by Gail March Yerke

What’s in a name? Founded in 1953 by a small group of Milwaukee growers devoted to the floriculture industry, today’s Commercial Flower Growers of Wisconsin (CFGW) includes a much broader membership base. Members hail from Wisconsin as well as Illinois, Ohio, Iowa and Indiana.

With over 75 member greenhouses, allied businesses, educators and horticulture students, CFGW provides networking opportunities along with presentations from academics and industry experts from across the United States. They provide continuing education to the commercial greenhouse industry.

The group’s diverse 10-member board of directors includes both wholesale and retail growers working together to keep the CFGW vital in a changing marketplace. The board, along with Executive Secretary John Esser, outlines and schedules the greenhouse-hosted meetings and special events for the year. According to Esser, a typical CFGW meeting offers a tour of the host greenhouse followed by an informal dinner. Guest speakers cover topics from growing trends to staffing and marketing practices. Growers are always welcome to attend an evening meeting and learn more about the group for themselves.

“The great part is that people in the group are willing to share ideas,” said Esser. “One of our more popular meetings is the June spring recap. It’s a roundtable format where members talk about what went well that season and what didn’t. We cover everything from what sold and what didn’t sell to what worked in advertising that season. It’s not just a trade organization; it’s a social group as well.”

The group recently met at K&W Greenery in Racine, WI. Hosts Jordan Graffin and Chris Williams welcomed the group and shared the background of their greenhouse and garden center business started by their parents in 1972. Williams introduced featured speaker Daryl Johnson, an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) specialist in the North American Midwest territory for Bioline AgroSciences.

Johnson addressed the group about alternative pest management programs using beneficial insects. While many greenhouses have successfully integrated insects as their main pest control, he suggested, “Start small when changing over to beneficial insects and be sure to take advantage of the resources and information available from your vendor along the way.”

Johnson showed how his company offers more than 30 predatory insects to help control everything from aphids, mites and thrips to whitefly. When asked if a spray program could also be used along with the beneficials, he said there are a limited number of chemistries that can be used in conjunction with these programs and emphasized the importance of planned applications.

Afterward, Saurabh Betawadkar of Focus On Energy offered information on cost share services and incentives for agribusiness energy efficiency in the greenhouse.

The University of Wisconsin West Agriculture Research Station will host August’s meeting. Members will tour the research station field trials, including 118 varieties of propagated vegetative geraniums and over 35 varieties of vegetative dahlias at the Aug. 1 meeting. The research station offers different plant trials each year. The 2019 trials are the largest field trial of these species in the United States and offer the comparison of varieties under Midwest growing conditions. The West Madison site also offers perennial flower, vegetable and table grape trials.

The group recruits speakers on many different topics including new varieties and cultural techniques as well as insect and disease control in the greenhouse. Attendees of the August meeting will hear from University of Wisconsin entomologist PJ Liesch and plant pathologist Brian Hudelson.

This year’s CFGW Fall Conference on Oct. 16 will include a trade show and feature internationally known speaker Dr. Charles Hall from Texas A&M. Diane Blazek, executive director at All American Selections/National Garden Bureau, and Senior Vice President of AmericanHort Carl Regelbrugger will round out the educational program at the day-long conference held at Natural Beauty Growers in Denmark, WI. More about the Commercial Flower Growers of Wisconsin is available at