Matt Stuppy may be young but he brings a long-term perspective to the greenhouse industry as fifth-generation owner and president of Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing in North Kansas City, Mo. He’s also the current president of the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association (NGMA), which brings the structures, equipment and environmental controls segments together. As an agricultural engineer, he has been actively involved in NGMA’s codes and standards committee, which is currently addressing new codes related to energy consumption.
GG: How is the business you are running today different than the one your father or grandfather led?
MS: The business has been changing ever since it was started in 1873. That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from our family history. Fortunately, we have had the foresight to change with the industry. We’ve gone from a rose grower to a wholesale florist to a greenhouse design and construction company. The fact that we’ve stayed in horticulture the whole time is important to me. I like that we’ve put our roots in horticulture and found different ways to be a successful part of the industry.
Since I’ve started as president of Stuppy, we have put more energy into greenhouse construction and design. We were an established greenhouse manufacturer and needed to add construction capabilities to offer our customers a complete package. While growers may have people on staff who are capable of building and maintaining greenhouses, our educational and research customers usually do not.
GG: How would you characterize the state of the industry as it relates to greenhouse structures? It seems growers who are vendors for the box stores are growing but the rest of the industry is stagnant.
MS: Certain segments have slowed down but there’s still a market there. We’ve been busy. In the 1970s and ’80s, we saw an explosion in the bedding plant industry. Back then, if you could bend a piece of steel, you were a greenhouse manufacturer. While that explosion may not be there now, we have a multibillion dollar industry and structures are part of that.
The commercial floriculture market has changed and is still changing. Ultimately, it’s about what consumers want and where they perceive value and spend money. Have the box stores influenced it? Absolutely. Box stores have changed where you buy a hammer and where you buy a petunia. So we have seen growers react and grow with this channel.
Breeders and seed companies have been influential, too. There are still opportunities for all types and sizes of growers. Recent trends toward locally grown flowers and produce show smaller growers can still be successful. It’s about running a business successfully. There are fewer growers today than 10 years ago, but it’s not doom and gloom for any type of grower. Those who are successful, identify market shifts and plan accordingly. Those who are not, hold on and hope things will be like yesterday.
GG: Are you seeing more growers improving the facilities they have? What kinds of retrofits are being done?
MS: Since we tend to focus on new construction, I personally do not see a lot of retrofit. Our projects tend to be more extensive and are centered on adding space and/or recovering a greenhouse. Obvious places to improve existing facilities involve equipment to improve energy efficiency and turn a crop faster. Anything that helps growers save money and operating costs, they can get a payback on or turn a crop faster, is what they’ll spend money on.
GG: We’ve heard that if you have the funds and market-driven reasons to build, now is the time to take advantage of lower interest rates and competitive pricing.
MS: It’s always a good time to build. Ultimately, construction tends to be more a function of grower success than anything else. As growers successfully create new business, they need to expand facilities. Nobody is going to build something they don’t need. While interest rates may be low, steel, aluminum and plastic prices have risen over the last six months. We’re not exempt from inflation and the cost of materials. Usually, growers see this, too, because they need to buy other consumables, like plastic pots and trays. They see what’s happening in raw materials.
GG: What kinds of things has NGMA been working on to support the industry?
MS: NGMA is working on some new energy code guidelines and standards. Building codes are starting to include energy consumption and “green” concepts. It is important that our industry is represented so we can continue to grow and deliver great plants to people. The last thing we’d want is for greenhouses to become illegal because they are made of plastic, glass and steel. A greenhouse is a unique building for a unique purpose and we want to make sure that’s recognized.
GG: What has NGMA done in the past to help greenhouse growers and structures manufacturers?
MS: The most important things we have done revolve around building codes and standards. It isn’t the most exciting thing to talk about and is often overlooked and undervalued by growers. It would be much harder to build greenhouses than it is today without past work by NGMA members.
NGMA also has put together great information that is frequently used by growers and other horticultural professionals in the form of standards, guides and helpful hints. Our Helpful Hint series is quite informative and can be a benefit to established growers and new prospective growers. They help generate ideas, best practices and can be great tools for training people.
GG: Your annual meeting will be in conjunction with the North American Horticultural Suppliers Association (NAHSA) in St. Louis. How has NGMA been working with other industry organizations?
MS: NGMA realizes it is part of a larger industry. We are always open to providing our expertise and energy to good projects. The joint meeting is another example of that spirit of cooperation. There are some companies that belong to both organizations. This is a good opportunity to recognize we have some common ground and provide a forum for sharing ideas and goals.
GG: Are there any particular goals you’ve had as president of NGMA? What’s next for the organization?
MS: My main goal is seeing that we finish the energy code project. It’s relevant and timely to today’s building and construction environment. I think it accomplishes our purpose of helping growers and uniquely represents the industry. You’re not going to see private companies do that, or American Nursery & Landscape Association speak to that or a growers cooperative make an impact on building codes. The NGMA membership works hard to do some very specific things for the industry. Those benefits are intended to help growers.