Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Seedling Nursery Management: IFA Nurseries, Inc.

Date of visit: May 1, 2019
Type of event:
Study tour
Topic: Seedling Nursery Management
Company visited: IFA Nurseries, Inc.
Location: Aurora and Canby, Oregon
Hosts: Shannon Murphy and Thomas Cushman, Nursery Managers
International Fellows: Richard Banda (Malawi), Fen-hui Chen (Taiwan), Temitope Dauda (Nigeria), Zhongyuan Ding (China), Ana Kanoppa (Brazil), Will Maiden (UK), Rodolfo Vieto (Costa Rica)
WFI Staff: Shadia Duery / International Fellowship Program Manager

On a sunny Thursday, May 2nd, 2019, the International Fellows had their first study tour of the month to IFA Nurseries in Aurora and Canby, Oregon. Since 1941, IFA Nurseries has been providing foresters and landowners with a full-service conifer seedling system that offers the following: risk diversity, custom growing, excellent facilities, and experienced management for their reforestation seedling contracts. In total, IFA Nurseries has grown over 1.5 billion seedlings since its establishment.

Aurora IFA nursery managers with international fellows

IFA Nurseries performs a variety of operations ranging from seed collection and treatment to the production of seedlings. Seeds are collected from orchards and wild picking. Collection is done by climbing or cutting trees and collecting cones which are mostly green because of their freshness at time of harvest. The cones are then put into a bin where they are heated until they are dry and open. They are then shaken up to remove the seeds. Each seed then goes through several processes before it is separated from the chaff and is treated to preserve its viability. Seeds are sometimes colored for easy identification. Seed collection zones are well-documented to ensure that seed species are matched with the correct planting site. Seeds from any particular zone should not be planted in a different zone.

Greenhouses at the Aurora nursery
IFA Nurseries produces both bareroot and container seedlings. Seedling size at time of planting depends on customer preference, with large seedlings being the most common preference. To ensure high productivity, seed viability and germination rate are checked. Sowing is done in February or March, and seedlings grow for a year before either being released to a customer or sent to the Canby facility for another year of growth and development in the ground. The species of seedlings that IFA Nurseries produces are mainly Douglas fir, Western hemlock, Western red cedar, true firs and Ponderosa pine. After supplying seedlings to customers, IFA Nurseries arranges a tour with each customer to assess seedling performance and to maintain these professional relations.

If you think seedling production is easy, then think again because, despite their successes, IFA Nurseries also faces their own challenges. Such challenges include frequent weeding, which can
Slugzilla enjoying happy hour
significantly increase labor costs. There is also the problem of pests at different stages of production. For example, birds consume the seeds after sowing, while slugs attack seedlings at an early stage after germination. Insecticides are applied every ten days to solve this problem. Heavy rains can also pose a problem, especially at the Canby nursery, where bareroot seedlings are grown.

Lessons Learned

To increase efficiency, some equipment at IFA Nurseries has been built from locally available resources. This has helped to reduce the cost labor. This is a positive development, especially when one’s profit margin is so narrow that acquiring the most advanced and expensive machinery is not feasible. The innovations that are being made are making efficiency attainable in the production process. At times, the forestry industry suffers from a narrow profit margin or no profit at all; therefore, there is a need to find more cost-effective alternatives to some operations.

An International Fellow’s Thoughts and Perspectives

Richard Banda, International Fellow
from Malawi, in his favorite jacket
I work in a plantation back home in Malawi and run a nursery that raises about one million seedlings a year. There are many areas in which my nursery could use some improvement. Visiting a site that produces 10 times more than what I produce was a very good learning platform. Though the practices in Oregon are not exactly the same as what happens in the tropics, most operations are similar. For example, in Malawi, field planting is done between December and April, while in Oregon that’s when sowing is done. I was impressed with the sowing methods, nursery management, and seedling transportation. Though we may not have the same opportunity as far as equipment access is concerned, the Pacific Northwest thinking is something that can help us to improve our operations back home in Malawi.