AUBURN – The Southern Forest Nursery Management Cooperative started by the Auburn University Department of Forestry is celebrating 40 years of conducting groundbreaking research and providing information to forest-tree nurseries across the southern United States.
Cooperative research on seedling care and pesticides has helped nursery owners to create ideal growing conditions, thus improving the health and quantity of seedlings – adding to owners’ income, increasing the amount of land reforested and expanding the industry.
“The goal of the cooperative is to conduct research, solve seedling production issues and then provide information to the nursery so they can increase their productivity,” said Scott Enebak, cooperative director and a professor in Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. “We have nursery members from Virginia to Oklahoma who view our recommendations and need assistance with research. Our membership includes state, industrial and private nurseries.”
The cooperative began in 1972 under the direction of Dean Gjerstad and his Auburn colleagues with a plan to help Southeastern forest-tree growers. Now, the cooperative has members that grow 80 to 85 percent of the forest-tree seedlings planted in the United States.
Generally, individual nurseries do not generate the income necessary to finance either pesticide or seedling production research. Without the Nursery Cooperative, nurseries would be forced to research solutions on their own.
Throughout its history, the Nursery Cooperative has addressed pest problems such as weeds, diseases and insects, seedling quality issues and out-planting survival strategies. This research has resulted in high quality, pest-free seedlings being used to establish tree plantations that will ultimately be used for wood and fiber.
“We do not develop our own pesticides but rather test pesticides used on other agronomic crops to see if they can be used in forest-tree nurseries. We then work with the chemical company to obtain proper registration for use in forest-tree nurseries,” said Tom Starkey, a tree pathologist and research fellow with the cooperative.
The results from years of collecting data have allowed the co-op to create two computer software models to help nurseries. A growth-and-yield model along with the fertilizer model are making decisions easier for both private and industrial landowners and creating a uniform environment for growth.
Co-op members also receive alerts on adverse conditions, which could affect their current crop. Frost alerts are among the most common and are sent out to remind the nurseries not to move their potentially frozen seedlings until the threat has passed and seedling survival will be ensured. Just recently, Paul Jackson, a research fellow with the cooperative, sent out an alert to cooperative members about possible seedling injury that could result when a specific pesticide is not properly applied.
In addition to conducting research at Auburn, the researchers travel to nurseries to investigate seedling problems and provide advice. “Our researchers are always ready to help members whenever they need it,” Enebak said. This outreach to its membership has been cited by several nursery owners as one of the main reasons they support the Nursery Cooperative.
Another important function of the cooperative is to inform its members about legislation that could affect the industry. Often, the Environmental Protection Agency will have a comment period before enacting a new bill, which allows the co-op to gather relevant data from its members to either support or oppose the legislation.
“In 2008 the EPA was considering a piece of legislation that would have impacted the pesticides nurseries could use in North Carolina,” said Enebak. “The nursery co-op’s research was one reason the EPA amended the rules to allow for the continued use of soil fumigants under the proposed legislation.”
The Nursery Cooperative also works with other government agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service as a liaison with the industry answering questions pertaining to pesticide use and nursery culture.
“Advances made by the Southern Forest Nursery Management Cooperative are ensuring tree health and a greener tomorrow,” Enebak concluded.
(Written by Charles Goodson.)