Production in Florida

Growers in Florida produce seed of herbaceous annual and perennial wildflowers that are native to Florida and derived from naturally occurring populations. So these flowers are adapted to conditions in Florida's meadows, roadsides, natural areas, and other noncultivated sites.

Why is that important? Wildflowers that are native to Florida but are derived from other parts of the country do not necessarily perform well under Florida's environmental conditions, especially in noncultivated sites like those mentioned above.

The same applies to many of the showy cultivars of native wildflowers. Cultivated varieties of native wildflowers like Indian Summer Black-Eyed Susan are the result of extensive selection and testing. However, cultivated varieties are typically introduced into the trade based on their performance under garden conditions, not the harsher conditions of Florida's roadsides and meadows.

Species

Florida's wildflower seed producers are currently focusing on spring and summer flowering species, including the state wildflower, Coreopsis (tickseed).

There are 13 species of Coreopsis in Florida, four of which are in production. Lanceleaf Tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata) and Goldenmane Tickseed (Coreopsis basalis) flower in the spring, while Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii) flowers from mid-spring to fall in northern Florida but all year round in southern Florida. Florida Tickseed (Coreopsis floridana), which flowers in the fall, is expected to be available for sale in 2006. The latter two species are only found in Florida. Other species include the popular Drummond's Phlox (Phlox drummondii), which carpets our roadsides in the spring with mainly pink and purple flowers and Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella), which thrives in dry sandy soils.

Growers are beginning to increase seed of fall flowering species, such as Blazing Star (Liatris spicata). Limited quantities of these wildflowers should be available for sale by 2006.

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Production Practices

Seed in Florida is produced in two types of cropping systems. Some growers are producing crops in a traditional field planting. Most wildflowers can be grown this way. The one known exception is Drummond Phlox, which should be grown in a landscape fabric production system. In this system, which many of Florida's wildflower seed producers are utilizing, wildflowers are grown in narrow rows between parallel strips of woven landscape fabric to minimize weed problems and facilitate harvesting. Rows are typically one to three inches wide, although some growers use wider rows. Ripe seed falls to the fabric where it is harvested by vacuum. Since the harvest mostly consists of mature seed, the cleaning process is simpler and less costly than if a crop is harvested by combining as is done for field plantings. Yields tend to be greater with the landscape fabric system.

A low-cost option is to harvest a naturally occurring stand of wildflowers. The stand should be relatively pure. This would be ideal for those in the bahiagrass seed business who are considering diversifying since a combine, seed drying, and seed cleaning facilities are already owned. For example, in northern Florida there are many acres of Goldenmane Tickseed growing in fields used for hay or other crops. For a reasonable fee, landowners are usually amenable to having someone harvest the seed.

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Facilities & Equipment

Wildflower seed production is ideal for those that already produce crops--from agronomic crops to vegetable crops to ornamental crops. In many cases, existing equipment and facilities can be adapted for wildflower seed production.

Land

Generally, about ten acres is needed for field production because the cost for outsourcing combine harvesting is relatively high for fewer acres. For the landscape fabric system at least one acre is needed. However, when first starting out experiment with one to three species on about ¼ to ½ acre in a landscape fabric system. Woven landscape fabric plus landscape staples probably will cost at least $2,500 per acre because its cost is tied to oil prices. Fabric costs have doubled the last couple of years because prices are tied to oil prices.

Avoid planting in land where greenbriar (Smilax spp.), brambles (Rubus spp.), yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus), or purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus) are common, as these plants will interfere with crop production and can be very difficult to eradicate. Areas with dense turf or other vegetation are probably not suitable for production, either. Even though the existing vegetation can be killed, there likely is a large seed bank in the soil that could germinate and interfere with crop growth.

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Seed or Transplants?

Most Florida ecotype seed costs about $55-$110 per pound and is the only practical option for a field planting. Fields can be planted with a no-till seed drill. A much less expensive option is a manually operated broadcast spreader. It will take about forty-five to sixty minutes to sow seed on one acre.

