Top 100 Growers Sound Off

Leaders from Top 100 operations gathered July 12 for Greenhouse Grower’s Sound Off for Top 100 Growers at OFA Short Course in Columbus, Ohio. Marketing consultant Jerry Montgomery, Texas A&M’s Charlie Hall, ANLA’s Craig Regelbrugge and the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Allan Armitage each shared impressions of the spring market with Top 100 Growers, who brought up their own industry concerns with the four on-hand experts.

Retail Report

Montgomery, who visited hundreds of garden centers this spring, shared highlights and trends from his tours with the Top 100. The Grow Your Own edibles program, for example, was a big plus this year for Lowe’s, Montgomery says, and container items priced under $20 moved well. Sun Parasol was a good example of a brand that held high retail price points, garnering $24.99 for 10-inch baskets and $9 to $10 for 1-gallon items.

Montgomery also shed light on combo planters, which he says were another 2010 plus for the industry. One combo problem he’s noticed, however, is there are a lot of bad recipes on the market. One item can’t be flowering while two or three others are green, he says. If the industry is going to produce combos at a similar or higher rate next year, growers must put extra thought into the varieties they’re combining.

Still, Montgomery points out a number of programs are already doing combos right, and Syngenta’s Kwik Kombos and Dömmen’s Confetti liners are two programs that do combos well.

Economic Report

Hall, the chairholder of the Ellison Chair at Texas A&M University, shared findings of his own 50-state grower survey. Hall says 14.8 percent of growers left the industry between 2007 and 2009. Many of the growers lost were tree producers but a number of the growers lost were the greenhouse kind.

One plus that’s resulted from the reduction of growers, Hall says, is that the amount of oversupply is growing smaller. Another plus, specifically for Top 100 Growers, is that of the 14.8 percent of operations that left the industry, only 3.3 percent were big growers.

Immigration An Issue

A key point ANLA’s Regelbrugge made at the Sound Off is he does not expect comprehensive immigration reform to happen this year–and it may not happen by the next presidential election in 2012. The reason: Health care took so much time and energy away from the immigration issue in 2009 and early this year.

Regelbrugge is a firm believer that the industry needs comprehensive immigration reform. Forty-four percent of the Top 100 Growers we surveyed earlier this year, in fact, indicate their preferred form of immigration reform is comprehensive.

Give Me Some Water

Armitage, a contributing editor to Greenhouse Grower, discussed varieties that work with the Top 100. He reports 500 consumers attended a June open house at the Trial Gardens at UGA, where mixed baskets and containers that flowered well provided the biggest “wows.” The edibles movement is catching on too, Armitage argues, and growers not on board are missing out.

“As a gardener, I don’t like vegetable gardens–but I like vegetables in my garden,” Armitage says. “You can put a dwarf tomato, pepper or eggplant with verbena in a container on the patio, and you have a glass of wine and a [vegetable]. Is there anything more you need while you’re admiring your verbena?”

When approaching edibles, Armitage says growers shouldn’t solely be considering herbs and vegetables. Fruits, such as hanging baskets of strawberries, will be coming down the pipeline, as well.

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