Horticulture Tops Charts in Farming Growth

At the end of my last column I promised a horticulture update. If you cultivate soil and produce a crop you're in the horticulture audience. The soil can even be in a container or behind a window. The crop you harvest might be saw timber or edible flowers, nuts or fruits or Christmas trees. Maybe you grow mushrooms or vegetables or herbs or houseplants. You're in the horticulture audience.

Maybe you don't grow anything. You may be a naturalist or environmentalist or a garden center owner seeking well trained employees. You might be a geneticist or a plant collector. Planning board members, researchers, anyone seeking information connected to farming or gardening or land use may find something useful here. At least that is my goal.

Horticulture is the fastest growing segment of agriculture in Sullivan County and New York State.

Science Magazine reported that there is 6% more plant life on earth now than twenty years ago. Increased light, heat, water and carbon dioxide all helped

Theft. Ten years ago the state of Arizona made it illegal to harvest cacti from public or private lands without permission. At the time, sizable plants fetched big bucks from collectors. Today, there is a new popularity driving this black market -- xeriscape aficionados (reduced water input plantscaping), both nurseries and their customers. To combat cactus poaching, Texas is imposing $1000 fines and jail time.

In a related report about theft: it's rampant right here in our Catskills. Valuable timber is stolen or removed without owner permission. Since 1909 the penalty on the books has been a $10 fine per tree. What a deal! This antiquated law is almost an encouragement to steal trees. Not much longer.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of The Adirondack Council and many other advocates, a new bill is before the Governor that will raise fines to $ 250 minimum per tree or treble damages (3 times market value). In addition, harvesting equipment may be confiscated and other penalties imposed that should go a long way to halting this criminal activity. If signed, it should go into effect in March 2004.

The Asian longhorn beetle has been in the news a lot in the last few years. A new report from the USDA cites tests that indicate the adult insect can fly much greater distances that originally estimated. This is grim news. Some predictors talk about losses exceeding a half a trillion dollars in lumber, maple syrup and tourism.

Minnesota has approved legislation requiring landscape installations made after July 1, 2003 to include a rain sensor, a smart device that uses measured precipitation to regulate irrigation systems. Payback is rapid and estimated savings in water are in the millions of gallons range a year.

Scientists have discovered a gene that is responsible for increasing the number of petals a flower may hold. The Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany, CA. dubbed the gene "Ultrapetala".

Genetically modified plants that are pest resistant get a thumbs-up from Klaus Ammann, director of the Botanical Garden in Berne, Switzerland. Studies show that since they require fewer pesticides, they inevitably increase biodiversity.

The genetic engineering debate continues unabatedly, this time over forest and fruit trees. The USDA and APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) are holding a public meeting on this issue as I write this.

More GE stuff. New classes of drugs and pharmaceuticals can be derived from genetically engineered plants. It is alleged that there are at least 300 secret biopharms, as they're being called, around the country, all hoping to enlist plants to fight illness and disease. A noble goal, but not without opponents who fear cross pollination and contamination of non-target crops. Environmental groups want to restrict such efforts to greenhouses.

One more GE tidbit. You probably know that somewhere near 80% of the processed food on our store shelves contain some form of bioengineered ingredients, and no labels disclose an iota of information, nor are any required. It is for this reason that the European Union maintains its ban on our GM products. It will only lift the ban if strict labeling regimens are followed. That's not likely to happen since our food industry believes GM labeled products will impede sales.

U.S. officials, however, believe the ban is costing American farmers $ 300 million in lost sales each year. Something's got to give.

Carbon sequestration, anyone? You bet, and the good guys are golf courses. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The USDA's Ag. Research Service has found that golf course fairways can trap and hold carbon for up to 31 years, and greens up to 45 years. That's long term air cleansing.

How about a little sci-fi hort.? Is there a robot in your future? There just could be, especially if you grow large scale. You know weeds are a big problem. Imagine trained robots able to identify weeds and pull them or spray them leaving your desired crop unharmed. The results could be a 70% herbicide reduction. It's just a matter of time. (See New Scientist magazine, June 7, 2003)

The foxglove from Evelyn was 'Strawberry', not 'Peppermint'.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on July 16, 2003

© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.