How Being Sustainable Benefits the Environment and Your Bottom Line

Solar Panels at Costa Farms HQ for MPS sustainable efforts

Part of the sustainability efforts at Costa Farms includes using solar panels. | Costa Farms

Editor’s note: This is the third installment of a four-part series on MPS certification and sustainability. Find the second installment here.

There are so many aspects to maintaining a healthy plant. Growers ensure that their plants have just the right amount of water, fertilizer, and light. They create the perfect environment for the plants to thrive, including an ideal growing medium and climate. They use products to keep their plants free of pests and diseases so they are in good shape for shipping in the spring. As long as everything worked during the crop cycle, why bother thinking about how you could do it differently? Some may think, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

In truth, everything from your energy use to crop protection to fertilizer could likely be improved. Some growers may be more interested in sustainability than others, and that’s OK. But growers say MPS certification can cut costs, too. By measuring how much water, fertilizer, energy, and crop protection products growers use, they can see outliers and figure out how to use less.  

Efficiency Is Key in Tough Market Conditions 

Sustainability is becoming more important to growers, stakeholders, and end consumers in the U.S., says MPS Area Manager Maik Mandemaker. He mentions the difficult market conditions in the U.S., leading several Top 100 Growers to close in late 2023 and early 2024. 

Cultivate’24 Will Offer Advice From Growers for Growers

“Growers are changing the way they do business, including the crop protection agents they use,” says MPS Regional Coordinator Frank Lammers. “They are looking for a more sustainable and profitable way to grow their product. It is up to us to make our service as accessible as possible. Starting the conversation on sustainability is quite often the hardest, but also the most valuable step in doing better next year.” 

Lammers says MPS’ data is globally benchmarked. This allows end consumers to see that MPS-certified growers are putting in a lot of effort to make a green product. They are not using prohibited substances and are mindful of their fertilizer and energy use. MPS certification is beneficial to growers because it shows proof of sustainable practices for retail customers. Lammers says today’s consumers are interested in sustainability. 

“Growers work slowly but surely on an initial audit in their first year, then you receive a certificate from MPS that shows how well you are doing. Then you can scream from the rooftops how sustainable you are,” Lammers says. “You can use the MPS logo on your packaging, too. It’s an earmark for consumers to show that the company is acknowledged for its efforts in sustainability.” 

In addition to the sustainable aspect of MPS certification, Mandemaker says his team is working to emphasize the financial impact, too. A reduction in crop protection product use may lead to better margins. 

D.S. Cole Growers condensing unit on a boiler for waste heat

This condensing unit on the newest boiler at D.S. Cole Growers captures as much waste heat as possible before the exhaust leaves the chimney. | D. S. Cole Growers

A Switch to Nematodes Benefits D.S. Cole Growers 

As an MPS-certified grower, D.S. Cole Growers in Loudon, NH, collects data and submits it to MPS. Doug Cole, president of D.S. Cole Growers, says benchmarking helps the growing team become more cognizant of its practices. For example, MPS encourages growers to use products with little to no impact on the environment and human health, such as biologicals. D.S. Cole found that nematodes work wonders on its basil crop. 

“We hit a big win. We weren’t sure how they worked in the past, but now we use them every week on our year-round herb crop. We have zero thrips. Before, it was hard to keep the thrips off even with chemicals. That’s a good win. You don’t have to be part of MPS to make that change, but it’s an added push.” 

The team has also revised how it uses fertilizer. 

“It’s not just about how much you use. It’s about the fertilizer formulation and what you really need. When I was a kid, everyone used 20-20-20. There was so much wasted phosphorus. We’ve known for years that phosphorus is not as important as we once thought it was,” says Cole. “The form the nitrogen is in matters too, such as ammonium nitrate or calcium nitrate. That is important as a grower. It goes hand in hand with MPS, so we know how to use fertilizers so we’re not being wasteful.” 

Working with MPS has encouraged D.S. Cole Growers to reevaluate many of its practices to improve efficiency. For example, Cole says the team has a condensing unit on its newest boiler to capture as much waste heat as possible before the exhaust leaves the chimney. The operation also installed double screens to keep heat in the roof of the glasshouses. As for lighting, any new installations are LEDs. 

“We have a really good recycling program that we didn’t think about in the old days,” says Cole. “We’re pretty strict about it now. We recycle cardboard, plastic bottles, and cans.” 

MPS graph on verified data regarding crop protection agent use

This graph, based on verified data from MPS-certified growers, shows that there has been a 31% decrease in the use of crop protection agents over five years. | MPS

MPS Certification Cuts Costs at Costa Farms 

Costa Farms Senior Director of Environment, Health, and Safety Cesar Martinez says the numbers tell the story. As Costa Farms was considering certification for all eight of its farms around 2017, some questioned whether the data collection would make a difference with input costs. However, team members discovered they may have been using more fertilizer than necessary, leading to unnecessary expenses. By adopting a more precise approach with MPS, Martinez says, “We could reduce our nutrient use, save money, and give the necessary nutrients to the plant.” 

“That’s when I was convinced that we had buy-in from the team. We could reduce costs and keep the same quality,” he says.

Similarly, while the team questioned longstanding practices regarding pesticide use, they found they could significantly reduce the use of pesticides while maintaining the same effectiveness. Martinez says that this experience underscored the importance of challenging traditional methods and being open to experimentation and learning from both successes and mistakes.

“If you trial something new, you might have some success,” he says. “There may also be some errors that you learn from.” 

Sustainable practices do not go unnoticed. In April, Costa Farms was named the recipient of the 2024 Florida Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award. This award is presented to growers who produce agricultural goods that Florida residents rely on, while also committing to the protection and preservation of the state’s natural resources. Martinez says MPS played a role in this success. 

D.S. Cole Growers and Costa Farms, along with many other operations that are MPS certified, have changed over the years to improve their production practices. MPS itself is evolving, too. Through a collaborative relationship with growers, MPS is working to offer essential information to growers to help them become more sustainable. Read about the evolving state of MPS and sustainability in part four of this series, which will be posted on on June 10. 

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