Perennials powerhouse Florexpo is ready to revolutionize woodies, groundcovers and grasses.
June 16, 2008
Ranked at No. 8 on our Top 10 Cuttings Producers, Florexpo in Costa Rica has had an amazing journey the last 10 years, dramatically expanding production and product lines.
"Going from zero to 130 million cuttings is unbelievable but very dangerous," says General Manager Menachem Ganon. "At the same speed we're going up, we can go down. We're very enthusiastic, growing and expanding, but we have lots of butterflies in our stomachs."
Fortunately, Florexpo has very strong systems in place to manage growth and deliver high quality cuttings and service.
The producer was founded by owner Fernando Altman as a joint venture with broker Tom McGregor of McGregor Plant Sales in Carlsbad, Calif. McHutchison has since become an additional broker in the partnership. The farm is currently 34 1/2 acres of unrooted cuttings and 34 1/2 acres of fresh cut flowers. The cut flowers will be transferred to a new farm, which will provide room for cuttings production to double.
In cuttings, Florexpo began with a few annuals crops through its relationship with Danziger. Now nearly 70 percent of the production is perennials and breeder relationships are expanding. Recent new licensing partnerships include products from Westhoff and GGG-Gruenwald. Florexpo also has a production contract with Selecta.
"Four years ago, it was difficult to get licenses because we were new and people didn't know us," Ganon says. "Now due to our success and growth, we're more attractive for the breeders and they come to us. We've demonstrated we can do a good job and our expertise in stock management."
Each variety that's added becomes a project. "It's not just sourcing, growing and shipping, but we grow it for a whole season to make sure it's true to type and that we know the yields and projections," Ganon explains. "We work closely with growers in trials and ship for free in exchange for the information. When we put a variety on the program, we are sure we are providing cuttings with value and not just another box."
The growth of Florexpo's varieties from just six to more than a thousand has been driven by customer requests. "We tap into the brain trust of the industry - our customers - and boy, do we get exposed to some great ideas," says Doug McQueen, vice president of McGregor Plant Sales. "We're not arrogant know-it-alls. We interview customers about their needs and bring solutions to market. "
In addition to securing the product lines, McGregor has invested in developing Web-based tools that allow growers to put product programs together in moments and maximize freight. Varieties can be sorted by hardiness zone, plant type, color, bloom season and finish time. Cultural sheets are available for each variety.
"Growers can time crops like never before and gain more bench efficiency, " McQueen says. "In the past with perennials, growers were less efficient with bench space. They would place bulk orders with different finish times. This has opened doors to new perennial growers."
Year-round availability is another advantage and another reason many perennials propagators are shifting stock plants offshore. "Traditionally in December, you can't find perennials," Ganon says. "We can provide them every single day under the exact same conditions."
Herbs and grasses are also categories Florexpo is building up, as important link product lines. But one of the most exciting new directions is woody ornamentals and groundcovers for nursery operations.
Eighteen months ago, the partners created a company called Costa Rica Cuttings for this plant material. These cuttings are offered at a lower price point and with a less stringent protocol to meet market needs. Having access to unrooted cuttings year-round will allow nursery growers to program production like greenhouse operations and use labor more efficiently.
"We can bring cuttings in earlier and keep sending them later and end the argument between sales and production managers," McQueen says.