S1065: Sustainable Practices, Economic Contributions, Consumer Behavior, and Labor Management in the U.S. Environmental Horticulture Industry

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

S1065: Sustainable Practices, Economic Contributions, Consumer Behavior, and Labor Management in the U.S. Environmental Horticulture Industry

Duration: 10/01/2015 to 09/30/2020

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

The environmental horticulture industry, also known as the Green industry, includes nursery and greenhouse producers, landscape service providers, horticultural product wholesalers/retailers, and various allied professionals. Nursery and floriculture (greenhouse) crops include a wide variety of ornamental plants for landscaping purposes such as trees, shrubs, ground covers, turfgrass, bulbs, and propagation stock, as well as plants used for interior or patio decoration such as cut flowers and greens, potted flowering plants, foliage plants, and bedding/garden plants. The wholesale value of nursery and floriculture crops in the U.S. is around $18 billion (Jerardo, 2007). Economic impacts of the U.S. Green Industry in 2007, including indirect and induced impacts in other sectors of the economy, were estimated at $175 billion in output or revenues), 1.95 million full-time and part-time jobs, $107 billion in value added, $53 billion in labor income (Hodges, Hall and Palma 2011).

During the past two decades, the Green industry has been one of the fastest growing parts of the agricultural economy in the United States, due to robust demand for ornamentals plants and related services from commercial and residential development and increasing affluence. However, current trends and driving forces indicate that consumer demand is maturing. Obviously, the severe economic recession of 2007-09 has placed considerable financial strain on these businesses. In order for Green industry firms to survive in the long run, managerial decision-making must be based on accurate and timely production and marketing information.

In spite of the magnitude and growth in the industry, there is a lack of up-to-date and reliable information on the economic characteristics of the Green Industry. USDA-NASS conducts annual surveys of wholesale growers of floral and nursery crops in selected states, however, recent federal budget cutbacks have forced a drastic reduction in the number of states covered, to only 15. As a consequence, USDA-ERS has discontinued its annual Situation and Outlook reports on the nursery and greenhouse industry, with the result that stakeholders in many states with a significant industry presence are disenfranchised. The Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years, is comprehensive in scope, but lacks meaningful detail on nursery and greenhouse producers. The Census of Horticultural Specialties, conducted approximately every 10 years, as a supplement to the Census of Agriculture, provides considerable detail on specific products and market channels, but is too infrequent to be of use to most industry professionals.

Work under this project will complement ongoing efforts of other organizations to provide current production and marketing research for the U.S. nursery and greenhouse industry, such as the USDA-ARS Floriculture and Nursery Crops Initiative, the USDA Federal/State Marketing Improvement Program, the Horticulture Research Institute, the American Floral Endowment, and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.

The United States Green industry generates 1.95 million jobs and has an annual payroll of over $35 billion dollars, however, information on labor use, demographics and employment characteristics is very scant for this industry. Labor costs typically represent 20 to 39 percent of gross sales in the industry. Labor shortages, immigration reform and legal status of employees are widely reported as the US Green industry’s most critical issues. Innovations with labor in a labor intensive industry could have more profound impacts than any other modernization. Gathering data on the industry workforce is needed to raise appreciation of the industry’s diversity, increase political power and public awareness, help stakeholders evaluate policy decisions and plan corrective strategies.
Labor issues are a dominant concern in the labor-intensive nursery industry due to cost, employee turnover, and the largely non-English speaking immigrant workforce. The nursery and greenhouse industry has among the highest worker turnover rates in the United States (52%). With an estimated cost of $4,000-$7,000 to replace an hourly worker, efforts to stabilize the industry workforce are critical to its economic survival.

Competitive rivalry in the environmental horticulture industry is intensifying, especially at the retail level. One of the impacts of the mass marketing of nursery and floricultural crops has been to bring about an increase in overall size of growing operations. The capital requirements for nursery and greenhouse infrastructure to produce mass quantities of product for a confined marketing window exceed those that this industry has historically managed. Recently, larger growers have started partnering, usually on a contract basis, with smaller growers in order to handle the volumes required to supply large retail chains. In some instances, there may be several dozen growers involved to satisfy a retail chain’s product supply needs in one market area. Depending upon the arrangement, this helps to spread the risk among several producers. Still, there are numerous examples of producers who supply 50 to 75 percent of their output to one chain.

The focus on mass markets by large growers has also created opportunities for smaller growers to develop niches serving independent retailers/landscapers or to go into retailing themselves, selling directly to the consumer. In a national survey of growers, it was found that 59 percent of firms were involved in retail selling of some portion of their product mix (Brooker et al. 2005). Some producers have also used their own retail outlets as a diversification tactic for risk management.

Another impact of mass marketers has been consolidation within the production sector. In recent years, grower numbers have appeared to decline, or at best, remain stable. Many would argue that the stresses of either supplying mass marketers or competing with them as an independent grower-retailer are taking their toll. The capitalization requirements, increased input costs (e.g. fuel), reduced margins, increased demands from buyers, and the market power associated with fewer numbers of buyers have all created intense market pressures and heightened competitive rivalry among larger producers. The smaller producers’ struggle to remain competitive in a viable niche can be difficult in markets inundated by competing chains.

Mechanization and automation has been one important strategy for reducing labor costs in the nursery industry, however, this has been hampered by a lack of standardization in the industry. For example, a wide variety of nursery container sizes and shapes limits the application of mechanized handling equipment. Mechanization/automation can provide greater mechanical power, speed, safety and a greater potential for consistency and quality control (Giacomelli, 2002; Ling, 1994). Mechanization is normally defined as the replacement of a human task with a machine, but true automation encompasses the entire process, including bringing material to and from the mechanized equipment, and normally involves integrating several operations. Many times, true automation requires reevaluating and changing current processes rather than simply mechanizing them (Porter, 2002).

