Commissioner's Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award
Loop's Nursery and Greenhouses Inc.
Jacksonville nurseryman Carl Loop has been fascinated with plants for as long as he could remember. His uncle had a small nursery and as a child Loop would accompany him on his visits to other growers. The nurserymen recognized his interest and gave Carl cuttings which he would take home and plant.
“The more I worked with plants the more I was fascinated by them,” Carl Loop said. “I began to read everything I could get hold of, began to grow all I could. Then when I graduated from high school I went to the University of Florida and got a degree in ornamental horticulture.”
Loop entered the University of Florida in 1946, and that same year he joined the Florida National Guard. He earned his bachelor’s degree in three years at UF, and his second- lieutenant’s bars in nine years with the National Guard.
After graduating in 1949, Loop borrowed $1,500 and a truck to begin his career in the nursery business. He drove to Central Florida to purchase plants which he would resell for a profit, just as he had seen his uncle do years before. But within a few months, an early freeze struck the region, wiping out Loop’s plants.
“Everything froze and I still owed the $1,500, and all I had was a lot of dead plants in containers,” Loop said.
While it killed his plants, the freeze didn’t kill Loop’s dream of running his own nursery.
“You know, it’s funny the things that motivate you,” Loop said. “My dad had a good friend, and I remember him telling daddy, ‘What’s Junior going into that kind of business for?’ And that was kind of like saying ‘sic ‘em’ to a dog. He’ll never make a living doing that. There were times it would have been easy to quit but then you think, why did you start in the first place? I still like to do this and if anybody can do it, I don't know why I can’t do it.”
With a keen business sense and entrepreneurial spirit, Carl Loop continued his drive to build his own nursery. It would be a lifelong journey of innovation that 60 years later would result in one of the largest wholesale nurseries of greenhouse-grown plants in the Southeast.
A true pioneer in horticulture practices, Loop was found new ways to produce high-quality plants in a cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally sound manner. Many of these achievements were “firsts” in Florida because conventional wisdom said they couldn’t be done in the Sunshine State. In the 1960s, Loop was one of the first nurserymen in Florida to use drip irrigation. He proved that greenhouse temperatures could be controlled by installing evaporative cooling panels. And, by using a black cloth shade system to control day length, Loop was the first to grow potted chrysanthemums year round.
As his business grew, Loop saw the benefits of getting involved in the organizations surrounding the horticulture industry.
“I learned by visiting a lot of the growers,” Loop said. “I joined organizations and found that they were doing things that would help my business. At one time, growers were very reluctant to talk to people about growing plants. They thought they had the secret, they had the answer. Really what was happening, we were all hoarding our ignorance. When we began to open up and work with each other, you saw this industry begin to grow.”
Seeing how effective he was in other associations, the Duval County Farm Bureau encouraged Loop to join its local board. A very active member, Loop quickly moved up in the organization, working his way onto the Florida Farm Bureau board. It wasn’t long after that he was elected vice president of the Florida Farm Bureau in 1982.
“When I first went down there I was really living out of the trunk of my car,” Loop said. “I didn’t have a place to live so I stayed at a little motel. It wasn’t too bad but they wanted you to check out every weekend. But I was traveling over the state and that sounds hard but we felt like we were doing some good.”
Within the year the president of the Florida Farm Bureau stepped down and Loop found himself in the organization’s leadership position. When he assumed the reins, the Florida Farm Bureau faced many challenges -- membership was low and the Insurance operation was in the red. But for someone who had overcome adversity in the agricultural industry, Loop was up to the challenge of getting the Florida Farm Bureau back on sure footing.
As president of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation he served 60 county farm bureaus and had 140,000 members whose interest he needed to consider. Through sound investment practices he got the Farm Bureau’s financial books in order and, through a lot of hard work, membership doubled; an amazing jump considering the decline in the number of Florida agriculturalists.
As president of Florida Farm Bureau Insurance Company, Loop worked with its CEO to be sure that farmers were well protected. In 1986 the American Farm Bureau elected him to its board of directors, and he served as its vice president from 1995 until 2001.
Loop served as president for 23 years being elected to 11 consecutive two-year terms. These were not easy times; global free trade talks became one the biggest issues during his time as president, and he fought diligently on behalf of the Florida farmer. Because of his tenacity, Loop was appointed by four U.S. presidents to advisory panels with the USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.
Carl Loop ran his nursery for 33 years before becoming president of Florida Farm Bureau in 1983. By that time Loop’s son, David, had been out of college and working at the nursery for three years. When his father became the Farm Bureau president, David, at 24, took over and started running the nursery. It was trial by fire but he had someone to call for advice.
