Meticulous glove and utensil protocols are just some of the procedures we use to ensure clean growing operations.
We sat down with Dennis Crum, Director of Growing Operations, to learn how Four Star’s ‘Clean’ growing practices result in distinct benefits for growers.
DC: We keep an extremely clean growing environment that starts with thorough sanitation at the start of each season and after each crop finishes. Plus, we clean and sanitize the greenhouses every day. We have cleaning machines that spray disinfectant and collect it from the floors. The flood floor areas have been done so often that visitors think we buff and polish them. When visitors see our floors, they say, “It’s so clean, it looks like you can eat off it!”
Add to this our strict protocols for wearing gloves, using sanitizing agents, treating cutting utensils and other practices throughout the entire growing and order-pulling process, and you have an extremely clean growing environment. I like to think that when our staff sees all this cleanliness, it teaches them to stay clean too.
DC: When cuttings arrive, they go first to the laboratory at the front of the greenhouse for immediate sorting and testing. The staff selects samples and sends those to Agdia for additional virus screening. We test cuttings on a select schedule based on past history and the virus tendencies of each genera. So genera that are virus prone will be tested more often than others, but we continue to test all crops throughout the season. Random testing is also done weekly from plants scheduled to ship the next week, to make sure those plants are at peak health.
New cuttings are tested immediately in our in-house laboratory and select cuttings are sent for additional virus screening.
DC: We employ a full time IPM coordinator whose job is to scout for pests and to make the appropriate treatment as needed. Our growers regularly scout for insects, weeds and disease, treating in and out of propagation — we even have a contest for the best scouting work! We also do weekly soil pH and EC testing to assess the conditions of plants.
DC: We recently instituted several new biological control techniques and no longer use neonicotinoids in young plant and finished production, so that we minimize our environmental impact. By using biological controls as our first line of defense, we have reduced our pesticide use a great deal and now mainly treat “hot spots” only for pests. In the past, we applied broad, large-area pesticide treatments.
We make preventative disease treatments in and out of propagation and take an aggressive approach to weed treatment. We take extra care to handle and grow crops with the highest virus or disease tendencies under higher safeguards, such as crop separation.
DC: Yes, very much! We have written training modules that cover all aspects of growing, including scouting and watering. We review this with them regularly, especially watering practices, which need to be adjusted to suit the crop and the season. For instance, watering practices for late spring are a lot different than the practices we use in early winter when it is colder and darker. We can’t let the staff stay in a rut – it’s important to vary our practices for the crops.
Clean growing practices keep our plants healthy and disease-free.
DC: Yes we do. Almost all of our greenhouses have concrete floors and all are thrip screened, with computer-controlled growing environments. We don’t allow pet plants in our production areas and we never reuse trays. Much of the liner propagation and growing is done with high-pressure sodium lighting to develop vibrant plants. We tone and treat plants before shipping so they are of the highest quality when they are delivered.
We invest in all these things because we know that happier and healthier plants are more resistant to disease, and this minimizes the grower’s risk. Not only do we employ high levels of sanitary protocols here at Four Star, but we also purchase plant material from only the cleanest and best suppliers from around the world. Some propagators may cut corners, but we believe you get what you pay for!