Rising energy prices have had a particularly significant impact on the greenhouse industry. Greenhouses are designed with the objective of maximum light transmission. Unfortunately, typical greenhouse covering materials are relatively poor insulators, resulting in high heating and cooling costs to maintain optimum growing conditions year-round. In 2003, the average greenhouse in New Jersey spent 5.3% of gross sales revenues on heating fuel (Brumfield, 2007).

One of the most widely discussed topics in the Green industry today is the issue of environmental sustainability brought about by consumers with a greater degree of environmental awareness. This has led to a desire for products that not only solve the needs of consumers but are also produced and marketed using sustainable methods. A greater emphasis has also been placed on the environmental dimensions of packaging for plants and floral products. Greenhouse and nursery crops are usually grown in plastic containers, which are strong and can be formed to any size, shape, or color, but represent a significant disposal issue for the horticulture industry. Of the estimated 542 million pounds of plastic used in agriculture annually, 320 million pounds (59%) is attributed to plant containers (Garthe and Kowal, 1993). In addition to the negative environmental impacts of using petroleum for plastic production, plastic disposal represents 20% of the overall waste stream by volume (EPA, 2008). While there are examples of agricultural plastics recycling programs in the U.S (Missouri Botanical Garden, Jordan Plastics Inc.), these are geographically limited and minimally effective. Most large growers have difficulty justifying the costs for labor and chemicals associated with used container cleaning and sterilization, with the result that reuse of pots seldom occurs. Because recycling options for containers are limited and reuse is not always feasible, the industry must reduce plastic use. Numerous attempts have been made to produce biodegradable containers that can be transplanted directly into the soil, thus reducing transplant shock and eliminating the need for disposal. Typically, these have been made of peat, paper, or coir fiber but recently there have been improvements in alternative materials such as rice hulls, straw and biopolymers. The cultural practices associated with producing plants in biodegradable containers have been explored on a limited basis (Evans and Karcher, 2004; Evans and Hensley, 2004), but consumer acceptance of these environmentally-friendly products has not been fully evaluated.

Irrigation is essential for profitable production of container and field-grown ornamental plants. The quantity and quality of water available for irrigation has major consequences on productivity and profitability. Water issues, specifically irrigation scheduling and efficiency, surface and groundwater water management, and water quality are quickly becoming topics of major concern to the ornamental plant industry even in states that have previously had ample water resources. Drought, urban competition for surface and groundwater water reserves, salinity and runoff water quality, and increasing regulation at national, state and county levels are increasing the need for ornamental crop producers to manage water more effectively. For example, implementation of regulations for Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) will impose strict limits on nutrient runoff in natural waterbodies. Water is no longer an issue restricted to certain areas of the country but is a national and global issue. Increased regulation and competition for water resources, therefore, calls for improved water management techniques with respect to application and runoff. Another issue is the cost of compliance with regulations and various certification programs.

Frequent irrigation in combination with high fertilizer and pesticide use can lead to significant losses of agricultural chemicals in runoff water that transports these chemicals to containment structures and/or off-site into groundwater or surface water (Cabrera, 2005; Camper et al., 1994). During the growing season, over 80% of water from sprinkler systems may be lost through runoff, drainage, and evaporation (Weatherspoon and Harrell, 1980). Current practices in nurseries have raised concerns over efficient use of water and fertilizer, runoff water, water quality standards, and nutrient residues (Yeager et al., 1993; Fare, 1994; Hong and Moorman, 2005; Owen et al., 2008; Zhu et al., 2007). Irrigation water management is a key consideration for nutrient management in ornamental crop production and reducing the impact of runoff water on local water resources (Tyler et al, 1996; Lea-Cox et al, 2001; Ross et al, 2001; Ullah and Zinati, 2006). Emerging constraints on water use and quality means that the ornamental crop industry needs to find ways to manage water without compromising production schedules and crop quality. It is imperative to quantify how much water a typical container plant requires in order to improve water and fertilizer use efficiency. The project investigators will collaborate to the extent possible with another multistate project (NC1186) focused specifically on nursery plant physiology, water use and irrigation management, and expand upon those findings in terms of their implications for economics and marketing.

Landscape plants in urban areas provide critical environmental services for nutrient cycling, pollution absorption, shade, moderation of temperatures, and noise buffers. Poor survival of landscape plants is an issue not often recognized in the Green Industry. In many areas, trees planted along highways may have survival rates of less than 10 percent. Most municipalities have little or no budget for ongoing tree care. Urban trees reach their maximum potential for environmental benefits at about age 30, but the average lifespan is often less than 10 years, due to very stressful environmental conditions (heat, pollution, etc.), and lack of care and maintenance. Altered production practices, such as use of retractable roof greenhouses, and use of water conserving amendments in growing media, can significantly improve landscape plant establishment success, growth, and long term survival.

Consumers differ widely in their attitudes, preferences, and behavior (Kotler and Keller, 2006). Groups of consumers often have characteristics that can make them both quantifiable and distinguishable as market segments. In recent years, a significant shift has occurred in consumer acceptance of products with characteristics that are broadly construed as environmentally-friendly, including such labels as organic, native, locally-grown, and sustainable. The Green industry has very little research-based information to help professionals understand how consumers view horticultural products, product attributes, and services through this new and important environmental lens. Topics well established in other industries, such as branding and loyalty, are also emerging as critical business concepts for horticultural products. Voluntary certification programs for environmental sustainability of horticultural products are now emerging (e.g. Veriflora, USEPA’s WasteSense program, USDA-APHIS Nursery Certification Program, Sustainable Sites Initiative), but their effect on consumer demand are unknown. Complimentary to production research, consumer/market research is needed to enhance the information available to organizations to remain viable. Unlike other highly concentrated industries, the Green industry is comprised of diverse businesses that are highly fragmented. Therefore, few firms have the resources to devote to consumer research. Better information is needed on consumer and market characteristics for firms to evaluate opportunities that provide a good return on investment.

