Sunday, November 14, 2010

Developing and Testing Plant Growth Modifiers

When Ed asked me to host the Hymark Blog while he is gone I was somewhat concerned. I had a concern that it will soon become obvious that I am not an agriculturist like him nor a farmer and have very little to tell you about that will be of interest to his Blog members. To be honest that was an assumption on my part that the only people registered in this site are interested only in agriculture. And then I remembered one development area that may be of interest albeit in floriculture not agriculture.

When most people think about Procter & Gamble they envision laundry detergents, Mr. Clean, Mr. Wipple and Charmin toilet tissue. Believe it or not P&G was in the agricultural chemicals business too. That, in fact, is the part of P&G that I was in during the early part of my career
I headed up one agricultural chemicals project that resulted in a great chemical pinching agent! Some plants, like azaleas, are grown for sale to home and garden stores. The larger, more compact the plants with greater the number of flowers present when ready for sale the more the plant is worth. There are several ways to increase the number of flowers but all azalea growers do so by promoting branching through pinching the apical meristem or growing tip. This causes the lateral shoots to emerge. There are as many potential shoots as there are leaf nodes but usually only the top 4 or 5 lateral shoots develop into new branches

The product I developed was an emulsified methyl ester, which when sprayed on ornamentals burned out the apical meristem creating a pinched growing tip for each stem on the plant. That stem would branch out onto 4 or 5 lateral shoots, each of which set flower. Manual pinching is usual a very tedious and labor intensive effort. Most of the growers trim the azaleas like hedges which removes a lot of the growth and thus it takes longer to reach size and compactness.
Diluting a chemical pinching agent with water and spraying the plants with a spray boom is all that is needed for one person to pinch many more plants per person and in much less time than manual pinching or hedge trimming. I proved this at many nurseries by challenging the pinching crew to contest produce saleable plants the traditional way against me who wielded on a sprayer, sprayer and bottle of my great new product. Needless to say – I won every growing season. If sprayed at the right time and frequency – the plants I treated were larger, more compact and had many more flowers set than those manually pinched. The cost was 10% of production manually pinched.

What a sight that was in one particular azalea nursery in Jacksonville North Carolina to see this city slicker take off his tie and get ready to start the race. I started mixing the chemical pinching agent as soon as the starting gun went off. The pinching crew of 12 began pinching their 4 million seedlings by hand. Once my solution was shaken and I donned the back pack sprayer – I caught up quickly treating my 4 million seedlings with a spraying. I finished my 4 million plants in 34 minutes whereas the 12 pinchers finished 6 ½ hours later to do the same number. It took only 3 treatments to reach the desired quality chemically whereas it took twice as long and lots more labor by hand.

P&G decided to concentrate on the household products and sold the agricultural chemicals products and I moved on to others areas of the company but that is about the only area that I could talk about that might be of interest. There may be others but we will see.

Have a great week ahead!

Ralph Taylor
For Ed Winkle

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece, Ralph. This is why I asked you to write for me! We are near Melk, Austria in the Wauchau Valley. Vienna was great of course.