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“a significant amount of the applied nitrogen and a smaller proportion of the applied phosphorous is lost from agricultural fields. (…) Such non-point nutrient losses harm off-site ecosystems, water quality and aquatic ecosystems, and contribute to changes in atmospheric composition. Nitrogen loading to estuaries and coastal waters and phosphorous loadings to lakes, rivers and streams are responsible for over

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enrichment, eutrophication and low-oxygen conditions that endanger fisheries” (Tilman et al., 2002: 673).

Ensuring an efficient and demand-based supply of fertilizer that minimizes excess losses of fertilizer to the environment is therefore a key objective for an environmentally friendly horticultural production.

A number of innovations have been introduced that can help growers in realizing this objective. Fertilizers that allow for a controlled release of nutrients over the growing season bring nutrient supply and demand in line in the soil, thereby decreasing the chance of leaching nutrients to the groundwater. The increasing knowledge on the necessity of organic material in the soil and its natural properties of slow nutrient release has also furthered the application of mulch and compost. Finally, “container fields” allows the leaching water to be captured in a tank, which can subsequently be treated in a reed bed before discharging in nature or even reused again in the production process. The application of these technologies, however, is often still new and not commonplace in the Belgian ornamental horticulture sector. Ensuring plant health and quality A typical characteristic of ornamental horticulture is a very strong emphasis on plant health and quality (Daughtrey & Benson, 2005). Although plant health is a concern for all agricultural producers, ornamental plants are mostly harvested and marketed as a whole, instead of cropping only its roots, vegetables, fruits or leaves. In addition, since price and saleability are directly related to the visual quality of the flowers, stems or leaves, carefully guarding ornamentals against any type of damage is a major concern for growers. Futhermore, chemical growth regulators can be used to promote, inhibit or modify physiological processes in plants that determine the physical aspect of the plant (Basra, 2000).

Growers use both preventive and curative treatments to ensure plant health (Daughtrey & Benson, 2005). Preventive measures include the treatment of seeds, the development of transgenic crops that are genetically resistant to certain pathogens, good management practices that keep the environment free from pathogens (environmental and cultural control) and the preventive application of chemical controls to destroy any potential infection from the outset. In the event of a disease infestation, either natural (beneficial insects) or chemical (herbicides, fungicides, insecticides) curative treatments are used to destroy the pathogens and to protect the plant from further disease or damage development resulting from bacteria, funguses or insects. Traditional practices, however, mostly rely on a system of “preventive calendar spraying”, which is in fact the preventive application (in often excessive levels) of

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curative treatments. Chemical pesticides are sprayed on plants on a regular time schedule, even when there is no threat of diseases, insects or other agents. Not only does this result in toxic emissions of chemicals in the natural environment, but such an injudicious use of pesticides also results in increasing resistance among harmful insects, resulting in the need for ever stronger products.

Over the last decade, environmental regulations have progressively taken the most polluting toxic chemical controls off the market. Reminiscent of the early advocates against effective, yet highly toxic and lasting effects of some pesticides like DDT on the natural environment (Carson, 1962), governments around the globe have grown concerned with the effects of certain pesticides. Pesticides may have detrimental effects to the environment because they may destroy biological life besides the target for which the pesticide is applied.

For example, DDT was not only effective in capping the growth of insects; it also killed bird populations in the areas surrounding the locations where the DDT was applied. Pesticides may be toxic to humans as well. Studies have revealed the carcinogenic effects of DDT on humans, making it very toxic for both animals and humans. One other example is Endosulfan, a very popular product in ornamental horticulture which has only recently been taken of the market in Europe. Owing its popularity due to its low price and high effectiveness against aphids, leafhoppers and other pathogens, it proved very toxic to aquatic organisms life, caused autism with children born from women that were pregnant in areas where Endosulfan was often used and is known to interfere with oestrogen hormones in humans (EPA, 2002; Saiyed et al., 2003).

Minimizing the use of persistent chemicals or chemicals with broad biological impacts is therefore a major environmental objective for ornamental horticulture. Recently, over 90 countries ratified the Stockholm Convention in 2004, which outlawed several persistent chemicals used as pesticides. As a result, both regulatory and technical innovations have taken place over the last decade that either force or help the ornamental horticulture industry to decrease the unfavourable effects of their production on the environment. Regulatory initiatives have banned the most toxic and persistent pesticides, predominantly by not renewing the product licences in the market. Technological innovations include biological controls and container fields, among others. Biological controls allow the use of biological means to control insect and disease damages to plants (Paulitz & Belanger, 2001; Fravel, 2005). Container fields, concrete containers filled with equalised soil beds and covered with a heavy film, facilitate the drainage of water from the plant to a central collection point, which ensures that no water is leached into the environment and can be reused in the production

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process (Van Lierde, 2000). In addition, plants are always in optimal draining conditions, reducing the chance of root fungus infestation. Energy Energy is needed in ornamental horticulture through both direct and indirect ways.