The presence of environmentally sensitive consumers has been acknowledged for some time and this segment of consumers is more likely than the general population to take environmental concerns into account when making purchases. The presence of this group of consumers has also been assumed to bring profits to companies with a record of environmentally-friendly practices. However, sustainable alternatives often require a price premium in the marketplace to be economically viable. The willingness of consumers to pay this premium remains an open question. There is a need to evaluate consumer expectations, tastes, and preferences. Keeping the consumer interested, informed and motivated is important, and will require collaborative efforts among participants in each sector of the industry-wide value chain

Research is needed to ascertain the potential of the Green Industry to provide jobs and business opportunities to agricultural entrepreneurs displaced by the shrinking number of farms in traditional agriculture. Extensive expansion without regard to regional and national supply and demand for landscape plants could result in instability in the industry and the misallocation of resources. Continued nationwide growth and expansion of this industry will benefit society in general through aesthetic improvement of the environment and by ameliorating pollution in urban areas with living plants. Collaborative research on the production, management and marketing of environmental horticulture products and services will provide insight regarding the proper allocation of resources in the long-run, and permit researchers, extension educators, and consultants to more effectively assist the industry. A multi-state collaborative effort is imperative because these issues are simply too comprehensive for any single researcher to adequately address alone and since state budgets for many land-grant institutions have been cut dramatically in recent years, these collaborative efforts enable the research team to more effectively utilize constrained research dollars in a synergistic fashion. Moreover, since limited granting programs are available to conduct research in this area, the research collaborations (and teams formed) by these multi-state efforts will enable the research teams to more effectively compete for the grant dollars. In short, the days of stand-alone, independent research programs conducted by individual faculty members are long gone. The results stemming from these collaborative research efforts will also better enable industry firms to better tell their story in regards to sustainability. The value proposition for the green industry in the future must focus on the unique ways in which quality of life is improved for its customer base. Sustainability is an integral part of our value proposition message in the future and the green industry cannot overemphasize the importance of this quality of life message, particularly in focusing its differentiation strategies in the future. That because of whether one are member of the Boomer, Gen X, or Gen Y generation, quality of life is a “higher order” need that is important to them. For example, although the economic downturn has increased anxiety on the part of Baby Boomers about retirement, they are nevertheless proactive in seeking innovative solutions to dealing with age. They view their new stage of life as one of activity and fulfillment rather than idleness. Gen X is the most “time-starved” generation, often juggling career and family obligations, but they maintain a strong commitment to work-life balance in their lives. The Gen Y generation is just beginning their adult lives and facing lots of firsts: their first home, first job, and most importantly, first independent income. They are trying to find the right balance between spending for necessities and spending for entertainment. This generation is concerned not just with function and utility but also with style. All of these generational attitudes come down to one thing – enhancing the quality of their lives through emotional well-being, ecosystems benefits, and economic paybacks. Research shows that there’s no better way to do this than through the daily use and/or enjoyment of flowers, plants, and trees. If the green industry can utilize research-based information to convince consumers of this in a manner that they view their products and services as necessities instead of luxuries, this will, of course, make the industry even more recession resistant in the future.

Related, Current and Previous Work

This multi-state research committee has a long history of interdisciplinary work, with continuity of membership and research focus through a series of 5-year projects dating back to 1976. The multi-state research project was originally designated as S-103 and was entitled Economics of Producing and Marketing Woody Ornamentals in the South (1976-87). In 1987 the project was retitled as Technical and Economical Efficiencies of Producing and Marketing Landscape Plants, and this title has been retained through recent projects with only slight modification. The project received a new number (S-290) in 1999, then again in 2004 (S-1021), and for the most recent project (S-1051) in 2010.

Much of the early work under this project was focused on evaluating costs of producing specific plant species, including Kurume azaleas, crape myrtles, dogwood, forsythia, Buford holly, Pfitzer juniper, and pin oaks. Results of this research were published in a series of regional publications (Badenhop, 1979, 1980; Smith, 1980; Smith and McConnell, 1981; S-103 Committee, 1979). The advantages of various production regions in competing for markets were delineated in these reports, along with data relating to prices, product mix, distribution patterns, and other market characteristics (Vitelli and Free, 1979; Gamble, 1979; Massey, 1979; Phillips, 1979; Einert, 1979; Badenhop, 1979; Smith and McConnell, 1979; Smith, 1979; McNiel, 1979; Wright, 1979; Crafton, et al., 1982). Subsequent work focused on economic modeling of container and field nursery production in USDA Plant Hardiness zones 5-8 (Badenhop and Phillips, 1983; Taylor et al., 1983; Dickerson et al., 1983; Badenhop et al., 1985; Badenhop and Glasgow, 1985; Crafton and Phillips, 1984; Phillips, 1984; Crafton, et al., 1982; Perry et al., 1987). Cost differences among species were determined to be caused primarily by differing space requirements, length of production cycles, cost of liners, and over-wintering needs. Market research focused primarily on transportation and distribution of plant material among states or regions, and analysis of marketing strategies (Badenhop, 1981; Doerer, et al., 1982; Williams and Musillo, 1984; Smith and McConnell, 1979; Phillips, 1984). It was found that although there were comparative advantages among production regions for producing landscape plants, the ultimate success by any particular business still hinged on the micro-economic environment of industry firms (Gunter, 1979; Hymum and Phillips, 1979; Trieb, 1979; Phillips and Ward, 1980; Smith and McConnell, 1981; Perry and Badenhop, 1982; Crafton and Phillips, 1984). Enterprise budgets for cut flowers were developed for grower operations in the northeast U.S. (Brumfield, 2006).

More recently, updated enterprise production budgets for six model ornamental crop species were developed for hardiness zones 8 and 9 (deep south Gulf coast) using the Mississippi State University budget generator (Hinson et al, 2008). The levels of inputs use, input prices, plant growth and yields, and plant prices were evaluated at their mean values based on surveys and on collection of some individual product prices from websites and other sources. These budgets can be used as benchmarks for a 20-acre nursery operation. Growers are assumed to generally follow University/Extension recommended production practices. This budget system is now being extended with stochastic analysis capabilities using the Simetar simulation and risk analysis software to assess risks and uncertainties associated with plant production in a nursery operation (Posadas et al., 2008). The model incorporates information on means and standard deviations of critical inputs and output quantities and prices.

