Battlefield Farms and Costa Farms Transition To Young Plant Suppliers
The two operations are making the transition from young plant growers who produce their own material to suppliers for other growers.
September 16, 2010
Battlefield Farms has been producing young plants for its own use since 1990, when ownership deemed it was more economical to produce seedlings internally than purchase them from other greenhouse operations.
More recently, though, Battlefield has ventured into young plant production for other growers. The operation first became a young plant supplier for American Color, whose president, Ed Van Hoven, is a former employee and the brother of Anthony Van Hoven, the operations manager at Battlefield. As word spread beyond American Color, Battlefield became a young plant supplier for operations like Color Point and South Central Growers.
"'We grew first through direct blood and then extended family," Anthony says.
Battlefield added other young plant customers along the way, and it's now producing 110 million young plants each year to sell.
But as Battlefield's young plant business has quickly grown, operation leaders are realizing everything from planning production to fulfilling orders is becoming more difficult to handle without a system that integrates financials, inventory, shipping, logistics planning and production.
Growing young plants for your own operation is one thing; growing them for others is a different matter. So Battlefield is embarking on a journey to improve its efficiency as a young plant supplier from start to ship.
"We're implementing Practical Software Solutions software," Anthony says. "There are always areas we can be more efficient. We see a great need for improvement, organization and efficiency. We know we'll be able to provide better quality and service once we do implement the software."
A Learning Curve
Battlefield could very well operate without the MAS-500 Grower Vertical program from Practical Software Solutions. The operation has, after all, made it this far without it.
But Battlefield has big plans these days for its young plant business, and service is a particular area in which the operation wants to improve. An integrated software system is an answer for both its big-picture business and customer-service goals.
"Without it, I don't see how we could keep up with everything," says Marc Verdel, Battlefield's head grower. "All customers have their own item. Each box store has its own line of pots, tags and (finished) products it wants. Five or 10 years ago, you could ship whatever. Those days disappeared. To track and keep notes, this is vital."
Anthony agrees. Battlefield began producing perennial liners three years ago, and that business tripled two years ago and doubled this year. Now, Battlefield is producing between 200,000 and 300,000 liners for other perennial growers, and Anthony anticipates more action in the coming years. So it's clear an integrated software system is indeed vital to handle growing business segments like Battlefield's perennial liners.
"The system is going to help greatly on the perennial side because tracking inventory of cuttings is a whole different process than seeds," Anthony says. "You expect to get something in, but it comes in two weeks early or two weeks late. We'll now be able to track the cuttings we're buying in. As incoming orders change, it's hard to catch up and realign the information in our system the way it's currently set up. With the new system, if an arrival date changes, we'll be able to adjust. Everything we do now is manual, and it's a bit of a hassle."
Even simple tasks like finding product in the greenhouse will be a whole lot simpler.
"Right now, I pretty much know where most of the product is in the greenhouse," Verdel says. "It's nice for me, but it's not so nice if you're not in the greenhouse all the time. If you're the sales person or an owner, you have no clue where a product is. This will give us a good tool to know where everything is and do our space planning."
The system should also limit the number of surprises that occur on the production line.
New Young Plant Player
Like Battlefield, Costa Farms has traditionally grown young plants for internal use. But earlier this year, Costa launched a whole new division, Total Growth Solutions (TGS), to market and distribute plugs and other young plants through Syngenta Horticultural Services.
"For us, we felt like this was a good opportunity to work with Syngenta in the young plant part of our business - in an exclusive manner - and TGS has its advantages," says LJ Contillo, vice president of operations for Costa Color.
Four advantages TGS has over other potential suppliers, Contillo says, are location, information technology, transportation and research and development. Location just might top the list, though.
"A Southern-grown plug that's produced in high light and warm temperatures compared to most of the country adds unique value to the quality of plugs that can be produced," he says. "The performance of the plug is key for the finished grower, be it timing, branching, flowering or another aspect of production."
Information technology is another area in which TGS is making an investment. Some growers, of course, know their costs well. Others may not. So TGS is lending a hand to customers who want one with a profit calculator at TotalGrowthSolutions.com. The calculator gives customers the capability to plug in costs and create three different scenarios using various criteria. It displays projected profitability for each scenario and helps customers make better, more profitable decisions when selecting plug sizes.
TGS can also lean on its foliage division to reach parts of the country many other young plant growers can't.
"From a distribution standpoint," Contillo says, "TGS has some unique capabilities of being able to ship multiple products on loads that can make the transportation costs and efficiency of transportation more palatable for the customers buying plants from Syngenta and TGS."
The research and development that takes place at Costa is another plus for TGS. Costa makes an extensive effort to test the material that makes its way into its facilities. Kate Santos, who completed her doctorate in environmental horticulture at the University of Florida, joined Costa as its director of research and development about a year ago. She oversees Costa's research trials and is implementing new product and production protocols at the operation.
Costa's entry into the young plant market will surely impact other young plant growers. Before TGS entered the picture, Knox Nursery and Speedling in Florida were two Syngenta plug producers. Now, Costa Farms is a Syngenta young plant partner.
"We felt like young plants were a core part of our business we could expand to offer growers solutions," Contillo says. "There was no way we were going to expand on our own. We talked to Syngenta about it. I don't think they really had a strong partner who was growing plants in the southern part of the U.S.
"We're not looking for [TGS] to be huge immediately. Costa has traditionally jumped into things and made them huge in a very short amount of time, but we're not looking for TGS to be that. It's a very competitive world out there, and our vision is very long term. It's not short term, by any means."