Title: 1995 Ag-Environmental: O.F. Nelson and Sons Nusery
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
Few flowers can rival the beauty of a rose. At O.F. Nelson and Sons Nursery, roses take center stage on the 25 acres devoted to growing the prized favorite. Mark Nelson, grandson of founder O.F. Nelson, is the owner of the nursery, which has operated in Apopka for 45 years. Its 750,000-square-foot covered growing area is a showcase of lush flowering plants. The nursery has long been an innovator in the area of pesticide and nutrient management -- from reducing water use with efficient drip-irrigation systems, to decreasing nutrient runoff with slow-release fertilizers.
Mark Nelson: Here at Nelson's over the years with pesticide management and nutrient management has been a long-term process. It isn't something we did last year or the year before. It's something we've done for about 15 years.
It's in the area of biological control that the operation has received the greatest acclaim. The nursery utilizes fungi, predatory mites, and an insect called Orias to naturally control pests. In the case of aphids, Mark's cousin Brian discovered a home-grown remedy:
Brian Nelson: We found a beetle called Delphastus that was doing a really fabulous job controlling the aphids -- very voracious and eats just lots and lots of aphids and white flies. And because of it's appetite, we had to have an additional source of food.
With Dr. Lance Osborne of the University of Florida, the Nelsons worked out the solution: a second "banker plant," which hosted white flies, was introduced to the aphid-infested area. After devouring the aphids, the Delphastus beetle would move to the banker plant and feed on white flies. This system has enabled the nursery to reduce pesticide spraying from 26 weekly applications to just three. The Delphastus beetle is now being sold worldwide by European biological control companies.
The development of innovative biological controls requires trial and error, risk-taking and perseverance. The cooperative spirit of the Nelson nursery has been the cornerstone for such discoveries.
Lance Osborne: It's very unique to find a company or ornamental nursery that's willing to deal with biological control at its inception; they have their whole business at risk. And being willing to take that kind of risk and chance and work with us on developing some of those programs is very unique.
In addition to using their nursery as a laboratory, the Nelsons are quick to share what they've learned with fellow horticulturalists. They have long recognized that the entire industry reaps economic benefits when common problems are identified and knowledge is shared.
Mark Nelson: I'd like to see us get better at environmental concerns, and if you're not gonna get good at it, you won't be here in 25 years.