Conservation Advocates

Features - Cover Feature

Cedar Valley Nurseries strives to reduce water, electricity.

July 25, 2011

Mark West, managing partner at Cedar Valley Nurseries, is always looking for ways to reduce the nursery’s environmental footprint. Photos by Dejah Quinn Cedar Valley Nurseries, a tree liner grower in Ada, Okla., is situated on a serendipitous location. Granted, it’s in a picturesque setting, but that’s not the fortunate part. The nursery sits atop a 60-inch water pipe that delivers water from Atoka Lake to Oklahoma City.

Cedar Valley Nurseries (CVN) negotiated a long-term contract with Oklahoma City to supply the nursery with economical, untreated water from the pipeline when needed, such as during drought conditions.

“It’s a multi-decade contract and it’s an ace in the hole for us,” said Mark West, managing partner and horticulturist at CVN. “This water can be purchased as needed and stored in our irrigation reservoirs. Being surface water, it has a near perfect chemistry for our container plants.”

CVN grows tree liners in RootMaker containers.

Just the Facts

Name: Cedar Valley Nurseries.
In 1998 by Leo Austin.
Location: Ada, Okla.
Crops: Primarily shade and ornamental tree liners in RootMaker containers and some retail-ready roses, perennials, ornamental grasses and annuals.
Production space: 35 acres of container production, 124,800 square feet under cover.
Sales area: Nationwide.

Both Atoka Lake and McGee Creek feed into the pipeline, which supplies most of the water for Oklahoma City, located 85 miles northwest of the nursery. Approximately 55 million gallons of water per day pass under the nursery. The lake is in the southeastern part of the state where rainfall totals are much higher than in Ada.

Water conservation
Most of the containers at CVN are on microirrigation. Less than 10 percent of production will be on overhead irrigation by 2013, West said. The irrigation system is fed by variable speed pumps.

All of Cedar Valley’s water is recycled and stored in two collection ponds. The ponds are now flanked by biological filters to remove any excess nutrient runoff before water returns to the reservoirs.

“We are constantly working to reduce our environmental footprint at the nursery,” West said. “These vegetative biofilters clean up any fertilizer or pre-emergent herbicide that may be in the runoff.”

The biofilters are made up of native Oklahoma water plants.

Energy conservation
West performed an energy audit in-house to find ways to cut back on electricity.

“One of my favorite programs is our kilowatt counting program,” he said. “Our energy audit showed us where we could reduce power usage, and it was very eye opening.”

As part of the program, the nursery figured out how many kilowatts everything uses—from the office to the production areas—and how many hours per day it’s used.

“We asked, ‘Does this need to run every day or at all, and if so, how long?’ Things like inflation fans in the greenhouse—growers may not think much about it, but the electricity use really adds up,” West said.

So now he’s taking things like inflation fans offline when needed.

In conjunction with the kilowatt counting program, the nursery began participating in a Peak Power program with its local electric provider. The nursery curtails electrical usage on certain peak days and times during the summer. The nursery uses natural gas-fired generators to offset the electrical power.

Besides conserving energy, West is also saving substantial amounts on electricity costs through the program.

“It takes some time to make it work and you’ve got to be on your game. The electric company gives us about three to four hours notice when peak power will begin,” he said. “Last year we used zero minutes of peak power.”

But if you’re not prepared and get stuck using peak power, it may tack on several hundred dollars extra to your electric bill, he said.

Herbicide conservation
Any container nursery is always in a battle with weeds. CVN has trialed various pre-emergent herbicides over the years, which wasn’t the best fit for the nursery.

“We grow everything on spacing, so there’s always wasted herbicides between the pots,” West said. “And we can’t hand-shake granular herbicides on 200,000 containers.”

Last year the nursery trialed Cocodiscs from Timm Enterprises. Cocodiscs, which are made from biodegradable materials, cover the entire surface of the pot and prevent most weeds.

“There will likely be some sort of weed that gets through, but they have proven very effective for us,” he said. “The best part of the Cocodisc is that it reduces the amount of chemicals we introduce into the environment.

“I think anything we can do as a business to reduce our chemical usage creates a better environment for the plants, our employees and our neighbors.”

About 60 percent of CVN’s 3- and 5-gallon containers are topped with Cocodiscs, and that amount is expected to increase to 100 percent next season, West said. He’s contemplating using the product on 15s and 25s next year, too.

“Dr. Jason Griffin from Kansas State first told me about them. We’re impressed with the product and surprised how well it works,” West said.

The upfront cost of the Cocodisc at first seemed high to West, but in the end, he saved money.

“Between eliminating hand weeding and not buying pre-emergents, we came out ahead in price,” he said. “And the discs are guaranteed for two years.”

The Cocodiscs also help save fertilizer costs at CVN.

“We top dress our second season 3-gallons, which get pounding rains in early spring. Some of the fertilizer would bounce out during those storms, but the disc acts as a cap and stops that. We’re not sure yet if the discs will give us longer release on the top dresses.”

Next, West plans to determine if the discs also help cool the root zone.

“I’m really curious about that one.”

For more: Cedar Valley Nurseries, RootMaker, Timm Enterprises,