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Wen-fei L. Uva and Thomas C. Weiler

Adopting technology to achieve environmental stewardship is a high priority among greenhouse industry members. Zero runoff crop production systems can protect surface and ground water and use water, fertilizer, and labor resources more efficiently. However, scarce capital and fear of new technology are impediments to change. Our objectives were to characterize decision making and profitability related to zero runoff systems. Managers of 80 greenhouse operations with zero runoff systems in 26 states participated in a survey designed to gather information on the costs–benefits of adoption and production changes and issues related to zero runoff systems for greenhouse operations. The survey results revealed that some adjustments of production practices were essential when adopting zero runoff systems. It also appeared that greenhouse operators believe they are achieving the intended outcomes and efficiencies from their investment. Size of the operation appeared to be closely linked to the growers' willingness to adopt this new technology. Important reasons for making the decision of adopting zero runoff systems were to improve quality of productions, cut production costs, increase production efficiency, and respond to public concern for the environment. Two thirds of the operators surveyed found that special employee training in the operation of zero runoff systems was required. Most employers found in-house training was adequate for their needs. Operators verified that a significant learning curve slows implementation of zero runoff production Adjustments of cultural practices coupled with good production management were keys to growing zero runoff successfully.

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Wen-fei L. Uva, Thomas C. Weiler, Louis D. Albright, and Douglas A. Haith

Although zero runoff subirrigation (ZRS) technology has great promise to manage fertilizer inputs while improving production efficiency in greenhouse operations, high initial investment costs and inadequate technical background are major impediments for initiating the change. In a world of uncertainty, greenhouse operators face the challenge of making an optimal investment decision to satisfy environmental compliance expectations and meet the companies' financial goals. Using Monte Carlo simulation, cost risk was analyzed to compare the relative risks of investing in alternative ZRS systems for greenhouse crop production. An investment model was defined for greenhouse production with alternative ZRS systems. Each cost variable was allowed to vary based on a probability distribution. Random numbers were generated to determine parameters for the probability distributions for the uncertain variables. The simulation process was repeated 300 times for each production model. Simulation results showed that among the four ZRS systems studied (ebb-and-flow benches, Dutch movable trays, flood floors, and trough benches), the Dutch movable tray system returned the highest average profit for small potted plant production and the flood floor system returned the highest average profit for large potted plant and bedding crop flat production. Risk of the production models were compared by the variability of simulation results. The Dutch movable tray system is the least risky for small potted plant production, and the flood floor system is the least risky for large potted plant and bedding crop flat production. Despite its low initial costs of adoption, the trough bench system was least competitive as a ZRS technology for a greenhouse operation because of the relative low profitability and high risk of production due to volatile profitability.

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Wen-fei L. Uva, Thomas C. Weiler, Robert A. Milligan, and Wen-fei L. Uva

Adoption of technology to achieve environmental stewardship and remain competitive is a high priority for greenhouse businesses. Zero runoff subirrigation (ZRS) technology offers great promise to manage fertilizer inputs while improving production efficiency. This study applied economic engineering methodology to quantify costs and returns associated with adopting ZRS systems and compare profitability of producing crops using alternative ZRS systems for greenhouse operations in the northeastern and north central United States. The production models showed that using ZRS systems to grow greenhouse crops can be profitable if growers select a system best suitable for their crop choices. Among the four ZRS systems studied (ebb-and-flow rolling benches, Dutch movable trays, flood floors and trough benches), the Dutch movable tray system returned the highest profit per square foot week (SFW) greenhouse area for small potted plant production ($0.244/SFW), and the flood floor system returned the highest profit when producing large potted plants ($0.002/SFW) and bedding crop flats ($0.086/SFW). The trough bench system was least profitable had the lowest profit for the two applicable crop categories—small potted plants ($0.183/SFW) and large potted plants (–$0.006/SFW). Sensitivity analysis showed that changes of cost variables generally did not affect the profitability rankings for alternative ZRS systems. Except for labor costs, as the hourly wage increased, the Dutch movable tray system gained advantages for small potted plant and large potted plant production. Among selected costs variables, changes in labor costs and tax rate had the highest impact on the profitability of small potted plant production, and changes in labor costs and initial investment costs had the highest impact on the profitability of large potted plant and bedding crop flat production.

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Wen-fei L. Uva, Thomas C. Weiler, and Robert A. Milligan

Zero runoff subirrigation (ZRS) technology is a promising method of managing fertilizer and pesticide inputs while improving production efficiency. However, high capital investment costs and inadequate technical information available to growers are major impediments to initiating the change. This study quantifies costs and returns associated with adopting ZRS systems and compares the profitability of four alternative ZRS systems (ebb-and-flow benches, Dutch movable trays, flood floors, and trough benches) for greenhouse operations in the northeastern and north central United States. The capital investment analysis showed that the Dutch movable tray system was most profitable for small potted plant production, and the flood floor system was most profitable for large potted plant and bedding crop flat production. Sensitivity analysis showed that changes in cost variables generally did not affect the profitability rankings of the alternative ZRS investment projects. Nonetheless, the flood floor system gained slight advantages when the product price increased, and the Dutch movable tray system gained advantages as the hourly labor cost increased.