For the landscape fabric system, using transplants (~$800 to $2,100 per ¼ acre, depending on plant spacing) is much more expensive and time consuming than sowing seed, but a preemergence herbicide can be applied within a few days after transplanting. This will prevent most weed growth while the wildflowers become established. The cost for herbicide on a per acre basis will be very low since the herbicide is only being applied to narrow rows. If seed is used, plots must be hand-weeded since there are no herbicides that can be applied until seedlings are well established. Hand weeding may be necessary for one to several months, and could be very labor intensive.

Seed or transplants of Florida ecotypes of native wildflowers can be purchased from the Wildflower Seed and Plant Growers Association, Inc., commonly known as the Florida Wildflower Seed Co-op. Wherever seed is purchased, make sure that the original source of the seed was from a naturally occurring population in Florida. Obtain documentation from the seller stating that that the seed has been certified as originating in Florida. This documentation will be needed when it is time to certify your seed. The Florida Wildflower Seed Co-op sells seed that is certified as such; it is commonly referred to as "Source Identified" or "Yellow Tag" seed. This is an important point as certified seed commands a high price. For more information about seed certification, including an explanation of the seed classifications, see the Seed Certification section of this page.

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Irrigation

Adequate moisture is critical during flowering and while the seed are maturing. Field crops generally are not irrigated because of the cost. However, those using the landscape fabric system irrigate their crops, most often via drip system (~$300 per acre). A simpler, less costly irrigation system (~$100) is a set of risers/sprinkler heads attached to old tire rims, concrete blocks, etc., with hose end fittings that allow a garden hose to be attached.

Do not drill a new well solely for seed production. The cost for a new well will take too many years to recover.

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Chemicals

A nonselective herbicide like glyphosate will be needed for site preparation and spot weed control. Growers also need herbicides that selectively kill grasses that might be interfering with crop growth. Grass herbicides can be expensive so preemergence herbicides should be used to inhibit growth of grass and broadleaf weeds. In a landscape fabric system, herbicide costs are relatively low since the rows are very narrow.

A backpack sprayer will cost $150 or more. Since weeds will be the major pest problem, only one sprayer should be necessary. Do not use an herbicide sprayer to spray any other type of pesticide. A wick applicator for directed applications of nonselective herbicides like glyphosate costs about $20 and up.

Fertilization at 100 to 200 lb nitrogen per acre can increase yields. For the landscape fabric system, a granular controlled release fertilizer can be used the first year. In subsequent years, retrofit the irrigation system with a fertilizer injector to apply water soluble fertilizer. Fertilizer injection systems start at about $200.

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Harvesting, Drying & Cleaning

Combine harvesting of field plots is about $75 per acre, but the minimum charge is typically $500. A leaf vacuum for harvesting seed off landscape fabric can cost as little as $110. Vacuums designed to be pulled or mounted on an ATV, garden tractor, or riding mower will cost several hundred dollars. An alternative method of vacuum harvesting is to use a modified leaf vacuum that allows seed to be harvested directly form the seed heads. This is especially useful for harvesting of Coreopsis species. The harvester shown at right is a modified leaf vacuum attached to a riding lawn mower. The wooden shroud surrounding the intake opening can be adjusted vertically for plants of different heights. A wand attachment (not shown) can be used with this vacuum to harvest seed that has fallen to the fabric.

A covered facility as simple as a garage floor is needed for drying seed. A fan will facilitate drying. Alternatively, a drying bin can be constructed for less than $250. The bin is constructed of plywood with a porous false bottom through which warm air is blown. The warm air can be supplied by an old furnace fan. The warm air needs to be less than 100°F.

For seed cleaning, minimize costs while experimenting with seed production by working with an established seed producer that has seed cleaning equipment. The smallest air-screen cleaner, the work horse of seed cleaning, is about $5,000, plus the cost of screens ($35 and up). The cost for outsourcing seed cleaning varies. Some will charge about $1.00 to $2.00 per pound of seed after it has been cleaned. Others will charge by the hour. Alternatively, travel to a grower with seed cleaning equipment and use it on-site or assist the grower in cleaning your seed. Seed should be greater than 90% pure, contain less than 1% weed seed, and contain no seed of any species listed as noxious by the state or federal government.

