by Courtney Llewellyn

New information was presented by a team of experts from Cornell University for those in the horticultural industry on Friday, April 3. The university is working in tandem with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) to ensure growers have accurate, up-to-date information.

One of the most pressing concerns right now is answering what is and is not an essential business. This topic was covered by Julie Suarez, associate dean for Land Grant Affairs. (She noted that as guidance keeps changing, the information presented was only accurate as of April 3.) “Horticulture is considered non-essential as of this time, with the exception of greenhouses and nurseries selling food-producing plants,” she said. “Food processing, food producing and farms are still essential but are still expected to utilize all the best measures they can to protect workers and public safety.” However, if you sell ornamental and food-producing plants at the same time, that’s a bit of a gray area. General landscape work is now considered non-essential, but installing a vegetable garden is still being allowed, for example.

Suarez suggested checking the state’s guidance and making the best judgement you can. She added that NYSDAM hopes they’ll have better guidance to clarify these gray areas shortly. To see their guidance, check regularly.

Remote Diagnostics of Pest & Disease Issues

Lindsey Christianson, senior resource educator with CCE Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program, let growers know they can submit questions to CCE and diagnostic labs by submitting photos for greenhouse pest and disease identification. In addition to sending photos, she said you should include the following information: affected plant species/varieties, the location of the plants, how the symptoms are distributed, when the symptoms appeared and pest management applications (if any). Multiple photos are helpful; they should show a range of symptomatic plants (close-ups and long shots), and include photos of insects when possible. These can be emailed to your local CCE branch.

Extension specialists gave brief updates on disease and pest issues growers should be aware of this spring. This season, beware of botrytis blight, sclerotinia white mold, xanthomonas leaf spot on begonias, black root rot, coleus downy mildew and impatiens downy mildew. Additionally, in NYS, be on the lookout for pests which overwintered on weeds (since we didn’t have a particularly harsh winter), broad mites, foxglove aphids and chilli thrips.

Marketing Greenhouse Crops: Industry Survey Results

Associate professor and greenhouse Extension specialist Neil Mattson reviewed a recent survey Cornell conducted, with the following responses:

  • How have you been able to maintain appropriate social distancing with employees? Answers included rearranging workspaces, having employees take breaks in different areas at different times and staggering schedules, enforcing frequent hand washing, and laying off or furloughing staff to reduce potential contact.
  • What ways have you been able to sell (or plan to sell) plants while maintaining social distance? Growers have been offering delivery, taking orders online or by phone with customer pickup, limiting the number of customers in their stores, offering customers individual appointments and even keeping their retail stores closed (allowing people to pay at the front door).
  • What are the best online payment systems? Traditional credit card processing, Square, Paypal, Stripe, Beyond, Venmo and mobile wallets were all listed.

One survey response read, “The guidelines from government are one thing; what’s more important to retail business is the way the businesses are framed on social media. It is very important to do the right thing by the community…focusing just on selling products is maybe okay in short run but will probably hurt in long run if the community thinks you were not part of the solution. Also, we really do not want to see this virus re-emerge in a month or so again because we did not do what is necessary now.”