Analysis of specific landscape plant species was expanded to whole-firm modeling utilizing economic-engineering and operations research procedures. These results provided a baseline of economic data on capital costs, labor and equipment requirements, operating expenditures and profitability, differentiated by size of firm, plant species and hardiness zones (Hall et al., 1987; Perry et al., 1990; Foshee et al., 1990). Studies evaluated alternative plant production and marketing regimes, including optimal marketing of container-based production systems (Stokes et al., 1996), production of turfgrass-sod as an alternative farm enterprise (Adrian, et al., 1996). Substantial economies of nursery size were identified with total costs per acre declining over the size range evaluated. Results of these relationships were seen in the market with intense price competition (Hall, Haydu, and Tilt, 2002; Hall and Jupe, 2002; Hall, 2001; Haydu, Hodges, and Cisar, 2003; Haydu, Hodges, and Cisar, 2001; Hinson and Hughes, 1997; Hodges and Haydu, 2003).

Another arena where this committee has played a role is in the evaluation of new technologies, including pot-in-pot container production (Adrian, et al, 1998; Hall, Haydu, and Tilt, 2002), irrigation and micro-irrigation (Haydu et al, 2002; Mathers, 2003a; Haydu and Beeson, 1997), use of mineral soil derivatives and shredded tires as a media amendments (Arnold, 1996b; Britt and Harkess, 1997; Baquir and Harkness, 1997), use of copper-treated containers (Obst et al.,1996), and use of computer accounting software (Foshee, Phillips, and House, 1997).

An abiding area of research under this multi-state project has been the evaluation of trends in marketing and production practices and trade flows in the U.S. nursery industry through a series of national surveys beginning in 1987. Studies from this national survey evaluated trade flows between states, marketing practices and factors perceived to limit growth (Brooker and Turner, 1990; Brooker and Bryan, 1989; Bryan and Brooker, 1989; Adrian, et al., 1990; Turner et al., 1996; Taylor, et al., 1989; Turner and Stegelin, 1989; Ames, 1990;; Hodges and Haydu, 2001; Phillips et al., 1990; Bauer and Brooker, 1991; Brooker, 1991). A second survey in 1994 resulted in the landmark publication, Trade Flows and Marketing Practices within the United States Nursery Industry (Brooker et al., 1995), and other studies of marketing practices and trade flows between states (Brooker, 1996d; Turner et al., 1996). The competitive relationships among states and regions continues to be a major issue as business managers make financial and marketing decisions regarding future investments and economic strategies. Comparison of time series results from these surveys to evaluate trends in the industry have been published in several studies (Brooker, Hall, and Eastwood, 2003; Brooker and Hall, 2002; Brooker, 1996a; Brooker, 1996b; Brooker, 1996c; Brooker, Turner, and Hinson, 1995; Hall and Brooker, 2002; Hall and Jupe, 2002; Hall, 2001; Hampton, 2001; Hinson, Pinel, and Hughes, 2003; Hinson and Hughes, 1997; Hinson, 1996; Hinson, Turner, and Brooker, 1995; Hinson and Turner, 1994). Another National Nursery Survey was conducted in 2004; nursery and greenhouse firms were surveyed in 44 states using a standardized sampling methodology. Survey data on production and marketing practices and technology use were analyzed for regional differences (Hodges et al., 2008; Behe et al., 2008). The most recent National Nursery Survey was implemented in 2009 with information collected in all 50 continental States (Hodges, Palma, and Hall 2010; Hodges, Hall and Palma 2011).

Financial benchmark analysis of nursery and greenhouse operations has been an ongoing area of research by this group. Greenhouse businesses New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey provided business records for analysis, and each participating firm received a customized business analysis report, while published reports provide greenhouse industry financial and operational benchmarks (Barton, et al, 2002; Brumfield, 2003; Uva, 2003; Uva and Richards, 2003; Uva and Richards, 2002; Uva, 2002; Uva and Richards, 2001). A longtime program on business analysis of ornamental plant nurseries in Florida resulted in publication of regional financial benchmarks (Hodges and Haydu, 2001). More recently, an internet website was developed to provide automated financial data collection and benchmark analysis for client firms in various regional and industry groups (https://hortbusiness.ifas.ufl.edu/analysis). Computer spreadsheet-based financial benchmark analysis tools are also available for nursery and greenhouse operations (Brumfield, 2008).

Contributions of the Green industry to state and regional economies are another area of ongoing research under this project. Several early studies estimated the economic impacts of the turfgrass industry in specific states (Adrian et al., 1985, 1986; Stegelin and Powell, 1991; Adrian et al., 1992; Haydu et al., 1996; Hinson and Hughes, 1997). The relative size of the green industry within the U.S. economy and how it is linked to supporting industries through the volume of transactions and economic impact multipliers was examined using IMPLAN, an input-output analysis software package. In terms of employment, the green industry was the second leading employer in U.S. production agriculture in 1990, while in terms of output, it ranked sixth (Turner and Kriesel, 1994). A series of economic impact studies were conducted for the Green industry in Florida (Haydu and Hodges, 2002a; Hodges and Haydu, , 2000, 2002, 2003). A landmark study of economic contributions of the Green industry for the entire U.S., using primary and secondary data together with regional economic models, estimated total impacts at $175 billion in output or revenues, 1.95 million full-time and part-time jobs, $107 billion in value added, and $53 billion in labor earnings (Hodges, Hall, and Palma, 2011).

