The State Of The 2014 Young Plant Market

Young plant growers face several market pressures, but find innovative ways to keep their businesses strong and their customers served, the annual Greenhouse Grower Young Plant Grower Survey reveals. There were 145 respondents.

The top 20 young plant growers had quite a few changes from last year’s ranking. There are two new entries, GroLink Plant Co. and Pacific Plug & Liner, neither of which we had figures on last year. That means two growers from last year, Welby Gardens and Battlefield Farms, fell off the Top 20 ranking.

As for the rest of the Young Plant Grower Survey, it looked into how today’s growers are operating and asked them to share how they handle a number of common challenges. Here’s what they had to say:

A similar number of growers switched from seeds to cuttings as those who increased their cuttings from seeds, making the overall mix something of a wash.
That said, the reasons behind the switch were quite different:

Away From Seeds:

  • Replacing Impatiens walleriana with New Guinea impatiens
  • Wanting better end results, either from more compact growth or more vigor
  • To shorten the production time line
  • Not getting enough germination on particular plants

One respondent said he made the switch because he has more control over the growth of plugs and that he’s finding more availability in newer plants from seed.
Besides impatiens, here are other crops young plant growers reported switching to plugs:

  • Vinca
  • Petunia
  • Salvia
  • Begonia
  • Specialty annuals
  • Tomatoes and peppers

Away From Cuttings:

  • Seeds are easier when creating combo planters
  • A desire to avoid diseases
  • There’s an improvement in seed offerings
  • Seeds help cut costs and increase efficiency

Several growers mentioned the quality of new seed varieties, including Bossa Nova begonia ‘Santa Cruz Sunset,’ euphorbia ‘Glitz’ and calibrachoa Kabloom.

Traditional categories like annuals and flowering potted plants still dominate, but vegetables are quickly closing in at 21 percent. That’s a high percentage when compared to flowering potted plants at 27 percent. Herbs, a traditionally tiny category, is still the smallest percentage, but at 11 percent, it competes with cut flowers (12 percent) and perennials (15 percent).

Although young plant growers report that many different categories are declining, only these two plant categories were mentioned by more than a couple of growers, which just happen to be the two most common young plant categories. But the picture is a little more complex than that simple lineup may suggest. Only about 39 percent of growers who reported that annuals are a shrinking part of their line up referred to the full annuals category. The rest mentioned specific subgroups within annuals: pack annuals, impatiens and seed annuals.

Trends In Plugs And Liner Sizes

It’s no big surprise that there’s a distinct trend toward larger plugs and liner sizes. Usually a strong trend stems from several smaller trends, and using larger plugs and liner sizes is no exception.
Here are just a few of the reasons for larger young plants cited: customer demand, faster inventory turns, combo liners’ popularity, better profit margins and the growth in particular categories that require larger sizes, such as tropical plants.

One respondent cited climate as a reason: “I think Northern growers are wanting to open their greenhouses later and still be able to finish their crop in time, so they are switching to a larger size.”
Some young plant growers said they were going smaller. Cost was the most commonly cited reason by that group.

What Is Your Biggest Problem?

It’s a sign of a normal year when no strong themes emerge when asking about what the biggest problems are. Most young plant growers are grappling with their own individual issues. Twenty-two different themes emerged, with only the usual suspects getting multiple citings:

  • Labor
  • Controlling overhead costs
  • Freight
  • Weather
  • Keeping young plant quality high
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