Greenhouse growers wary of cost, time to be certified sustainable

May 25, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Commercial flower growers want to tap into the growing market of consumers looking for sustainable products, but those growers aren't willing to go through a difficult and costly certification to do it at this time.

Purdue University's Roberto Lopez, an assistant professor of horticulture; Jennifer Dennis, an associate professor of horticulture; and Maria Marshall, an associate professor of agricultural economics, found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. growers aren't interested in spending the time and money to become certified as sustainable. One-third hadn't even heard of certification organizations such as Veriflora and MPS, which can charge thousands of dollars for certifications.

"It can be expensive, and you have to go through rigorous screenings and paperwork. It takes a lot of time," Lopez said. "Most growers didn't think it was worth it."

Based on surveys of 112 commercial flower growers, Lopez said the ability to recoup the cost of being certified is the growers' chief concern. He said the floriculture industry's profits have not always kept up with costs in the last decade, and most growers are unwilling to pay thousands of dollars for something that hasn't been proven to bring a return on investment.

In the last decade, poinsettias, for example, have increased a little more than 13 percent in price, but the cost of natural gas has more than doubled. Growers with thin profit margins are concerned about spending on a certification that isn't guaranteed to raise profits.

The teams' findings, reported in the early online version of the journal HortScience, are similar to an earlier Lopez study in which growers were wary of adopting sustainable practices and technologies because of concerns about whether those practices would increase profits.

"They feel that conversion to sustainable production practices is still risky," Lopez said. "They're unsure of some of the technology."

Converting to a sustainable technology or practice - water recycling systems, biological instead of chemical controls or alternative energy sources - can be costly. Using some of the technology incorrectly also could lead to losses, for example if recycled water spreads disease.

Lopez said the market for sustainable products is growing, however. He said about $230 billion is spent each year on socially and environmentally responsible products.

Lopez said growers were interested in seeing objective research data on how becoming certified as sustainable would increase profits. He said his future research would focus on that area.

The Ball Horticultural Company and a Purdue Mission Oriented Grant funded the research.

Writer: Brian Wallheimer, 765-496-2050,

Source: Roberto Lopez, 765-496-3425,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson,
Agriculture News Page


Barriers to Adopting Sustainable Floriculture Certification

Tanya J. Hall, Roberto G. Lopez, Maria I. Marshall, Jennifer H. Dennis

In recent years, the commercial greenhouse industry has begun to implement sustainable production practices. However, ?oriculture certification programs for sustainable production practices are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. Between July and Oct. 2008, a commercial ?oriculture grower survey was conducted to determine potential barriers to sustainable ?oriculture certification. Using a logistic regression model, seven potential areas were evaluated: risk, profitability, economic viability, prior experience, education, operation size, and customer types. Although respondents had positive attitudes toward sustainability and had adopted sustainable practices, respondents had little knowledge and interest in U.S. certification.