In 1999 Dr. Scott Josiah, state forester and director of the Nebraska Forest Service, started some research through the University of Nebraska—Lincoln on the idea of alley cropping and alley conservation, to provide wind protection, soil erosion and moisture stabilization by placing a row of woody florals within a cultivated field. This research project was conducted through UNL sites at Mead and Concord and collaboration with Arbor Farms. This research led to studies involving harvesting and market potential in the wholesale floral markets for the stems of the plants grown.
About eight years ago, a group of area farmers, graduate students and floral designers became interested in woody floral production as an alternative agriculture crop. They completed research on which plants are best suited for Nebraska climates, the optimum harvest standards and which stems were marketable. This research led to a steering committee that set up several meetings over a six month period to formalize their ideas. They discussed setting up as a marketing cooperative and what that would entail for growers and/or members of the cooperative. After several exploratory meetings, the committee decided to pursue the business model of a cooperatively owned marketing business for woody floral stems. The steering committee consisted of: Bruce Bostelman, Eric Nelson, Linda and Fran Hangren.
In 2005 the group received the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center (NCDC) Initial Assistance Grant that helped them with assessment of: markets, development groups competitive advantage and processing issues; along with completing a feasibility study, organizational/legal structure and developing a business and marketing plan. The group discovered that the stems ‘basically sold themselves’ after potential buyers saw them first hand. This grant enabled the steering committee to officially found Nebraska Woody Florals Nonstock Cooperative (NWF) in September 2005.
“NWF started with 24 members and five board members: Bruce Bostelman, Linda Hangren, Eric Nelson, Jan Maneely, and Gary Samuelson.”
In 2006 NWF received a second grant from NCDC, Advance Assistance Grant, to help execute a marketing plan. The marketing plan included brand awareness, expanding/increasing wholesale customers, education and promotion and research and product development.
NCDC also assisted with providing guidance and direction, education both via director training programs and individual board training and business counseling.
“One of the main reasons we are where we are is because of Jim Crandall through NCDC. Without that first grant from NCDC [we] wouldn’t exist today.”
In 2007 NWF received a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to assist with market expansion and increasing brand awareness. For the first few years NWF grew and harvested the stems or perennials at UNL’s Mead site. The initial packaging and shipping work was done out of Bostelman’s and Nelson’s sheds.
Then in 2008 NWF utilized grant funding to purchase a building to operate out of and some land to grow on, at Mead. This building is used to process, package and ship the entire crop after harvest, as well as, houses their one part-time employee. NWF worked with several technical advisors through UNL to assist with details of growing, fertilizing, harvesting, etc at Mead. One of the advisors, Troy Pabst, also continued UNL’s research of woody florals into new plant varieties for the woody floral industry. He partnered with several NWF members to utilize a SARE grant for this research.
“I feel that Nebraska Woody Florals is important to Nebraska agriculture because of [the added] diversification.”
In 2009 they received the Agricultural Opportunities and Value-Added Partnership Grant to help purchase new research plant materials and equipment, expand market development and increase member education and assistance.
NWF has grown in size from 24 members in 2005 to 32 members in 2007 to 44 members currently. The number of sales and receipts also grew with-in those first years; each year showed a significant increase that sometimes doubled from year to year.
NWF recently received a NCDC Advanced Assistant Grant to help rework their website www.nebraskawoodyflorals.com and develop new marketing and promotional items. They are eventually planning on expanding their current building of operation in Mead and future plans may include a second building and more employees as the business grows.
Developing new markets and gaining new customers is an ongoing goal for NWF. They are working on educating retailers and consumers on the many benefits of using woody floral branches in arrangements along with the importance of their products being fresh and locally grown.
“We have a really great product that we can grow here,” Said Bostelman. “It could be an FFA project or provide additional revenue for acreage owners. It is great for the environment and people love using it in their arrangements.”