Help AFE help the Floral Business

I recently had the opportunity to visit Clemson University in South Carolina as part of a visit by members of the AFE Trustee Board.  AFE stands for the American Floral Endowment.  The Endowment raises money in the floral industry for scholarships for college students studying various aspects of the floral industry and also research projects.  These research projects are awarded to land grant universities all over the country.  Univ of Vermont, Clemson, Perdue, Colorado State, and Rutgers to name just a few.  The Endowment requests research projects on certain hot topics such as Botrytis, Thrips or honeybee die-offs.   Here are a few of the projects going on at Clemson:

Botrytis Prevention

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Katie Bennett, (pictured above with James Faust PH.D) a Clemson graduate student, talked to our visiting group quite a bit about the work they have been doing with calcium.  Calcium, as you will recall is the mineral that makes our bones and teeth strong.  Well calcium also seems to have a great effect against Botrytis.  They have done a lot of studies using calcium and control groups, and they have found that calcium inhibits the development of Botrytis.  Currently, farms in South America use fungicides to battle Botrytis.  These cost $170.00 per acre.  Using calcium costs 1.71 per acre.

Honey Bee Deaths

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Dr. J.C. Chong, also employed by Clemson, has an extensive study going on with honeybees.  The current theory espoused by environmental activists and some bee experts on honeybee die offs is that insecticides used by cut flower and flowering plants growers eventually end up in the bee and kill the bee.  Here is the supposed flow cart - Insecticides are sprayed on the plant.  They end up in the soil, are drawn up the roots and they are absorbed by the pollen and nectar, both of which bees come in contact with. 

Neonicotinoids, the active ingredient in some insecticides, is receiving adverse publicity in the mainstream media.  There are demonstrations all over the country and companies like Home Depot and Lowe’s are receiving the brunt of the negative publicity.  Still, there is no proof that the neonicotinoids are to blame.  That’s why AFE is sponsoring this study with Clemson.  Dr. Chong is trying to measure levels of neonicotinoids in pollen and nectar, expose bees to these active ingredients underneath a tent and then measure the amount of bees that die, and the amount that live at various ranges of exposure.  Upon completion of the study, Dr. Chong will write a paper and also host a webinar to explain his results.  The Horticultural Research Initiative and USDA have also funded Dr. Chong for this study with AFE.  There are three other universities around the country doing bee studies also.  Once the webinar gets scheduled, we will let our customer know, in case they want to take part in the webinar.

Using VIGS Technology to Increase Flowering of Roses

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Clemson Grad student, Johnathan Windham, is working with a garden rose variety known as “Old Blush.”  The gene that stops the bush from re-blooming is broken, so the plant keeps re-blooming.  Mr. Windham is trying to recreate this broken gene in other varieties to make other also re-bloom.  This is not GMO, for they are only breaking existing genes, not making new genes.

Daily Light Integral Maps

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Dr. James Faust recently completed an Updated Daily Light Integral Map for the entire United States.  In the past, a farmer that was deciding what crops to plant in what field would walk out to the field with a light meter and measure light intensity for 5 minutes or so, and then based on what his/her light meter said, would make a decision about what crop to plant.  This light map gives that same information, just more accurately and for every position in the country.  AFE didn’t fund this, but Clemson presented this to our trustee group, and I felt it was interesting enough to pass along.  The light map in the US had not been updated for a long time, and was overdue for an update.  Last time they did this Hawaii and Alaska weren’t even included on the light map.  If you know someone that would be interested in this information, email the professor at

Understanding Botrytis Resistance to Fungicides

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Dr. Schnabel laments what is happening with fungicides in the flower business.  These fungicides are overused by flower farmers and now the Botrytis disease had mutated and developed resistance to many of the name brand fungicides on the market.  Dr. Schnabel says that if a farmer would alternate the various fungicides, that would prevent the Botrytis disease from developing resistance.  But what sometimes happens is a farmer will just use the same fungicide over and over, and that’s when the mutation/resistance happens.  He has looked at what Florida strawberry growers have done to combat Botrytis.  He has taken their ideas and graphed them onto the floral business.  He has developed a smartphone app.  The app looks at weather data (the farms would have to install a weather station) and uses a computer program to tell the farmer when exactly to apply the fungicide.  So, instead of multiple sprayings of a fungicide, the farmer can spray more sparingly.  The app knows when the danger of Botrytis exists.  So this will drastically reduce spraying of the fungicide, reducing both costs and also preventing the disease from mutating, or at least slowing down the pace of mutations.

AFE funds many other studies at many other universities, all to benefit the floral industry.  If you would like to invest in the floral industry by donating to the Endowment call me at 201-599-3030.  Donations do not have to be large.  How about a 5 year pledge of $10 per year?

-Eric Levy
AFE Trustee
President, Hillcrest Garden, Inc.