Archive for February, 2014

2014 APGA Winter Conference Review

Posted on: February 4th, 2014 by Ron

Alaska Peony Growers Association Winter Conference 2014

The APGA Winter Conference 2014 was held January 30, 31 and February 1 at the BP Conference Center in Anchorage.

Meeting and networking with other peony growers from the state was a key function of the conference. So was the opportunity to meet with vendors and speakers. These activities alone make the conference worthwhile. And then there were the presentations that I have summarized below. I included contact information where ever possible if you want more information. All the presenters were very approachable and offed to provide information via email so feel free to contact them.

Thursday – pre-conference sessions.

Financial Risk Management for Peony Farmers (Jeff Tranel and Rod Sharp of Right Risk,LLC). This was a very informative session and maybe the most reassuring sessions of the conference. We did a complete risk assessment for a peony business. Then we were able to simulate a drop in income and a rise in expenses. Even with that drastic manipulation, there was still a very positive outcome, making me very comfortable with my decision to be a peony farm. Right Risk, LLC will have that risk assessment program available on line at www. after February 14th. They also have a webinar Feb 20th, Managing Risk on Your Farm. You can registrar at

Additional pre-conference activities were a New Growers School given by Mike Williams (Eagle Song Family Peony Farm) and the APGA Board of Directors meeting. Ron ( attended the Board Meeting and can answer questions you might have. I did not attend the New Growers School.

Friday the full conference began. The conference was full as only 125 could be seated at the venue. Most presentations were limited to 40 minutes and there were no concurrent sessions. Round tables to meet with presenters were held Saturday only. Presenters were available at conference breaks.

WUSATA representative Andy Anderson gave an informative presentation outlining the support WUSATA and USDA can give individual farmers and co-operatives in Identifying and Developing International Agricultural Markets. There are many services and matched funding available and their web site is very useful.

Growing Commercial Fresh Cut Flowers for the East Coast Market – Richard Currie of Styers Peonies gave a beautifully illustrated introduction to the process of growing peonies for the floral market. Styers Peonies uses farms in three states to provide a longer season of peonies for market. His clear explanation of the growing process was interesting and reassuring that we in Alaska are on the right track. This was the first of three presentations by Currie.

One Growers Approach to Organic Weed Control – Josh Volk, Slow Hand Farm gave a detailed description of organic weed control on his annual vegetable farm. His methods seemed effective for annual production and a few are transferrable to perennial peony growing on a small scale. This was one of two presentations he made at the conference.

Local Flower Markets and Opportunities – Rachel Lord, Alaska Stems Rachel is working to develop the Alaska market for fresh cut flowers. She is interested in bringing local peonies into the event planning spotlight. She grows and markets many different varieties of cut flowers and peonies are only a part of her market.

Harvesting and Production of Fresh Cut Peonies – Richard Currie of Styers Peonies This was the second presentation by Currie, again well illustrated, and was a look at large scale harvesting of peonies. Great information on organizing and managing a large scale cutting operation from types of employees and their responsibilities to equipment needed and facilities needed.

Jan Hanscom gave a presentation on her efforts Using High Tunnels to provide Peonies with a Longer Growing Season through a SAR Grant. Sadly, the tunnels did not provide a statistically verifiable advantage to the peonies.

Botrytis and other Pathogens in Alaska Peony Fields – Dr. Gary Chastagnar, WSU reported on his research over the last two years identifying botrytis strains and viruses in Alaska Peony fields. This research continues and should lead to a better way of controlling botrytis in Alaska fields. Interestingly, an entirely new botrytis strain, currently unnamed, was discovered.

Teaming with Microbes for the Peony Grower – Jeff Lowenfels provided an entertaining, informative introduction to the role of microbes in plant fertility. The presentation was based on his book Teaming with Microbes that provides a layman’s introduction to the topic. This was one of two presentations by Lowenfels.

The final presentation Friday was Todd Steinlage and Mia Kirk of the Alaska Division of Agriculture outlining their research into insect pests in Alaska peony fields. They are isolated, possible problematic, insects that might impact the industry. If you are interested in participating as a research site, contact them.


Josh Volk, Slow Hand Farms second presentation was on Tools for Growing a Small Acreage. Many of the tools and equipment had applications that might be helpful, especially on smaller peony farms. His hint about regularly using tire slime in the tires of tractors, bike wheels, etc. sounds like a time and money saver. Two of the companies that had interesting tools were with small clippers that looked perfect for nipping side buds, and that had useful looking harvesting knives. Equipment wise, the Jiffy Hitch that allowed one person to safely change out tractor implements is something to look into!

Weeder Geese in the Peony Fields was presented by Wayne Floyd of Cool Cache Farm, in Nikiski. He has had success with his weed eating geese. He would be glad to talk with you if you are interested. You can also talk to Virginia Young (Springerhill Farm, Nenana) for local advise.

Marketing and Distribution of Fresh Cut Peonies – Richard Currie of Styers Peonies This was Richard Currie’s final presentation and moved to the area of marketing and the various levels of distribution from the custom, top quality custom market, through the broker to the grocery chain market that will take mixed boxes and shorter stems. Styres uses various marketing strategies but a critical one seemed to be his online marketing through his web site.

Horton Hears a Who and You May Too – was Jeff Lowenfels second presentation, this one based on his second book: The Organic Farmers introduction to the Soil Food Web and concentrated on the Chemistry of how plants eat. Again, the presentation was laced with humor while working to make the chemistry understandable.

The final presentation was a Panel Discussion with representatives of the state wide pack houses. A handout with their written responses to questions about the basic pack house responsibilities was available. Ron Illingworth represented AAP on the panel.

Another important event at the conference was the Awarding of the Peony Cup. The Cup was first awarded last year to Dr. Patricia Holloway, UAF, for her work and research that formed the basis for the Alaska Peony Industry. This year the trophy passed on to Ron Illingworth, North Pole Peonies, past president of APGA and current president of Arctic Alaska Peonies Cooperative for his work in developing and supporting the peony industry throughout the State.

Next year’s conference will be in Fairbanks, so, hopefully, many more of you will be able to attend. The dates are January 29th, 30th, and 31st.

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