Perceived risk slows greenhouse growers' move to sustainability
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Concerns about recouping higher costs and the possibility of losses caused by improper implementation of new technology top the list of reasons that greenhouse growers are wary in their approach to sustainability, according to a Purdue University study.
Roberto Lopez, an assistant professor of horticulture and landscape architecture, said that those in the floriculture industry want to incorporate more sustainable practices into their businesses, but those concerns and others have kept many from doing so.
"Adopting some of these practices is not cheap. There's a concern with growers about how much it will cost to become more sustainable," Lopez said. "They're concerned that they're not going to recoup their investment."
According to the nationwide survey of 112 growers, more than 65 percent viewed sustainable practices as very important to the environment. In spite of that belief, if growers thought there was a financial risk, the odds of adopting sustainable practices decreased about 25 times.
"Switching technology is risky because you have to completely change your production system," said Lopez, whose research was published in a recent edition of the Journal HortScience. "Let's say a grower wants to recycle their water. If they don't do it properly, they could easily spread diseases among their plants and have severe losses."
The study also showed that smaller operations were more likely to adopt sustainable practices than their larger counterparts. Those with between one and five acres were nearly 29 times more likely to adopt sustainable practices compared to those with 10 or more acres. Lopez said that might be because the cost associated with sustainable technology is easier for a smaller grower to absorb because they need to purchase less in new supplies.
Growers were not more likely to adopt sustainable practices based on their age, their particular state's environmental regulations or perceived value to customers.
Many growers have already adopted some sustainable practices, according to the study. More than half reported recycling plastic pots and/or greenhouse glazings such as polyethylene films, recycling or conserving water and energy, composting, and using biological controls. Fewer than half use energy curtains, organic fertilizer, chemical runoff protection, biodegradable pots or alternative energy sources.
Lopez said the study indicates a need for research and Cooperative Extension programs that quantify and clearly show the value of sustainable practices in floriculture and how to properly implement technologies to reduce risk.
The Purdue College of Agriculture Mission Oriented Grant and the Ball Horticulture Company funded the study. Purdue researchers Jennifer H. Dennis, an associate professor of agricultural economics and horticulture and landscape architecture; Maria I. Marshall, an associate professor of agricultural economics; and Tanya J. Hall, a graduate student in agricultural economics, collaborated on the study.
Writer: Brian Wallheimer, 765-496-2050, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Roberto Lopez, 765-496-3425, email@example.com