Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

So much can happen in one year. Our Top 100 Growers have seen some serious changes, especially at the top of the list. It’s only fitting that we think of change this year, the 20th anniversary of our Top 100 Growers list. Read on for a recap of who these growers are, what they sell, where they sell it and how and where they think they’ll be doing all of the above in the future.

We have a new No. 1 grower in terms of environmentally controlled greenhouse area. Kurt Weiss Greenhouses, Center Moriches, N.Y., takes the top spot this year with 11,241,000 square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouse area. The increase in area is the result of new greenhouse purchases in the northeastern United States. Yoder Brothers moves up to No. 2 on the list and Color Spot is at No. 3. It seems we’ve underestimated Bay City Flowers’ square footage in years past. The company reports 8,712,000 square feet of greenhouse space. Paul Ecke Ranch, with the acquisition of Oglevee, adds square footage, moving from No. 7 to No. 5.

Last year’s No. 1, Hines Horticulture, comes in at No. 6 this year after selling facilities in Miami and the northeast. Costa Nursery Farms also moved up on the list, from No. 31 last year to No. 7 this year. Speedling, Metrolina Greenhouses and Altman Plants round out the top 10.

Newcomers to this list include Barcelo Enterprises (No. 28t), Elzinga & Hoeksema Greenhouses (No. 57), Pacifica Flowers (No. 58), Green Valley Growers (No. 61), Van de Wetering Greenhouses (No. 88) and Bob’s Market & Greenhouses (No. 90). Welcome aboard!

The twists and turns of the last 20 years have been challenging for our Top 100 Growers. There has been a lot of movement on the list, new companies added and some removed. This year, we posed questions in our Top 100 Grower Survey related to the past, present and future business. 


The Past

Looking back on their businesses in the last 20 years, there have been so many types of change for Top 100 Growers. More automation, more competition and shrinking margins have been the hallmarks, though.

“We have gotten better at what we do,” says Lisa Wenke Ambrosio, Wenke Greenhouse (No 31). “We are more efficient and more customer focused.”

“We have had to become savvy business people as well as better growers to compete,” says Chris Bergen of Bergen’s Greenhouses (No. 60). “An example of this is our large investment in our facilities and equipment.”

Along with these advances in equipment have come the increased cost to producing crops. This comes at the same time Top 100 Growers are dealing with a more challenging and competitive climate. Compared to 20 years ago, 55 percent say they deal with more box stores and 44 percent say they do business with fewer independent retailers.

“The cost to produce has outpaced the increases in wholesale prices that we charge,” says Brad Bloes of Panzer Nursery (No. 45t).

“Margins are slimmer, consolidation at retail has exerted greater pricing pressure,” says Jim Hessler, president of Green Valley Growers (No. 61). “Lack of long range planning by major retailers has resulted in opportunity loss.”

“Disproportionate control, power and margin has gone to the retailer and the breeder. Producers are at the greatest investment and risk of all time,” says Speedling Inc.’s (No. 8) CEO David Robbins.

Some growers do report a silver lining, however, compared to the past.

“It’s gotten to be more fun,” says Tom Abramowski, president of Rockwell Farms (No. 54). Several report expanded product lines compared to the past, growing from regional to national distribution and a few newcomers report expansion. Petitti Garden Centers formed its 900,000-square-foot Casa Verde growing operation (No. 75), supporting eight of its own retail garden centers.

What they grow has changed, as well. A more diversified line, whether in varieties or sizes grown, is the trend among our Top 100. Of them, 42 percent now grow a more diverse line of varieties. One quarter report more and/or larger container sizes, including several who now grow fewer or no flats, switching to pots. Inputs have changed, too.

“The 4 1/2-inch vegetative annual line has increased greatly over the past three years,” says Bob Barnitz, president and CEO of Bob’s Market and Greenhouses, No. 90. “This product line offers a greater profit margin for the same greenhouse footprint.” Nine percent of respondents agree, mentioning an increase in use of or switch to vegetative cuttings over the last 20 years. Several also mentioned better breeding that results in better uniformity and timing than in the past.

“Ten years ago, we grew only 4-inch seed geraniums in the spring,” says Shawn Koepnick, vice president and general manager of Henry Mast/Masterpiece Flower Co. (No. 85). “Now it is countless items and packages.”

Fifteen percent of respondents have stuck to a monoculture crop, haven’t changed their crops much or decreased variety selection in 20 years. 



