One-third of his research and Extension work focuses on ways he can help growers save money while protecting the environment in the immediate future by reducing the amount of water used on plants.
Another third of his work looks at giving nurseries the tools they can use two and three years down the road. The final third centers on developing long-term strategies to keep the nursery industry profitable for the long haul while dealing with new environmental regulations coming down the road.
“We are working on a solution to help nursery growers in Virginia and around the country maintain their high standards of quality while helping improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and beyond,” said Owen, an associate professor of horticulture who works at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Phosphorus pollution in the bay is a serious issue, and farmers are being asked to curb the amount of fertilizers coming from their land. Nurseries are now asked to voluntarily contain 95 percent of the water they use on-site in order to curb runoff phosphorus into the bay.
The horticulture industry ranks fifth in agricultural commodities in the state with more than $250 million in annual sales, and Owen wants to help nursery growers remain competitive in the years to come.
One of Owen’s studies uses remote moisture sensors in plants to determine how much and how often plants need to be watered. By zeroing in on exactly how much water is needed, nursery growers can reduce the amount of money they spend on irrigation. It will also help them comply with the new regulations.
Owen has also been testing exactly how much fertilizer various ornamental plants need so that farmers don’t overapply the precious and expensive resource.
While his work will directly benefit the hundreds of nurseries around the state, Owen believes that Virginia can be a leader in terms of helping both the horticulture industry and the environment.