The 2013 spring season was a success, overall, according to 83 percent of the 197 growers who completed Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Spring Recap Survey.
Our survey respondents were grower retailers (51 percent), wholesale growers (43 percent) and young plant growers (6 percent). Most were based in the Midwest (31 percent), Southeast (20 percent) and Northeast (20 percent), but also represented the Southwest (9 percent), West (9 percent), Northwest (3 percent) and growers outside of the U.S. (8 percent).
Sales Were Stronger In 2013
Sales for spring 2013 were the same (26 percent) or higher (46 percent) than last year’s sales figures, growers reported. A combined 27 percent said sales decreased from 2012.
Seventy-one percent of respondents said they grew enough product to meet demand this spring; however, 29 percent reported that demand outpaced their supply.
Growers’ expectations for the season were obviously high. Even with the strong results year over year, 40 percent of respondents said their spring fell slightly short. However, a nearly proportionate number (36 percent) said sales exceeded expectations. Twenty-four percent said sales met expectations.
For growers serving the big box home improvement stores, sales were about the same or increased (14 percent). Other avenues for increased growth included independent garden centers (26 percent), their own retail shops (24 percent) and other growers (13 percent). On the other side, however, these areas were also where sales declined this year (see chart).
Weather Was The Biggest Challenge
This year’s weather was so up and down throughout the country that 71 percent of growers said weather was their biggest challenge. Some growers said their 2013 spring season failed because the crops they sold were too early, or they had to hold their crops until retailers could sell them. The delayed spring weather made other growers re-evaluate crop timing.
“We could have grown another crop turn, since spring dragged so late in our area. People were still buying two weeks later than they usually do,” said one grower.
Another grower said, “We should have grown more annuals from late May through June. For almost 8 years, demand for our early summer annuals steadily decreased, but this year, the late start to spring and cool early summer temps created a demand we were not prepared for. More than a few customers expressed their disappointment over not being able to find product. Some went so far as to say ‘growers are dictating the season.’ I find that terribly frustrating since it’s the steady decrease in demand for early summer annuals that shaped our current production.”
The wet spring wasn’t a bad thing for everyone, though. Some growers used the late start as an opportunity to improve customer service.
“Being ready when the customer and weather were helped us,” said one grower. “Our team never gave up and we were creative in how we dealt with the rough early weather. Our goal was to not send in unneeded product to our customers, with the cold weather. We found other outlets and held product.”
Another grower said, “We capitalized on the opportunity to work closer with our customers and show them how well we could take care of them during an exceptionally challenging spring. We are also able to prove how good we were at growing by continually providing good quality products, during week after week of terrible weather.”
The majority of our respondents said the weather was either moderately uncooperative (38 percent) or extremely uncooperative (28 percent), while other growers had weather that was moderately cooperative (28 percent) to extremely cooperative (6 percent).
Staffing (11 percent) and the economy (10 percent) were the other biggest challenges, as well as access to credit (5 percent) and competition (4 percent) while others specifically named impatiens downy mildew, production issues like having enough bench space to meet demand and crop timing, as well as logistics concerns like a perceived faster ramp up of customer needs and shipping more product in a shorter time period.
“We tried torenia but it was a complete sales failure,” said a grower. “I wish we had grown more New Guinea impatiens.”
Edibles And Annuals Crops Are On The Rise
Breaking down crops grown this year, respondents said they would grow more of edibles (51 percent) and annuals (45 percent) next year, versus growing the same amount or fewer. For those who grew edibles this year (including vegetables and herbs, sales were the same as 2012 (16 percent) or increased over 2012 (50 percent). Sales of annuals also increased for most growers (42 percent) or were the same (20 percent).
Growers who produced edibles said they were encouraged by the payoff they saw from growing this category.
“Understanding the edibles market a little better, we were able to meet demand on most crops,” said one grower. “Tomato and pepper sales were very strong in our market.”
Another grower, who used a new production technique this spring to produce vegetable plugs, had great success with the new program.
“We introduced a new pot size for our organic edibles program — a 2½-inch size we called Garden Starters that was priced economically. To transplant into this small pot size, we used a puncher transplanter with our 162 sized plugs. Using the puncher allowed us to very quickly produce hundreds of trays for this smaller pot, allowing this new program to be grown and sent to market quickly. It was a huge success for our cole crop vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli and 10 varieties of greens) in March and April.”
Many growers who didn’t grow edibles this year said they felt this was a missed opportunity, due to an increase in demand for vegetables, herbs and berries.
Growers also saw greater opportunities in growing larger annuals and pre-planted container gardens, as well as 2-inch plants to feed the miniature gardening trend.
Growers Forecast For Spring 2014
In perennials, flowering potted, plugs and propagation, shrubs and woody ornamentals and foliage and houseplants, the majority of growers said their production numbers would remain the same in 2014, based on 2013 sales figures in these categories.
For the majority of growers, sales of potted plants increased over 2012 sales (37 percent) or remained about the same as last year (27 percent). Container perennials sales were about the same as last year (27 percent) with an equal percentage of increase and decrease in sales from 2012 (25 percent).
“Spring started very slowly with the cool, rainy weather. Perennial sales were slow because when spring finally arrived, customers bought annuals instead,” said a grower.