A Little of This, a Little of That, a Lot of Green-washing

Consumers’ love affair with sustainable, environmentally correct and/or organic goods shows no sign of waning. “Green-washing” remains a dominant marketing tool as a sales driver for all things “lifestyle”.  Advertising and brands touting sustainability motivate sales of everything from cars to light bulbs. What about the interest in green labels for floral products, specifically, Veriflora™? Are you conversant about the labels available for floral products? How significant is consumer enthusiasm for flowers carrying labels indicating the goods are produced under guidelines of sustainable production practices? Do customers make flower purchases according to green labeling? Well, I know that given two product choices, I choose the product having the least environmental impact. Knowing the pros and cons of product labeling, Veriflora™ makes good marketing sense considering consumer interest for “green” products.

Label Definitions

Many eco-labels exist for flowers. These labels are stamps of approval awarded by independent third parties that certify a business meets standards of environmental sustainability (crop production, resource conservation, energy efficiency, ecosystem protection, and integrated waste management), social and economic sustainability (fair labor practices and community benefits) and product integrity (profitability, product quality and safety). Although new in the U.S., Europeans have been pursuing third-party certifications for years in flower production. Flor Verde, SierraEco, EurepGAP and MPS are a few labels you may know. What’s the difference between them? It is the emphasis placed on social, economic or environmental practices. All certification labels illustrate to retailers and consumers that the flowers are produced with respect to specific, rigorous sustainability standards.
Where does the “organic” label fit with flower labels? At present, the USDA Organic certification is applicable only to food products; there is no equivalent organic label for flowers. It’s confusing because the terms “organic” and “sustainable” are often used interchangeably. At present, all the labels involved with flower certification focus on sustainability. The U.S. label, Veriflora™, includes a stipulation that producers move toward certified organic production methods, but no timeline is specified. For information about a voluntary draft standard covering food, floral, fiber and fuel contact the www.leonardoacademy.org

How do Postharvest Chemicals Fit with Sustainable Product Use?

To achieve Veriflora™ certification, you must use low-impact pesticides and dispose of them properly. Veriflora™ provides a list of prohibited pesticide chemicals. At present, commercial postharvest chemicals are allowed under the Veriflora™ label if used according to registration label.
Postharvest chemicals fall into 4 broad categories. To decide the best fit for your crops,  align your flower types within these categories and pick the solution(s) that fit(s) your handling logistics. First consideration is that every solution needs a germicide because flowers bleed carbohydrates and enzymes as part of the healing process when harvested. This “blood” is a perfect food source for bacteria, and populations explode. A cheap way to maximize the quality of cut flowers is to use clean buckets and clean tools. High pollution means stems become blocked with gunk. When the solution is polluted, flow slows down or stops inside stems.
If ethylene sensitivity is the problem, the use of STS in postharvest is the difference between making a profit on your crop or taking credits for products that shatter after a day or two after arriving at your wholesaler.

Four Categories

Group each crop according to need. Many flowers fall into more than one category. A snap ranks as a “dirty” flower and is ethylene sensitive. Wilt-sensitive flowers tend to dehydrate and droop fast. The best solution for these flowers boosts flow by lowering the pH level or containing a wetting agent. Ethylene-sensitive flowers need the first drink to contain silverthiosulfate (STS). If STS is not registered for use in your state, condition blooms in flower food so the solution contains sugar. It’s not a perfect alternative, but sugar has been proven to slow down the damning effects of ethylene exposure.
Dirty flowers like kale and zinnias really need a germicide. Gerberas also need germicides in the solution because those hairy stems act as magnets for bacteria. Flowers droop fast when flow is blocked. Bulbous flowers have issues, too. These are blooms from tubers, corms, rhizomes and bulbs. They suffer an imbalance of plant growth regulators (hormones) when harvested. Rebalancing these hormones prevents telltale symptoms (leaf yellowing, bud stagnation, short bloom life, loss of color vibrancy).

ASCFG Members Say
When the temperatures soar, ASCFG growers report success using quaternary ammonium compounds for hydration.  Chrysal OVB fits that category, and contains a wetting agent to boost flow for processing non-ethylene sensitive field crops including asters, astilbe, carthamus, gentian, cotinus, outdoor mums, field gyp, matricaria, sinuata statice and tricyrtis.  When it comes to dirty flowers, many growers report success after switching from bleach as their choice of chlorine to a slow-release chlorine formula. Slow-release chlorine pills release “active” chlorine in the solution for 2-3 days vs. 4-6 hours with liquid bleach. Spent solutions can be disposed in the sewer. Chlorine pills are especially-well suited for gerberas and flowers sensitive to stem plugging.
Hydration solutions are good for boosting flow by lowering pH. Use the simple pH strips available to check the level. Flowers drink efficiently at pH levels between 3.5 and 5.0. Let blooms hydrate for at least 4 hours and as long as 3 days. Keep in mind; hydration solutions are suitable for reuse. Solution reuse helps conserves water. The wilt-sensitive category includes woodies, garden roses, gerberas, achillea, callicarpa, costus, glads, hydrangea, lysimachia, Limonium latifolium, spirea, marguerite daisies, symphoricarpus, veronica—any hard-to- hydrate crop.
The ethylene-sensitive category is listed and described in many flower and production articles. Google “ethylene” and you’ll be overwhelmed, or check out John Dole’s book, Floriculture: Principles and Species, for details and crop charts. Allan Armitage and Judy Laushman also give ethylene information and recommendations for crops in their book Specialty Cut Flowers. Both books are available through the ASCFG.  If STS is not registered for use in your state, process flowers in a low-sugar flower food. Floralife and Chrysal both manufacture low-sugar solutions. Avoid using full-sugar powder food (the powder /liquid used to fill flower vases) because you’ll pay for extra sugar you don’t need.
Happy cutting!

Gay Smith

Technical Consulting Manager

Gay Smith is the Technical Consulting Manager for Chrysal USA. Contact her at [email protected]