The Present

Bedding plants are at the top of our Top 100 Growers’ minds. Their top five genera by number of plants sold are long-time favorites impatiens (grown by 43 percent of respondents), petunias (42 percent), geraniums (31 percent), chrysanthemums (22 percent) and poinsettias (20 percent). When asked their most profitable crop, responses were many and varied. Top responses were orchids and lilies, each with 10 percent of the vote, followed by petunias, gerberas, bromeliads and tulips, each with 6 percent of the vote. Other responses include mums, clematis, poinsettias, lagerstroemia, cyclamen and hosta. There are many different genera out there, and our Top 100 Growers are making many work for them.

A buzz word in greenhouses is lean, as in the lean manufacturing techniques being applied to some production. Lean has been applied in 26 percent of our respondents’ facilities. Thirty-one percent are investigating lean, while 43 percent haven’t investigated lean.

Another trend is organic growing. Opinions are varied.

“We are diligently exploring organic and eco-friendly products and packaging,” says Dean Chaloupka of Floral Plant Growers (No. 27). Grolink (No. 23t) reports it needs to keep chemicals in the greenhouse to ensure 100 percent pest- and disease-free cuttings. The same goes for Paul Ecke Ranch, No. 5.

“Currently, we do not grow organic products, but we do use Insect Exclusion Practices, such as stock screening,” says Paul Ecke III. “Regulations on importing cuttings have tight tolerances and do not allow margins of risk assumed in today’s organic processes. With advanced technology, growing organic in the future might be a viable concept.” Other growers don’t see the demand or the upside of growing organically.

“No, too much aggravation and I think it is deceptive to imply that one thinks organic is better,” says Joe Thomas, owner of Dan Schantz Farm (No. 78).

“As with most consumer products, we are not hearing a big call for this type of product,” says Bill Swanekamp, president of Kube-Pak Corp. (No. 87). “Further, since it costs more to produce a crop organically, it seems odd that our industry is now emphasizing this method of growing when we are in a phase of stagnant pricing.

“This does not mean we are environmentally insensitive. We have been a leader in the industry when it comes to reducing or using less toxic chemicals on our plants. Certainly, there will be a place for organic products, but I am not sure it is essential for ornamental crops versus consumable crops.”

Overall, 87 percent of our Top 100 respondents do not grow crops organically and 13 percent do.

With an increased number dealing with large retailers, many of the largest growers have supplemented their growing area with contract growers. It’s an even split down the middle, though. Of a total 58 respondents to the question, 50 percent said they do use contract growers and 50 percent said they do not.

Of those who said they do use contract growers, between 2 and 43 percent of their production is contract grown.

The Future

Judging from our respondents, successful growers in the future will thrive based on production efficiencies, and they’ll be growing mums. Of growers who responded, 25 percent said chrysanthemums would be the next big crop. And when we asked what it will take to be successful in the greenhouse business in the next 20 years, the word efficient was mentioned in 20 percent of responses.

“Efficiency of production and the ability to meet the needs of customers with timely product,” says Altman Plants’ (No. 10) COO Matt Altman. “Also creativity in product development to create new niches.”

The willingness to change and adapt was the second most common answer.

“Keep reinventing your business,” says Bloes of Panzer Nursery. “The only way to keep up is to always rethink the process and trim where you can.” Bill Tunier, general manager and owner of Post Gardens (No. 36), agrees.

“You need to keep an open mind and be positive about change,” he says. “Use your vision to find a solution to every problem.” Adaptation and change is a way to keep in tune with customers and the end consumer, say our survey respondents. Efficiency and adaptability are both ways to help a business reduce costs for higher margins, a key ability for greenhouses of the future.

“Growers need to get and maintain better margins or they won’t be staying in business,” says Henry Mast’s Koepnick. Who will survive? More of our Top 100 survey respondents think the future of the industry is consolidation, rather than large growers supplementing their crop with the help of contract growers.

“More consolidation and less greenhouses,” says Jack Rohling, sales manager at Young’s Nursery and Greenhouses (No. 62t). “Fewer growers,” says Joe Thomas, owner of Dan Schantz Farm.

“More big growers which will entail more contract growers,” says Art Van Wingerden, chief operating officer of Metrolina Greenhouses. “Fewer smaller growers, less people getting into the business.” Lean processes, more niche growers, more robotics and more environmentally friendly products are other predictions.

“Growers will be doing everything for their customers,” says Richard Wilson of Colorama Wholesale Nursery, No. 34. “In some cases, renting the space just as it is done in the supermarkets.”

“One hundred percent automated and garden centers will be leased to growers,” says Chris Hammons, head grower at Timberline Nursery, No. 82t.