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Harvey J. Lang and Timothy R. Pannkuk

New Guinea impatiens `Barbados' (Impatiens ×hawkeri) were fertilized with solutions containing N at 6, 12, or 18 mmol·L-1 delivered from a drip irrigation system with either minimum leaching or standard leaching (0.3 to 0.4 leaching fraction). Irrigation was monitored and controlled by computers using microtensiometers placed in representative pots of each treatment. In two separate experiments, growth index, fresh mass, and dry mass were dependent upon both fertilizer concentration and irrigation treatment. Maximum growth overall was achieved at 12 mmol·L-1 N regardless of irrigation treatment; however, standard-leached plants receiving N at both 6 and 18 mmol·L-1 produced larger plants than did similarly fertilized minimum-leached plants. Leaf scorch, spotting, or marginal necrosis did not occur in any of the treatments. Leaf N, P, and K concentrations were highest in plants treated with N at 18 mmol·L-1, but Ca, Mg, and several micronutrients were highest in plants at 6 mmol·L-1 N. At the end of the cropping period for both experiments, growing medium electrical conductivity (EC) in the uppermost one-third layer of the pot was two to four times as high as that in the bottom two-thirds (root zone) layer. Root-zone EC ranged from 0.6 to 4.0 dS·m-1 and increased as fertilizer concentration increased. Standard leaching had little effect in reducing root-zone EC except in plants fertilized with N at 18 mmol·L-1. All plants continued to perform well and flower after 4 weeks in a simulated interior environment. Minimum-leach drip irrigation used ≈35% less solution than did standard irrigation with leaching, and eliminated N runoff.

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Matthew W. Kent and David Wm. Reed

Greenhouse cultural methods must minimize runoff to keep pace with environmental regulation aimed at protecting water resources. Two experiments were designed to investigate the effect of N fertilization rate on New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens ×hawkeri) and peace lily (Spathiphyllum Schott) in an ebb-and-flow subirrigation system. Maximum growth response for impatiens was centered around 8 mm N levels as measured by root and shoot fresh and dry weight, height, leaf number, leaf area, and chlorophyll concentration. For peace lily, growth peaked at about 10 mm N. Growing medium was divided into three equal layers: top, middle, and bottom. Root distribution favored the middle and bottom layers, and the relative distribution of roots was consistent as N level increased. EC remained low in middle and bottom layers at N concentrations below 10 mm, but increased significantly for all layers at levels above 10 mm. The EC for the top layer was 2 to 5 times higher than in the middle or bottom layers at all N levels. Increased nitrate concentration paralleled increased EC, while pH decreased as N concentration increased for impatiens and peace lily.

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Trisha Blessington Haley and David Wm. Reed

Two experiments were conducted to investigate the effect of K fertilizer rates on growth of New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens Hawkeri Bull.), vinca (Catharanthus roseus (L.) G. Don) and petunia (Petunia ×hybrida Hort. Vilm.-Andr.) in a recirculating subirrigation system. Based on a variety of growth parameters, a broad range of K concentrations allowed maximum growth, notably 1 to 6 mM for New Guinea impatiens `Ovation Salmon Pink Swirl', 2 mm for New Guinea impatiens `Cameo' and `Illusion', 2 to 8 mm for vinca `Pacifica Apricot', and 2 to 16 mm for petunia `Trailing Wave Misty Lilac'. Thus, the lowest concentration that allowed maximum growth was 1 to 2 mm K. A third experiment compared the optimum K concentration and K balance of vinca grown with recirculating subirrigation versus top-watering. Based on a variety of growth parameters of vinca `Pacifica Red', the lowest concentration that allowed maximum growth was 2 mm K with recirculating subirrigation and 4 mm K with top-watering. The K balance demonstrated that subirrigated plants were twice as efficient in K use compared to the top-watered plants. Leachate loss was the major contributor to inefficiency in top-watered plants. Electrical conductivity (EC) of the growing medium remained below the recommended level of 1.2 dS·m-1 in both irrigation methods at K concentrations of 16 mm and below in the bottom layer and 8 mm and below in the middle layer. In the top layer of the growing medium, EC was above the recommended level at all K concentrations tested in subirrigation at all concentrations, and in top-watering at 16 mm and above.

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Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, Geoffrey Matthew Weaver, Marc W. van Iersel, and Roberto Testezlaf

of zero runoff subirrigation systems in greenhouse operations HortScience 36 167 173 Uva, W.F.L. Weiler, T.C. Milligan, R.A. 2001 Economic analysis of adopting zero runoff subirrigation in greenhouse operations in the northeast and north central

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Youssef Rouphael and Giuseppe Colla

Growth of a tomato crop at reduced nutrient concentrations as a strategy to limit eutrophication J. Plant Nutr. 21 1879 1895 Uva, W.L. Weiler, T.C. Milligan, R.A. 1998 A survey on the planning and adoption of zero runoff subirrigation systems in

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Carlos Vinicius Garcia Barreto, Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, Flávio Bussmeyer Arruda, and Roberto Testezlaf

bottom of pots using the substrate capillary action to wet the roots. The system has zero runoff ( Uva et al., 2001 ), provides higher substrate soil moisture ( Geneve et al., 2004 ), improves root water distribution, and induces greater root development