Consumer preference research was conducted for poinsettias and geranium cultivars in terms of flower color, leaf variegation, and price in five U.S. markets (Behe, et al., 1999), and consumer perceptions and expectations of garden center products and service quality (Hudson, et al., 1997). Another project investigated the stability of retail markets for landscape plants over a nine-year period (Turner, 1997). Areas of consumer research investigated were consumer response to wildflower sod (Barton et al, 1996), re-positioning hardy perennials as indoor flowering potted plants (Behe et al, 2002) and specifically Campanula carpitaca (Kelley et al, 2003), hardy conifers as indoor table-top Christmas trees (Behe et al, 2005; Heilig and Behe, 2001), potential for pest-resistant dogwood trees (Gardener et al, 2002a; Gardener et al, 2002b; Klingeman et al, 2001), edible flowers (Kelley et al, 2002a; Kelley et al, 2002b), blue geraniums (Behe et al, 1999), mixed annual plant containers (Mason et al, 2008), native landscapes (Zagden, Behe and Gough, 2008), the role of ethnicity in gardening purchases and satisfaction (Dennis and Behe, 2007), comparison of gardening activities and purchases of homeowners and renters (Behe, 2006), and internet use for garden purchasing (Behe, Harte and Yue, 2008). A project sponsored by HRI evaluated the effect of landscaping on home values, in terms of landscape design and plant sizes, in a survey conducted in eight states. Market location and design sophistication were found to be the most important attributes, and a well designed landscape increased perceived home value by 12% over the base price of the home (Hardy et. al, 2000; Behe et al, 2005). Recently, members of the committee have combined the latest methodologies with technology advances in eye tracking to portrait a better picture of consumer preferences for green industry products. Recent work has looked at consumers’ willingness to pay for biodegradable containers (Yue et al., 2010a; Yue et al., 2010b; Hall et al., 2010), sustainable plant production practices (Campbell et al., 2014; Khachatryan et al., 2014; Dennis et al., 2010), local plants (Behe et al., 2013; Collart, Palma, and Carpio 2013), use of smart phones for gardening and plant selections (Behe et al., 2013), branding preferences (Collart, Palma, and Hall 2010). Lately eye tracking has been implemented in several consumer experiments (Behe et al., 2014). Eye tracking will continue to be an area of concentration as several participants own eye tracking devices.

Research on retail distribution of ornamental plants has focused on strategies for improving profitability of garden center operations (Barton et al, 1994; Hall et al, 2002), and delivery of superior service quality (Behe and Barton, 2000; Hudson et al, 1997; Yue and Behe, 2008).
Research on labor management in the Green industry has focused on management of the immigrant labor force and coping with labor regulations (Palma et al 2008, 2009), employee empowerment (Hinson, Cyrus and Ackroyd, 1994), and meeting the needs of Hispanic workers (Mathers, 2003). A recent multi-state survey of nursery employees in Ohio, Michigan, Delaware, Tennessee, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Arizona and Rhode Island indicated that Hispanics constituted 70 percent of the nursery workforce, including 57 percent from Mexico, and labor retention was less than 52 percent after five years and only 5 percent after 10 years of employment (Acuna and Mathers, 2008). Furthermore, among these employees, 42 percent had completed high school, 48 percent were female, only 22 percent fluently understood English, and 70 percent lacked health insurance. The lack of English comprehension skills indicated significant communication barriers, decreasing job performance and reducing productivity. Sixty percent of nursery employees had not received training related to their work, although most were interested in such training, especially English language instruction. Employers that provided training opportunities indicated they were positively received by Hispanic nursery employees, and that this improved worker/manager relations and company loyalty, and reduced turnover.

Work on nursery automation and mechanization was conducted among wholesale nurseries and greenhouses located in the northern Gulf of Mexico region (Posadas et al., 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2014). An index of the level of automation or mechanization was developed to measure the socioeconomic impact of automation or mechanization on total revenues, annual employment, and workers’ earnings, skills, training, safety, and retention rates. Surveys were also conducted to develop a socioeconomic profile of horticulture workers in support of the mechanization/automation evaluations.

Sustainability has been another major point of research for the committee in the last five years. The starting point has been to evaluate consumer awareness and perceptions of different sustainability terminology (Campbell et al., 2014). Recent work has shown that sustainability concerns by consumers often translate into significant willingness to pay price premiums (Khachatryan et al., 2014; Behe et al., 2013; Behe et al., 2010). The use of biodegradable containers, for example, translates into higher price premiums for ornamental products (Yue et al., 2010). Carbon footprint analysis of nursery production systems was also evaluated by project investigators (Ingram et al.) Given the increasing consumer concerns about environmental practices and sustainability, it is anticipated that the members of the committee will continue to build upon the strong sustainability research and continue efforts to expand research to more specific topics and plant products.


  1. Investigate sustainable practices in ornamental crop production and landscape systems
  2. Evaluate economic contributions of the green industry
  3. Evaluate consumer preferences for environmental plants and related horticultural products and their contribution to health and well being.
  4. Investigate labor management practices and automation/mechanization in the nursery and greenhouse industry