“I would call him a lot, and everybody at the Farm Bureau office knew me,” David Loop said. “They knew my voice because I called an awful lot asking questions.”
Since 1980, the nursery’s sales volume has quadrupled. While David has been at the helm for most of that time, Loop’s Nursery is still a family business and he makes good use of his father’s advice.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have someone who has been exposed to every segment of ag and it’s great to have someone who sees the big picture who sees lots of other operations and can offer suggestions and help and to be a resource to call on,” David said.
Like Carl, David is not afraid to try new methods to improve the nursery’s production. In 1989 Loop’s Nursery was outgrowing its old San Jose Road location so it purchased a 168-acre parcel that now has over 500,000 square feet of growing space in 12 enclosed greenhouses. The new location gave Loop’s Nursery a perfect opportunity to incorporate new technology.
Made up of eight sections each the newer greenhouses have separate controllers regulating temperature, humidity, and amount of light. This gives the nursery the ability to create the optimum environment for the specific plant being grown. Taller ceilings keep the environment cooler and control humidity better.
Each house has evaporative cooling panels; through a series of large fans hot air from the outside is pulled through wet panels, passing into the greenhouse as moist and cool air. As the air moves across the greenhouse it absorbs, enabling consistent temperatures indoors.
Loop’s Nursery has had 60 years to perfect the layouts of its facilities to maximize efficiency. During that time it also improved its growing methods. The nursery buys all its cuttings from propagators who specialize in the highest-quality stock of the newest varieties. In the propagation houses, growers no longer water the cuttings through misting. Instead, the moistened beds of cuttings are covered with plastic sheets to reduce moisture loss through evaporation. This method reduces losses of cuttings, reduces disease, promotes more even growth of roots, and saves water and fertilizer.
Cuttings are planted in pots where they remain until they are sold. Transplanting is unnecessary, which cuts down on labor and the damage that comes with handling. When the plants are large enough to leave the propagation house they move to the greenhouse where they remain until shipped.
As in the propagation houses, the nursery rarely uses traditional overhead misting to irrigate its plants. Instead Loop’s Nursery uses an ebb-and-flow bench system which waters the plants from the bottom of the pot. This method cuts water use through recycling and produces healthier plants. Less fertilizer is used since little of it leaches down through the potting soil, and the foliage stays dry minimizing the chance of fungus.
Another innovation allows the nursery to maximize its production space. The older greenhouses have two-foot aisles between each table, which in effect takes 40 percent of greenhouse space out of production. Now, the use of rolling tables minimizes the need for aisle space, and 90 percent of the greenhouse space is used. More plants are produced using the same amount of resources to heat and cool.
In another effort to better utilize space and reduce water usage an automated hanging fern watering system has been installed in the breezeway between green houses.
Loop’s Nursery services many retail florists in a 150-mile radius of Jacksonville, some of which have been doing business with the nursery since the early 1950s. Since most of the plants are sold in supermarkets and are intended for indoor use, it is important to the nursery to have as few chemicals on the plants as possible. With this in mind, Loop’s Nursery changed its approach to pest control in the 1980s. Scouts examine the plants regularly for the presence of pests. Sticky tape infused with a pheromone is hung to attract and collect pests as they move from bed to bed. Only when the scout determines that the bugs have reached a critical number will pesticide be applied.
A hallmark of Loop’s Nursery is that all plants are sold “in bloom.” In fact, chrysanthemums, Loop’s primary product, are in flower 52 weeks out of the year. To accomplish this feat, the nursery employs yet another innovation.
“A lot of our crops require short days to initiate flowering for long nights,” David said. “So we had to manipulate the day length, especially in the summertime. So we have a black cloth shade system which ‘shortens’ the days. Shorter day force the plants to flower.”
Since his youth, Carl Loop has been captivated with plants. Through the years he has demonstrated that with hard work and determination anything is possible. Behind his steadfast leadership, agricultural organizations like the Florida Farm Bureau have grown to be stronger advocates for the Florida farmer. And through his willingness to innovate, he has seen Florida’s agriculture industry blossom.
“I was very grateful for the opportunities I had with those other associations and organizations and groups,” Carl said. “I guess I’ve always been one to kind of join in and get involved. And I found out, if you speak up about something, they’ll say, that’s a good idea, how about you doing it?” -- 2009
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- 2009 Agricultural Environmental Leadership Awards Booklet (PDF)
- Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award Nomination (PDF)