Greenhouse and nursery water conference recap – Part 2

Highlights of the conference included controlling waterborne pathogens, designing effective water treatment systems, economics of wireless sensor irrigation systems and how to capitalize and market plants grown under water conservation practices.

Photo 1. Water filtration system. All photos by Tom Fernandez, MSU
Photo 1. Water filtration system. All photos by Tom Fernandez, MSU

Greenhouse and nursery growers from across west Michigan attended a one-day conference July 28, 2015, on improving water management. In Part 2 of my two-part article series summarizing the presentations that took place at this conference, I will start with the presentation by Rosa E. Raudales from the University of Connecticut. She focused on how to monitor, sample and understand how pathogens in irrigation water can be a serious production problem. A variety of water treatment alternatives including chlorine, coppers, filtration (Photo 1), reverse osmosis, etc., were discussed for various waterborne pathogens. For more specifics, I suggest going to Back Pocket Grower, specifically the list of Organisms on the Waterborne Solutions page.

Paul Fisher from the University of Florida shared some research results on why irrigation emitters clog up and how to deal with biofilm build up, which includes removal of all organic matter and power washing the floors, shocking the irrigation system with chlorine dioxide (Photo 2), chlorine or peroxyacetic acid and then using water filtration plus a sanitizing agent. For more details on tools to measure the correct levels of chlorine in your water systems, go to Back Pocket Grower, specifically the list of Treatment Systems on the Waterborne Solutions page.

chlorine dioxide system 
Photo 2. Chlorine dioxide system.

As for the economics of setting up an improved irrigation management system using the Decagon Devices system as described in Part 1 of this series, John Majsztrik from Clemson University shared some economics that indicated an annual net savings anywhere from $5,000 to $123,000 for nursery operations in Georgia and Tennessee. These savings were gained from reduced crop loss, less disease pressure, shorter production cycle which lead to lower labor and input costs, reduced fertilizer loss and lower pumping or water costs. (Contact me at if you would like to have a copy of his research summary.)

Finally, Bridget Behe from the Michigan State University Department of Horticulture indicated through some recently completed research with consumers that “some” consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable growing practices like water conservation practices in growing ornamental plants. However, the key will be to educate the consumer on the topic and why it is important. Promote and communicate your story and nudge prices up modestly.

The conference was sponsored by Michigan State University Department of Horticulture, MSU AgBioResearch and Michigan State University Extension, as well as the Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grant – Clean Water3 Reduce, Remediate, Recycle. For more information on the presentations, read Part 1.

For further information on these topics, contact your local MSU Extension nursery educator.

Did you find this article useful?