Objective 1: Investigate sustainable practices in ornamental crop production and landscape systems This portion of the project will develop consumer perceptions and willingness to pay for sustainable practices and protocols for sustainable production of ornamental plants. Research will be conducted at several sites located throughout the southern, eastern and Midwestern U.S. A representative selection of native herbaceous perennials, small woody shrubs, and trees will be used. A core group of 4 species will be identified and grown by each partner in this proposal to create a core set of shared data, while other species will be grown to match native setting of each institution. Trials will be conducted at Urbana, IL (University of Illinois), Lexington, KY (University of Kentucky), and Morgantown, WV (West Virginia University). Other investigators will contribute to this research from Michigan State University, Purdue University, University of Minnesota, Texas A&M University, University of Georgia, Mississippi State University, University of Arizona, University of Delaware, University of Kentucky, Aurburn University, Louisiana State University, and University of Pennsylvania. A sustainable production system for landscape trees, shrubs and perennials will be developed and evaluated against standard nursery production practices for the ability to produce high quality, marketable plants, economic costs, and carbon and water use efficiencies. The research will focus on irrigation management, including irrigation scheduling, cultural practices, and runoff water. At each research site, a selection of commonly grown nursery plants with different water requirements (low, medium and high) will be tested under various climatic conditions. Water use, fertilizer use, plant growth parameters and plant quality will be assessed to determine the impact of various irrigation regimes on these species. The carbon footprint of nursery potting systems will be assessed to estimate greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalents) generated under various conservation practices. Quantifying the carbon footprint of such practices requires a holistic analysis of materials and energy used in the processes. We will use best available methods to determine the C footprint of conventional plastic pots manufacturing systems and compare that with the footprint of alternative pot production systems. The impact of mechanical greenhouse systems on biodegradable and plantable pots will be determined through experiments with several common species commercially available containers. In order to test the performance of the pots in mechanized production systems, the experiments will be performed in both laboratory and commercial settings, where the pots will be mechanically manipulated for filling, transplanting, spacing, and packaging operations. Container integrity will be measured after handling, along with plant growth and development parameters, and plant appearance. The impact of irrigation systems will be evaluated through an experiment with various irrigation systems such as ebb-and-flood, capillary mat, overhead boom, chapin tubes, and hand watering. Water conservation practices in the production stage will be compared with water conservation practices in the landscape and how the consumer perceptions throughout the supply chain change. Evaluation of economic and environmental impacts of sustainable practices in ornamental plant production systems will include cost analyses, assessment of carbon and water use, worker efficiency, and shrinkage at the production, shipping, and retail level. Assessment of economic impacts on income and employment will use agricultural, labor, and industry statistics to estimate economic changes that would take place if containers based on domestic materials replaced petroleum based pots. Carbon foot-prints for container manufacturing, shipping, utilization, and disposal will be determined. Carbon sequestration and exchanges will be calculated for the crops used in this research. Data on shrinkage and reduced efficiencies during production will be determined for each pot type for economic analysis. Objective 2: Evaluate economic contributions of the Green industry This objective of the project will encompass several studies to estimate the economic impacts of the Green industry nationally and at the state and region level, based on primary survey information together with secondary industry statistics. The two principal studies planned for the first two years of the project are a national survey of nursery and greenhouse producers, and an economic impact analysis of the Green industry. The third year of the project will be dedicated to outreach activities for Green industry stakeholders, researchers, and extension professionals. These studies will be lead by investigators at the University of Florida and Texas A&M University, with supporting contributions from Michigan State University, University of Delaware and Purdue University. Primary market research data on the nursery and greenhouse sector was gathered through a national survey of wholesale producers conducted in 2014. Lists of nursery and greenhouse producers and retailer/wholesaler firms throughout the U.S. was compiled from industry associations, extension professionals, and state phytosanitary regulatory agencies. Where possible, firms will be classified by size, with variables such as production acreage, employment or annual sales. A stratified sampling plan was developed based on firm size, with greater sampling intensity for larger firms. A total of about 30,000 grower and retailer/wholesaler firms was surveyed due to budget constraints. Surveys were conducted via mail and email for firms where email is available, with at least two mailings, including survey forms, cover letters from the investigators and return envelopes. Completed surveys were identified by code numbers so that sample data can be expanded to estimate values for the industry population. Repeated mailings were used to obtain a good response rate. Currently, responses are being mailed back and will be recorded once all data collection is completed. The complete data set will be made available to the entire project team for use in various analyses and publications, especially for individual State economic contribution analysis. The content of survey questionnaires was developed in consultation with industry stakeholders to address current industry issues. The questions contained in past surveys focused on the following areas: general business characteristics; types of plant materials sold; container substrates used; sales transaction methods; discounts published; seasonal sales; contract production; market channels, regional (state) trade; advertising expenditures, sources of propagated plants; water conservation practices; pest management practices; and labor-related human resource management strategies. For continuity, the same key questions used in previous surveys were used in this survey. The need for consistency with the earlier questionnaires is of course due to the need to be able to compare results in 2014 with the results obtained in earlier years. Several new questions were added in 2004 to address issues regarding water, labor and pest management (IPM), and will also be included in the 2009 and 2014 survey. Questions were also added in 2014 regarding retail marketing practices. Questionnaires and survey protocols were submitted for approval of compliance with standards for human subjects research. Primary survey information for nursery and greenhouse producers will be augmented with secondary sources such as the Economic Census for 2012, to evaluate the contributions of landscape services and marketing/trade sectors of the Green industry. The Geographic Area Series of the Economic Census provides fully detailed industry data at state and county levels. Using these primary and secondary data sources, we will estimate the broad regional economic impacts of the Green industry, including estimates for producers (growers), service providers (landscape installation and maintenance), and marketing/trade sectors. Regional economic models for the Green industry will be developed for each state of the U.S. using the IMPLAN (Impact Analyses for Planning) Professional software and associated regional datasets (Implan Group LLC). In this input-output, Social Accounting Matrix (IO-SAM) framework, regional models account for commodity production, industry output, employment, income, transfer payments, taxes and capital investment, for over 400 industry sectors, resident households, and governments, in any county or multi-county region of the United States. Economic multipliers derived from these models estimate total contributions to the regional economy in terms of output (revenues), employment, and value added or income, including direct effects that represent the initial value of the industry in question, indirect effects of supply chain input purchases, and induced effects of local spending by employee households. IMPLAN is a standard tool for economic impact analysis in the U.S., used by over 500 universities, planning organizations and consultants. A comprehensive report that presents the survey results will be prepared and distributed as a Southern Cooperative Series Bulletin. A plan will be developed for distributing the results to industry and allied stakeholders. Results of the national survey and economic impact