Allen D. Owings, Schultz, Bruce | 4/26/2005 8:28:31 PM
LAFAYETTE – The quality of water, not the quantity, is a problem for anyone who considers venturing into the nursery business in Louisiana.
LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Allen Owings explained the water problem at a workshop for approximately 50 people considering starting businesses related to horticulture held recently in Lafayette.
"We’re seeing more and more problems with poor or low quality water," Owings said during the workshop Tuesday (Nov. 2).
Most water in Louisiana is too alkaline, he said, and that’s not good for most plants.
As a general rule, the LSU AgCenter expert said, groundwater south of Interstate 10 is not acceptable for nurseries – although he said a treatment system can be used to reduce alkalinity.
The best water is located around the Forest Hill area of Rapides Parish and in the Florida parishes, Owings said. Nurseries are plentiful in both areas, with more than 250 in Rapides Parish and more than 150 in the Florida parishes.
He said municipal water is especially bad for plant irrigation, because high alkalinity is bad for growing azaleas.
Owings also stressed getting into the nursery business can’t be done on a shoestring budget.
"You’re probably looking at $50,000 to get started," Owings said.
Starting a successful retail nursery will be a major challenge because of lower prices offered by chain stores, he said, advising new horticulture businesses to find a specialty product that larger retail centers don’t have.
Greenhouses offer the chance to grow specialty plants, Owings said, but heat control in Louisiana is a major problem.
On the other hand, several other plant-related businesses have potential for success, such as landscaping and wholesale nurseries, he said.
Dr. Carlos Smith, another LSU AgCenter horticulturist, cautioned against expecting to have a profitable business too soon.
"You need to be realistic as to what your goals are," he said.
Finding a reliable work force is difficult, Smith said, and the Forest Hill nurseries rely on imported labor from Mexico.
It’s not necessary to have formal education to get into the nursery business, Smith said, explaining that only four people among all the Forest Hill nurseries have college degrees in a horticulture-related field.
Smith said Southern Living magazine drives much of the nursery business, because the publication highlights specific plants, and the magazine gives nurseries advance notice of what will be featured in coming months.
"You want to grow what Tom and Mary want to grow, because that’s what Southern Living told them," Smith said.
Smith also said it’s difficult to be profitable with a hydroponics nursery, although a few in Louisiana have survived.
Tony Gauthier of Hessmer attended the workshop with hopes of getting ideas for a new venture for the day when he retires from teaching.
"My son and I are getting into the wholesale nursery business," Gauthier explained.
His son, Wesley Gauthier, has a landscaping business in Lafayette but hopes to return to Avoyelles Parish in a few years.
Tony Gauthier said he got several good ideas from the sessions.
"It was very informative," he said.