Westerlay Orchids just missed a spot on our list this year, but head grower Harry Schoun may have summed up the industry sentiment for many growers in his responses. How has your business changed in the last 20 years? “180 degrees.” What will it take to be successful in the future? “Guts and brains.”

Leave a Reply

More From Top 100 Growers...
Green Mum Basket

April 21, 2015

Growers Face Dilemma In Managing Plant Growth

Whether you’re applying plant growth regulators, manually pinching plants or using automated trimming, the most important thing is to find the right balance.

Read More

April 20, 2015

Three Michigan State University On-Demand Webinars Offer Effective Strategies For Insect And Disease Control On Vegetables

The first rule of effective insect and disease control for vegetables is to take action to prevent problems before they occur. But in order to do that, you need to have an effective pest and disease management strategy in place that incorporates best practices to ensure a successful outcome. Michigan State University offers three pest and disease management on-demand webinars that will get you started and keep you on the right track.

Read More
Celosia dragon's breath_Sakata

April 20, 2015

Sakata’s Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ Steals The Show In Salinas

Since January, when I first saw celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ in the landscape at Costa Farms’ Season Premier, I knew it looked like a great plant that would garner some serious attention. And sure enough, up and down the trials road, people were talking about Sakata’s hot new introduction. Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is a seed-propagated, plume-type celosia that is said to actually perform better with less fertilizer and water. If it’s fed too much, its dark leaves lose their reddish-purple coloring and turn green, and by restricting water, it tends to bloom more. It tends to be a more vigorous plant than other plume-type celosias, and its large blooms are quite attractive. Sakata also introduced a new series of African Marigolds. Proud Mari comes in Orange, Yellow and Gold, and has huge, fist-sized flowers that bloom vigorously. New colors in SuperCal petunias are L.A. Yellow and Pink, and they are fabulous additions […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Crop Protection Of The Future

March 11, 2015

Help Us Find Out How Crop Protection Has Changed Among …

Is your environmentally controlled greenhouse production area 500,000 square feet or larger? If so, we want to hear from you. Please take our Top 100 Growers survey to help us get an accurate picture of our industry from the perspective of our largest operations.

Read More
Top 100

September 18, 2014

The Top 100 Growers On Merchandising

See what Greenhouse Grower's Top 100 Growers have to say about merchandising changes over the last 10 years in our 2014 Top Grower Survey

Read More

September 18, 2014

The Top 100 Growers Talk Pollinator Health

The panel of experts at Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Top 100 Growers Breakfast offered insight on how the industry is addressing the public scrutiny on neonicotinoids, research that still needs to be done and what growers can do to promote their operations’ responsible practices.

Read More
Top 100

August 29, 2014

2014 Top 100 Grower List

The 2014 Top 100 Growers list represents the largest greenhouse operations in the United States.

Read More
Gary Mangum

August 12, 2014

What Bell Nursery Learned From Growing Without Neonicot…

Determined to find out firsthand what a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides would mean for growers, Bell Nursery CEO Gary Mangum challenged his team to grow without them. Read to find out about the lessons he learned.

Read More
Top 100

May 14, 2014

2014 Top 100 Growers [Whitepaper]

Get the full set of data from our 2014 survey, including how the Top 100 Growers have changed their crop mix over the last 10 years.

Read More

May 13, 2014

The Top 100 Growers Find Diversity Provides More Securi…

Growers continue to broaden their crop offerings, provide more retail merchandising and market their own crops through social media, in an effort to increase sales.

Read More
Top 100

April 29, 2014

2014 Top 100 List Shows Growers Are Expanding

Grower acquisitions throughout the year, bankruptcy, closed doors, new operations, reduced square footage and changing business status have reconstructed Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers list, yet again.

Read More
Top 100

February 18, 2014

Help Us Find Out How Crop Mixes Have Changed Among The …

Is your environmentally controlled greenhouse production area 650,000 square feet or larger? If so, we want to hear from you.