analysis will be disseminated in two separate publications, made available in both print and electronic form on internet websites. Objective 3: Evaluate consumer preferences for environmental plants and their contribution to health and well being Internet surveys, regular mail surveys, economic experiments involved traditional and eye tracking technology will be conducted to address consumer preferences for ornamental plants. Scientific probability samples of representative households in U.S will be developed or subcontracted from market research organizations. Questionnaires and informed consent protocols will be submitted to university Institutional Review Boards for approval prior to data collection. Survey questions will be adapted from prior studies (e.g. Dennis et. al, 2005; and Hicks et. al 2006), with guidance from the Marketing Scales Handbook (Bruner, James, and Hensel, 2001). Data will be analyzed using cluster analysis procedures to identify consumer segments. We will determine if plant purchase expenditures, attitudes about the environment, recycling behavior, and demographic characteristics play a role in segmentation. To ascertain the relative importance of plant and container attributes, we will employ Discrete Choice Experiment (DCE) methods with a series of photographs of container plants that convey various product attributes and levels. Vickery type auctions will also be used to experimentally evaluate consumer preferences for plant types, containers, production systems, brands, and prices (Vickery, 1961). These studies will be conducted by investigators at Michigan State University, Purdue University, University of Minnesota, University of Delaware, University of Florida, Texas A&M University, and University of Connecticut. In addition, eye tracking devices will be used in conjunction with the pictures with a BDM auction mechanism (Becker, DeGroot, and Marschak 1964) in order to better assess attention and purchase intention of green industry product characteristics. The value proposition for the green industry in the future must focus on the unique ways in which quality of life is improved for its customer base. Some research has already validated the emotional and environmental benefits of flowers, plants, and trees. In a nutshell, green industry products and services improve emotional health, boost seniors’ well being, enhance hospital recovery rates, enhance employee innovation and ideas, strengthen feelings of compassion, decrease worry and anxiety, express feelings of compassion, build stronger communities, mitigate environmental externalities, and improve the economic value of homes– just to name a few of the benefits (Hall and Dickson 2011). Plant promotional programs in the U.S. will be identified and reviewed based on searches of program websites and interviews with program directors. Program profiles will compare procedures for selection of plants, testing procedures that establish viability and quality potential across geographic areas in a state, announcement procedures, kinds of promotional materials and activities (flyers, posters, events and others), and the value of support. Mail or web-based surveys of wholesale growers and retail garden centers will collect information about knowledge of programs; rates of participation; number of program plants produced; expansion of production and sales of these plants compared to unsupported plant material; incentives and disincentives for participation; use of the programs for promotional activities by individual growers; price premiums, customer interest, or other relevant factors, as well as qualitative assessment of the programs. A survey of homeowners will be conducted regarding their attitudes and expenditures for nursery products and landscape services and to investigate how geographic differences affect consumer attitudes and purchasing patterns. Telephone surveys will gather data on attitudes toward gardening, types of outlets patronized for purchase of nursery products and landscape services, future gardening plans and proposed expenditures, along with information on socioeconomic characteristics to identify market segments. The effectiveness of raising public awareness of sustainable landscape practices by the use of interpretive signs, multimedia videos, presentations and other educational materials will be measured using surveys and focus groups. Landscape installations of underused native trees will be planted and consumer opinions measured using surveys at multiple special events. Objective 4: Investigate labor management and mechanization in the nursery and greenhouse industry Analysis of the impacts of adopting new labor saving practices will carried out with the Greenhouse Cost Accounting Program (http://aesop.rutgers.edu/~farmmgmt/) developed at Rutgers University, that has been recently updated to include calculations on overhead costs and key financial ratios. In addition to analyzing their actual costs, managers can use the program as a planning tool to analyze the impact of changes in labor practices and wages, various cultural practices for irrigation and pest control, as well as changes in marketing mixes. Impacts of mechanization/automation in nursery operations will be assessed using the Mississippi Budget generator adapted with stochastic modeling of input and output quantities and prices using the Simetar software. This work will be conducted at Mississippi State University.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Cost estimates will be developed for selected new technologies and sustainable production practices. The Greenhouse Cost Accounting Program to evaluate investment alternatives will be modified, including parameters on how to use the spreadsheet to evaluate conservation options for greenhouse operations. The most economically feasible sustainable landscape practices will be identified, along with an economic analysis of costs of installing and maintaining sustainable landscapes, and a full cost analysis of the negative costs to the environment of conventional landscapes, and will be supported by extension outreach materials and training sessions. Optimal fertility usage and rates for several container grown nursery crops will be determined. Plant water requirements of several popular container-grown nursery crops will be compared with suitable replacement native plant selections. Water conserving irrigation scheduling based on water requirement for those plants will be determined, as well as plant growth and quality changes in response to water conserving irrigation schedules. Specific recommendations for use of a seed carrier, seed mix and herbicide will be provided for establishment of natural meadows for roadside vegetation. A compendium of energy conservation technologies, alternative energy sources, and existing funding and incentive programs for nurseries/greenhouses will be developed, and extension training sessions will be delivered. The best species of woody plants will be identified for realizing long term environmental benefits of urban highway plantings. The best plant species will be identified for urban stormwater pollutant remediation, and growth in difficult conditions (compacted soils, high salts, drought, flooding, etc.). Preferred landscape plant site preparation and establishment practices will be determined for enhanced survival.
  • The economic impact of the U.S. Green industry in 2013 will be updated, and a full report will be developed in print and electronic form and disseminated via the internet. Extension outreach materials will be developed, such as brochures, fact sheets, and trade magazine articles will also be developed in print and electronic media. Presentations will be given at professional meetings. Financial benchmarks for greenhouses, nursery production operations, and other-related horticultural businesses will be updated. Prevailing production and marketing practices in the U.S. nursery and greenhouse industry will be updated. The magnitude and direction of regional trade flows of nursery and floriculture specialty crops in the U.S. will be quantified.
  • A report with consumer purchasing habits by different demographic segments will be developed highlighting differences in preferences among demographic groups. Consumers who comprise the market for organic, locally-grown, and sustainably-produced ornamental plants will be profiled for use by the industry. Consumers who comprise the market for an increasingly growing branded plants segment will be identified. Key factors that influence consumers’ current and future decisions to purchase nursery products and landscaping services will be identified, along with their level of satisfaction with nursery/floral products and services Estimates of average household expenditures for nursery products and landscaping services will be developed. Consumer perceptions of sustainable landscapes and underused native tree species will be summarized and the effect of raised awareness on those perceptions will be reported. An evaluation of national and state promotional programs will be completed. Targeted marketing and economics workshops will be held throughout the U.S. Eye tracking will be used in combination of other economic studies to better understand factors that generate consumer attention and purchase intentions.
  • The effect of selected nursery mechanization/automation practices on labor productivity and efficiency will be determined. Information will

