the greenhouse is constructed piece by piece. Once one five-acre section is completed, the process restarts with the next five acres.
According to Tchakarov, this expansion will present some problems that must be strategically solved. Currently, he says Metrolina employs 625 full-time employees and 800 to 1,000 seasonal employees depending on the time of the year. Adding more space will only increase a need for a labor, and Tchakarov is unsure how robust the local labor pool is.
However, both Tchakarov and Yelanich noted that automation will play a big part in managing labor needs. While noting that it can be complex to manage and organize this automation properly, they believe that it leads to increased efficiencies in the greenhouse during the busiest times of the year. If additional labor is not as readily available as Metrolina might need, automation will likely play a big part in solving the problem.

Sustainable, local lilies

Located near several old tobacco farms in Durham, North Carolina, Sarah & Michael’s Farm, operates a bit differently than its neighbors and sells an entirely different crop.
A lily grower primarily selling to Whole Foods, Sarah & Michael’s Farm plants around 5,400 bulbs a day in the spring. Due to the North Carolina heat, owner and head grower Michael Turner says the business specializes in Asiatic and Oriental lilies that can better handle the hot climate. At PPA, Turner also gave a presentation about the business’ use of biological controls instead of chemicals for aphid management in the greenhouse. He says that since he started using biologicals, aphids have not been an issue for his business.
Additionally, when some attendees toured his greenhouses, Turner showcased how he grows differently than his tobacco-growing neighbors by being more environmentally conscious. At Sarah & Michael’s Farm, lilies are grown in coconut coir imported from Sri Lanka. According to Turner, he decided to grow with coir because it is reusable even though shipping it to his facility takes longer than other growing media options.
To re-use the coir, it is steamed to remove any leftover old bulbs or leaves, which are then moved to the compost pile. The steamed coir is then reused, and reused again, until it is no longer useful. Turner says that this process is not only good for the Earth, but is financially responsible.
Additionally, Turner grows bulbs in the same crates they arrive in and steams the crates afterwards to protect against diseases and weeds before being reused. Bulbs, which are only used once because Turner says it is more economical to buy new bulbs since the second flowers from bulbs are often smaller, are perhaps the only item Turner doesn’t find a way to re-use.

Monday, October 15, 2018

2018 Apple Harvest By The Numbers

A new top variety in the United States, dismal production in China and a record harvest in Europe were just a few of the headlines from the U.S. Apple Association’s 2018 Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference.

Nearly 300 people attended the event, held every year in late August in Chicago, where industry leaders from around the globe gather to prognosticate about the upcoming apple season.

Here’s a look at the estimated 2018 crop from the various regions of the world.

United States
A rebound in the Midwest, reasonable weather in the East and a slightly lower than anticipated Washington crop led growers and industry officials to predict a nationwide apple crop of 256.2 million bushels for 2018. If the figure holds, it would be 6 percent lower than last year and 2 percent below the five-year average. When discussing the nationwide crop volume, the apple industry measures in 42-pound bushel equivalents and includes both fresh and processing apples.

However, the variety breakdown might be the biggest news. For the first time in at least 50 years, Red Delicious will not be America’s most popular variety by volume. If the figures hold, the crown will go to Gala.

“This is probably the year that Gala is going to move into first place,” said Mark Seetin, USApple’s director of regulatory and industry affairs.

The apple industry expects to harvest about 52.4 million bushels of Galas, followed by 51.7 million Red Delicious, long the iconic fruit of the entire industry. Granny Smith, Fuji and Honeycrisp round out the rest of the top five.

Also, Honeycrisp — nicknamed Moneycrisp for its high returns — overtook Golden Delicious for the fifth spot for the first time. Seetin expects it may reach third place in a few years.

Each year, the federal government makes a prediction of the U.S. crop in early August, right when harvest begins in most places, followed by the USApple Outlook conference prediction later in the month. Over the years, conference delegates have turned it into a game to see who comes closer to the final tally, Seetin said.

“We have prided ourselves on being able to do a better job than the USDA,” Seetin said. The conference estimate had a winning streak for about five years, but the past two years the federal Department of Agriculture statisticians have come closer, Seetin said.

This year’s estimate from the Outlook conference falls below the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast, mostly because Washington growers lowered their expectations after a couple of weeks of picking, said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, based in Yakima.

“Some of the reported causes of this were variable crop load on the tree and between trees and variable maturity of the fruit within each orchard, which has complicated harvest,” DeVaney told Good Fruit Grower after the conference.

