Producing Woody Floral Products in an Alleycropping System in Nebraska

in HortTechnology

Producers in the central United States are showing considerable interest in growing alternative crops such as specialty forest products for food, herbal medicinal, decorative floral and craft markets. Crops showing particular promise are shrubs and trees that produce decorative woody stems such as curly willow (Salix matsudana), scarlet curls willow (S. matsudana `Scarlet Curls'), french `Scarlet Curls'), french pussy willow (S. caprea), red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), and branches of flowering trees and shrubs, including apple (Malus spp.), cherry (spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.), and forsythia (Forsythia spp.). spp.). The objectives of this study were to 1) determine yields and performance of 10 woody plant cultivars used in the floral industry, and planted in an alley-cropping configuration, and 2) quantify wholesale prices, establishment and maintenance costs, management and harvest labor inputs, and financial returns by cultivar. Production and performance data are derived from a 40-acre (16.2-ha) alleycropping trial in Nebraska containing 10 species or cultivars of shrubs that produce woody florals. Results are based on two harvests that commenced two and three growing seasons after establishment. Harvested woody stem size and quality were measured and determined, and sold to wholesale florists to determine prices and identify buyer requirements. Annual gross financial returns ranged from a high of $24.94/plant for scarlet curls willow to a low of $0.63/plant for bloodtwig dogwood (C. sanguinea var. atrosanguinea), while net returns per plant for these species ranged from a positive $17.46 to a loss of $1.30. Financial returns varied among species and cultivars due to the combined effects of annual marketable stem production, harvesting and processing labor requirements, and price/stem. Stem production increased over time due to subsequent coppicing of harvested plants. Overall findings indicate that commercial production of selected cultivars of woody florals in an alleycropping arrangement can be a profitable alternative to using conventional woody species.

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