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • The results from this project will provide valuable input into the decision-making activity of nursery professionals regarding future expansion plans, the selection of which plants to grow and in what quantity, the determination of which production method to use, and the appropriate outlets to target for their output.
  • Increased wholesale value of nursery and greenhouse crops through increased sales to retail outlets and consumption by end-users and businesses.
  • Nursery/greenhouse and landscape worker productivity may be enhanced by training and education in methods that are well understood and retained by English and Spanish speaking workers
  • Increased adoption of energy conservation practices for nursery/greenhouse operations through analysis of benefits and costs with tools developed.
  • Enhanced profitability of nursery and greenhouse firms through better financial benchmark information published regionally and nationally.
  • Enhanced nursery product portfolio selection achieved through recommended procedures for unit cost analysis.
  • Increased sales of environmentally friendly ornamental plant products and related services.
  • Enhanced effectiveness of state promotional programs based on plant evaluations and analysis of public awareness.
  • Reduced water, chemical and fertilizer use by nursery growers due to greater adoption of conservation technologies and practices.
  • Use of “Green” processes based upon quantitative data will result in improved farm incomes while sustaining environmental quality by reducing the carbon, water, and chemical foot prints used in nurseries and greenhouses


(2015): The National Nursery survey and economic impact analysis of the Green Industry will be completed. Consumer preference studies on branded plants and demographics of green industry purchases will be completed. Marketing workshops and webinars will be conducted.

(2016): Studies of consumer preferences using eye tracking technology will be completed. Studies of language training programs on worker productivity and turnover will be completed. Studies of nursery automation/mechanization will be completed. Marketing workshops and webinars will be conducted

(2017): Financial benchmarks for greenhouses, nursery production operations, and other-related horticultural businesses will be updated. Studies of consumers who comprise the market for native plants and naturalistic landscape designs will be completed. Studies of water conserving irrigation in production and in the landscape will be completed. Marketing workshops and webinars will be conducted.

(2018): Studies of factors influencing consumers’ decisions to purchase nursery products and landscaping services, and their level of satisfaction with nursery/floral products and services will be completed. Marketing workshops will be conducted.

(2020): Project results will be published in scientific journals and various industry trade magazines. Marketing workshops and webinars will be conducted.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

The research conducted for this project will generate peer-reviewed publications as well as articles for the trade press. Presentations will be made at international, national, regional and state level professional meetings. Publications will be made available on the project website (http:// www.greenindustryresearch.org) as well as websites of individual researchers. Researchers with extension appointments will take the lead on disseminating information through regional and state trade meetings.

Attendance at traditional meetings, seminars, trade shows, workshops, etc. is on the decline due to cost of travel, time away from the job, and reductions in state and federal budgets supporting extension educational programs for environmental horticulture industry professionals. Despite this trend, the demand for relevant, high quality educational information is on the rise. Extension education is increasingly being conducted via distance learning through electronic media. Green industry professionals are requesting more information in formats which are readily accessible via information technology (IT) formats such as email, CD’s, DVD’s, websites, blogs, listserves, webinars and podcasts. The use of various IT products has greatly assisted the efficient production and delivery of information to this audience, to meet educational needs while reducing costs. Project outputs will also be contributed to the eXtension system to the extent possible.

Information for extension personnel and industry professionals will also be disseminated through a series of marketing and economics workshops conducted throughout the U.S. Extension agents and educators are often trained in production but very few can provide marketing and economic expertise to the specialty crop stakeholders they serve. Within the extension system, economic and community development specialists are trained to foster and develop increasing economic opportunities, but few are trained in providing those opportunities by focusing on specialty crops. The program will provide training to extension agents on information for floriculture and nursery marketing and economics from secondary sources as well as peer-reviewed research. Topics will range from where to find economic information such as weekly shipping reports to understanding the economic impact of the green industry. The focus will be on building a marketing infrastructure for the ornamental, nursery and floriculture, sectors. We will choose two states per year to deliver this two-tiered program. Currently, few states have a horticulture marketing specialist, so extension agents rely on a few key people in other states for this service. The team will pursue a multi-faceted approach with the marketing boot camp to ensure the greatest number of producers and extension agents are reached and that the program participants are representative of the diversity of producers of specialty crops in the cooperating states.

Input from various stakeholder groups was solicited prior to the development of this proposal. Nursery and landscape associations in various states were contacted to solicit their input into the prioritization of research objectives based on their working knowledge of the industry. Other members of trade associations that provide services to the industry (e.g. the North American Horticultural Suppliers Association) were contacted to solicit their input as well. Additionally, national program leaders within NIFA that provide administrative oversight to the S-1051 multi-state regional research group were consulted. Members of the project team also contacted representatives of the American Floral Endowment (AFE) and the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) to ensure that the research objectives were aligned with their research priorities (which themselves were based on input from nursery and floral producers nationally) and to eliminate the likelihood of duplication of efforts.


The Technical Committee will be organized and operated in accordance with the regulations specified in the National Guidelines for Multistate Research Activities (http://saaesd.ncsu.edu/).

Officers. All voting members of the technical committee are eligible for office, regardless of sponsoring agency affiliation. Officers are elected to two-year terms by the committee membership. The chair, in consultation with the administrative adviser, notifies the technical committee members of the time and place of meetings, prepares the agenda, and presides at meetings of the technical committee and the executive committee. The chair is responsible for preparing or supervising the preparation of the annual report of the regional project. The secretary records the minutes and performs other duties assigned to him/her by the technical committee or the administrative advisor. The secretary shall prepare and email the minutes of any official meeting to committee members within a six-week period.

Subcommittees. An executive committee consisting of the chair and two or more other members of the technical committee may be designated to conduct the business of the committee between meetings and perform other duties as assigned by the technical committee. Subcommittees will be named by the chair as needed for specific assignments. This format may include subcommittees to develop procedures, manuals, and phases of the regional project; to review work assignments; to develop research methods; and to prepare publications.

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