Direct energy is usually only provided in greenhouses. Some plants require stable temperatures or certain minimal temperatures to warrant optimal growth, which is supplied through gas, petroleum or coal-based heating systems (Korner et al., 2004). Indirect energy is associated with the production of fertilizers and pesticides or other chemicals and the use of machines (Hulsbergen, Feil, Biermann, Rathke, Kalk, & Diepenbrock, 2001; Pervanchon, Bockstaller, & Girardin, 2002; Meul, Nevens, Reheul, & Hofman, 2007).

Heating and industrial energy consumption impact the environment through the emission of CO2 and NOx in the atmosphere, which has been related to an increase in global temperature rises and general climate change (IPCC, 2007). In addition, the supply of fossil fuels is not unlimited and concerns have been raised about the sustainable use of these energy sources for heating.

Minimizing energy consumption is by switching from heavy fuels to natural gas or biofuels, using energy screens in the greenhouses and by using climate computers that adapt the energy use to the specific energy requirements (Carels & Van Lierde, 2000; Taragola et al., 2002; Korner et al., 2004).

Besides these several concerns that ornamental horticulture production raises with regards to negative impacts on the natural environment, it is probably better known for the many good impacts it has for the social and natural environment. These beneficial impacts are the subject of the next subsection.

5.3.3. Beneficial impacts of ornamental horticultural production and products From an environmental perspective, the application of fertilizer, chemicals and energy are the most important challenges to the ornamental horticultural industry. But representing the production of ornamental horticultural products only by means of its challenges would be inappropriate with regards to the beneficial value of ornamental horticulture, both in social and environmental perspectives. Specifically, the sector adds value in two major ways (for an excellent review of the beneficial effects of ornamentals, the reader is referred to Brethour et

al., 2007):

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- The photosynthesis process fixes CO2 and produces oxygen. As such, it aids in the reduction of greenhouse gases and produces a fundamental resource for humans and other living systems. Besides our dependence on plants for consumption, we thus also need all the non-edible, ornamental plants for our basic provision of oxygen.

- The presence of plants adds to human well-being. Not only do people buy ornamental plants for their aesthetic value, but several studies have shown that people indirectly benefit from the presence of plants in their environment (Brethour et al., 2007).

Through its influence on air quality and the general perception of the working environment, the presence of plants has been demonstrated, among other things, to improve the health and reduce symptoms of discomfort in office personnel (Fjeld, Veiersted, Sandvik, Riise, & Levy, 1998) and among elderly living in long-term care (Rappe, 2005). Recent surveys of the literature indicate that ornamental plants clean the air of toxic pollutants and discomforting chemical substances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (Wood et al., 2006) and would also reduce noise levels.

Other studies have shown how plants influence the well-being of people and their psychological and physiological stress levels through various underlying mechanisms (Brethour et al., 2007).

Given these contributions to society, the ornamental horticultural industry has a formidable value for the challenges of the world today. It is clear however, that a legitimate attempt of this kind requires nurseries and growers alike to take the environmental and social effects of their production methods into account as well. One organization that will play the most important role in this perspective is VMS, which I will describe next.

5.3.4. VMS – the Flemish Environmental Plan for Ornamental Horticulture On the 6th of February 1995, the Dutch auctions and traders association consolidated a growing local initiative that was essentially designed to counter the increasingly “critical social attitude towards cultivation processes” (MPS, 2006: 17). The project in fact originated three years earlier in the Westland region, a Dutch area north of Rotterdam often mockingly referred to as “the Glass City” (see box “History of MPS in a nutshell”). With almost its entire surface covered with greenhouse buildings for horticulture (hence, “the Glass City”), concerns were raised about its high consumption of energy, fertilizers and pesticides and of polluting the nightly sky with a permanent orange glow emitted from the assimilation lighting in the greenhouses. Given the anticipated increasing public attention for the natural

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environment in the Netherlands, it was also assumed that plants with a label that reflected specific efforts towards the natural environment would be able to interest environmentally sensitive market segments. As such, MPS (Milieuplan Sierteelt – Environmental Plan

Ornamental Horticulture) was founded, with as its mission (www.my-mps.com):

- To reduce the environmental impact on participating companies;

- To improve or maintain the image of the floriculture industry;

- To provide a one-stop window for registration and certification.

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