As usual, Washington is expected to lead the way in America with 155 million bushels, 13 percent lower than the 178.5 million harvested in 2017 and about 5 percent below the five-year average of 163.3 million. The state is expected to produce about 61 percent of the nation’s apples this year.

Overall, the West — Washington, California, Oregon and Idaho — expects to harvest 166 million bushels.

The Midwest expects a crop of 31.6 million bushels, 8 percent above average and a healthy rebound from an unusually low 2017 harvest caused by a late spring frost in Michigan. The 2017 Michigan crop was 20 million bushels, 29 percent below expectations. Besides Michigan, Midwest apple producers are Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.

Led by New York and Pennsylvania, Eastern states expect a 58.4 million-bushel harvest, right in line with the five-year average and almost exactly the same as last year. Eastern growers reported damp weather but little if any hail.

The United States will be hard-pressed to match last season’s economics. Overall, the farm gate value of the United States apple crop was a record $3.55 billion in 2017. Meanwhile, America also set a record for export volume in 2017 with 53 million bushels and nearly a record in export value at $1.1 billion.

Also noteworthy, India edged Canada in 2017 as America’s second-leading export market behind Mexico.

Marketing is going to be more challenging this year due to a bigger crop in Europe and trade disputes, but Seetin saw potential.

“We have very, very good reason to be optimistic,” he said.

Canada expects a crop of 17.9 million bushels in 2018, up 14 percent over last year but down 5 percent from the five-year average, according to the Canadian Horticultural Council. McIntosh will lead the way at 5.1 million bushels, followed by Gala at 2.8 million and Empire at 1.3 million.

The crop in Nova Scotia suffered some damage from a June 4 freeze, but the overall Canadian crop is expected to pick clean at normal timing, said Don Werden of the Norfolk Fruit Growers’ Association in Simcoe, Ontario.

China is in for a rare drop in production this year due to a severe early April frost, where temperatures fell below freezing for six or seven hours during full bloom.

“The crop reduction was so huge, I’ve never seen it in my career,” said Michael Choi, president of the Zhonglu America Corporation, showing photo after photo of orchards nearly void of fruit. Up until this year, China had been setting annual production records.

Choi expects production to drop anywhere from 30 percent to 90 percent depending on location. Some growers had given up on their crop and sought temporary jobs in the cities to help pay the bills.

Overall, he predicted a crop of 32.1 million metric tons, a 28 percent reduction from 2017. However, Choi offered only his best educated guesses based on travels ever since the Chinese government ceased releasing official data in March this year.

European Union
Industry leaders expect Europe to bounce back strong from a low 2017 crop hurt by frost, calling for a 12.56 metric ton harvest in 2018, said Philippe Binard, the secretary general of the World Apple and Pear Association. That figure is a little lower than an estimate from earlier in the month, but still would set a record.

Poland alone, Europe’s largest producer, could be on track for a 4.48 million metric ton crop, 56 percent higher than last year and 26 percent higher than the five-year average. Italy is expected to harvest 2.2 million metric tons, followed by France with 1.42 million metric tons. Some of the smaller European Union producers expect to double or triple their 2017 crop.

South America
South American apple countries — Argentina, Brazil and Chile — should produce between 2.84 million and 3.6 million metric tons, said Rene Alarcon, commercial manager for Döhler North American Fruits and Vegetables.

The lower figure comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, the higher one from the World Apple and Pear Association. Alarcon estimates the true answer will fall somewhere in the middle, but none of the three countries provided their own official estimates, he said.

Argentina will produce between 530,000 and 635,000 metric tons, both figures lower than 2017. Brazil is on pace for 1.05 million to 1.19 million metric tons, also lower than 2017. Chile likely will grow to between 1.26 million and 1.76 million tons. The higher World Association number would mark a 5 percent increase.

Also hurt by frost, Mexico is expected to have a down year with 325,000 metric tons, down about 19 percent from the yearly average, said Leighton Romney, chief executive officer for the Paquimé Group in Chihuahua.

Even on a good year in Mexico, stores must meet domestic demand with imports. This year, the expected volume will fall about 58 percent short of the demand, opening the door for a lot of imports. Mexico is typically the United States’ largest apple export market, while the U.S. is Mexico’s greatest import source of apples.

Of course, trade issues cloud the forecast this year. Currently, Mexico tacks a 20 percent tariff on imported U.S. apples and requires fumigation or a 40-day cold storage inspection period.

Meanwhile, inflation has dampened the purchasing power of Mexican shoppers, Romney said. All fresh fruit sales have been down about 30 percent from last year, while apples are expensive on store shelves in Mexico compared to tropical fruits. •