And finally, experiment with different seed harvesting, drying, or cleaning methods. Equipment designed specifically for wildflower seed production is very limited.

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Seed Testing

Seed must be tested prior to sale by a laboratory certified by the Association of Official Seed Analysts (AOSA). Testing will cost about $75 for each wildflower seed crop that will be sold. Request the tests listed below:

  • Percent germination
  • Percent purity
  • Tetrazolium test
    This test, commonly referred to as TZ test, indicates the total percentage of viable (live) seed. Seed that do not germinate but are viable are called dormant or hard seed.) A TZ test is not absolutely necessary but is recommended. There are standardized germination tests only for a few species being produced by Florida’s wildflower seed industry; however, these standardized tests may underestimate the actual germination rate since procedures used to break seed dormancy and stimulate germination may not be effective on Florida ecotype seed.

    The advantage of the TZ test is that seed dormancy does not influence this test. The TZ test will tell you the actual percentage of viable seed in your seed lot. While this there is no guarantee that a viable seed will germinate it, the TZ provides the buyer with information about potential germination. The Florida Department of Transportation recognizes these issues mentioned above so its as of 2004 their seed bid specifies either a minimum percent germination or a minimum percent viable seed based on a TZ test.

    When requesting a TZ test, specify a pre-germination TZ test. Some seed testing labs include a pre-germination TZ test as part of a germination test.

Labs that Florida seed producers have used are:

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Seed Certification

Seed that originated from populations native to Florida and that has not undergone a selection or testing process is commonly called Florida ecotype seed. The Southern Seed Certification Agency, a joint Florida-Alabama agency, will certify the seed as such to ensure buyers that the seed you are selling was derived from a native Florida population and it is the species you claim that it is. Since Florida ecotype seed commands a premium price, seed certification seed is usually a requirement by those purchasing large quantities of seed and who want assurance that the seed is adapted to Florida’s climate.

The SSCA classifies Florida ecotype seed as a type of Pre-variety Germplasm called "Source Identified." Other state seed certification agencies also use this term. Source Identified seed is sometimes referred to as "yellow tag" seed since a yellow seed tag is issued.

Current costs for seed certification:

  • Application fee
    $200 per grower (unlimited number of species but separate applications for each species)
  • SSCA membership fee
    $50
  • Tag fee
    $0.10 per pound of seed (for example, a label for a 25 lb bag of seed would be $2.50)

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Other Costs

Seed producers can join the Florida Wildflower Seed Co-op, a for-profit new generation cooperative, as a non-voting Associate Grower for $100. Full membership, which includes voting rights plus shares in the co-op, costs $500. Minimum production standards must be met in order to apply for full membership.

Growers that are serious about becoming part-time seed producers are strongly encouraged to enroll in the Florida Agricultural Promotional Campaign ($50), a marketing program run by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that is worth every cent and then some.

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Markets for Seed

Existing and potential buyers are those in Florida (as well as those in the coastal plains region of the lower South) who oversee the purchase of seed and plant materials for:

  • Roadsides
  • Restoration or enhancement of federal and state forests and Florida's Water Management Districts
  • Phosphate mine reclamation
  • Enhancing or creating natural areas in state, city, and county parks, commercial and residential developments, and large areas of privately owned land.

In addition, value added products like seed packets and “Wildflowers in a Can” are being developed for sale to homeowners and civic organizations.

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Getting Help

Florida seed growers have proven to be very helpful with each other. They realize that this type of wildflower seed has the potential to be very profitable given the demand, and recognize that the path to success is to continue to cooperate with one another.

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Publications

UF/IFAS

For the latest research and extension publications, visit North Florida Research and Education Center's Publications page.

State & Federal Agencies

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