It is fair to say that the California drought has affected numerous businesses and people in the South Valley. While Woodlake’s Monrovia Nursery operation has felt some effect, it really has no major complaints due to lack of water.
The 650-acre nursery has been affected to some degree, said Reiner Kruger, technical services coach for Monrovia, admitting that the nursery has cut back production a bit. But, the fact that the nursery has recycled its water since developing the land in 2004 has aided it through the drought quite well.
The Monrovia Nursery business was originally started in Southern California in a town of the same name in 1926. Thirty years later the business moved to nearby Azusa. Through its decades of development, the business has expanded nationwide and now maintains growing locations in Oregon, Georgia and the Woodlake facility. The former 545-acre Azusa facility was closed and the property sold, as Woodlake came into production, although the corporate offices are still there.
The water table at the Woodlake nursery is pretty high, Kruger said. It sits alongside Road 196, north of Highway 198. The land here was once a lake, he said.
But, “the Governor (Brown) is expecting people to cutback, and we feel it prudent to cutback as well,” he said.
Monrovia has water rights to the St. John’s River, and also has 18 functioning wells that were part of the property when the nursery purchased it.
The nursery in Azusa implemented a recycled water program when management saw legislation coming regarding water runoff, Kruger said. The company spent $1.2 million to develop the system and actually realized $250,000 savings in production costs the first year, he said. The recycling development was paid off within a few years.
It was the intent to set up a recycled water system from the get-go in Woodlake.
“It was not even a question, we were going to do it here,” Kruger said.
Each greenhouse has a drain system that feeds into a pipe carrying water to a pumping station. Pumping stations add chlorine to the water for disinfection and feed the water into one of two 4.5-acre-feet reservoirs on the property. There the amount of pH and fertilizer in the water is measured to assure proper levels for usage.
“It’s efficient to recycle water here,” Kruger said. “It captures the nutrients and brings them back.”
Eventually though, nitrates and sodium build up too high for the recycled water to be used again on nursery plantings, so Monrovia has a 170-acre adjacent farm where that water is used on crops such as feed corn or oat hay.
During regular, non-drought years, Monrovia would take fresh water from the river. But, with the drought it is using its wells to replenish the water supply, Kruger said.
Currently, the pumping stations run on electricity or diesel fuel. A lot of watering is done at night, and during particularly hot spells, the pumps run on diesel as to not pull on the power grid, he said.
Many of the plant houses have Rain Bird systems because it is just not feasible to put an emitter onto one gallon pots, he said. The Rain Birds also cleanse the plants washing dust off the leaves.
Monrovia is looking into solar as an alternative power source for the future and may begin to add it by the end of this year.
“Our goal is to make the facility as self-sufficient as we can,” Kruger said.
The nursery also uses “beneficial insects” as much as it can rather than pesticides, he added. It also respects the native bee population and during pollination season, does any spraying at night as to not bother them.
“We seem to have a good population of them,” he said.
As for drought-resistant plants, Monrovia has increased production of succulents, agaves, aloes and yuccas, somewhat. But, since only 30 percent of the Woodlake facility production goes to the California market, it still maintains its regular production which is often shipped to the Mid-West and Texas.
The Monrovia Woodlake nursery has 540 employees and posts $33 million in sales per year as a wholesale producer for independent nurseries and Lowe’s Home Improvement stores.