Read More
Richard Jones

August 16, 2013

iPads, Automobile Cameras And The Future Of Your Busine…

Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers Breakfast has become a great annual event during OFA Short Course. We get together with representatives from the country’s largest greenhouse operations to talk about trends and developments in different areas of the business. And while the meeting is targeted for the Top 100, there are invariably interesting lessons that apply to growers across the board. This year’s breakfast featured a panel discussion on “The Even-Higher-Tech Future Of The Top 100.” (You can read about some of the highlights from the event on page 32.) Our panelists included Gary Falkenstein, president and CEO of the new online live goods broker, ePlantSource; Paul Pilon, owner of Perennial Solutions Consulting; and Charles Grinnell, COO of Harvest Automation (whose plant-moving robots were one of the highlights on the trade show floor at Short Course this year). They shared their opinions on what exciting new developments growers may have […]

Read More

August 16, 2013

The Even-Higher-Tech-Future Of The Top 100 Grower

As part of Greenhouse Grower’s 30th anniversary celebration, we’ve been taking a look at the current state of various segments of our industry in 2013. But there’s also value in looking ahead at — and preparing for — the next 10, 20 or 30 years. “The Even-Higher-Tech Future Of The Top 100 Grower” was the theme for Greenhouse Grower’s annual Top 100 Growers Breakfast, held during OFA Short Course. The Top 100 program was sponsored by BASF. The breakfast featured a panel discussion with experts in web technology, robotics and production: Gary Falkenstein, president and CEO of ePlantSource, Charles Grinnell, COO of Harvest Automation and Paul Pilon, owner of Perennial Solutions Consulting. Each shared his vision of the future and identified readily available technologies and opportunites that growers should be exploring for their business today. Where are the Top 100 Growers on the technology curve? Falkenstein: On the technology side, […]

Read More
Hermann Engelmanns Sandra Kitain, Chuck Romagnoli and Erin Leonard

August 12, 2013

Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses Reaches Out To Consumers …

Do you grow foliage and houseplants? If not, it might be time to consider it. In a recent Today’s Garden Center magazine survey, of those garden retailers who carry houseplants, 54.3 percent report an increase in sales in 2013. Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses reports good news, as well, with a 5 percent increase within the foliage segment in the past year. So how does the operation plan to keep the good times rolling? The formula for this grower includes marketing directly to the consumer through in-store materials, a loaded website and an active social media presence. But the message being broadcast through all these media is the same — to inspire the customer to create home décor designs and to educate with plant care tips that will turn timid gardeners into experts. “We want to transition our product from a commodity item to a home décor item,” says Erin Leonard, director […]

Read More

June 26, 2013

Metrolina Greenhouses Enters Purchase Agreement To Buy …

Metrolina Greenhouses, based in Huntersville, N.C., has entered into a purchase agreement to buy the assets of Stacy’s Greenhouses, Inc. pending U.S. bankruptcy court approval. “As part of Metrolina’s continuing expansion, the proposed asset acquisition of Stacy’s will improve our business growth as we continue with our 2025 Vision plan,” says Abe VanWingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses. “Stacy’s perennial business is a natural addition to our current product lineup as we continue to provide new and innovative solutions and concepts for our retail partners. “Additionally, by making this asset purchase, we will be able to honor and extend the business legacy of Mr. Stacy as he and my father, Tom VanWingerden, were both pioneers in this industry who worked together on many projects over the years as they both started in their businesses in the early 1970s. Combining the work of these two visionary leaders into one company makes logical sense.” […]

Read More

June 24, 2013

Stacy’s Greenhouses Files For Bankruptcy

Stacy’s Inc. has filed for Chaper 11 bankruptcy protection in order to facilitate an upcoming sale. “The process is going forward the way we had hoped,” says Stacy’s President Tim Brindley. “The court has approved a working budget to keep everything moving forward through July 26, and we have another hearing soon to approve a budget through August.” With the company going through Chapter 11 proceedings, any sale will be an asset purchase rather than a sale of the company. The business will no longer carry the Stacy’s name. “We have been in negotiations with a potential buyer for several months, and have a signed asset purchase agreement in place,” Brindley says. “Everything has to be approved by the courts and there are a lot of steps that still have to take place, but the goal is to have the sale complete by the end of August. The sale of Stacy’s […]

Read More

May 28, 2013

Rocket Farms Launches New Interactive Website

Rocket Farms has launched a new website to support the brand’s innovative approach that focuses on fun, creativity and interaction with the consumer. Offering a clean, modern look, the new offers a wide variety of information on the company and its products, the Rocket Farms Wholesale Center and product inspirations. In an effort to cater to today’s mobile consumers, the new website is compatible for viewing on all media devices, including PC, mobile phones and tablet devices. The website will continue to evolve as additional enhancements and new information are added to appeal to consumers’ changing interests and expand the product interaction portions of the website. The most exciting and original part of the website is Inspirations. An online reference guide for consumers to find fun and unique ideas for selecting and enjoying Rocket Farms products, Inspirations includes recipes, design ideas, inspirational concepts, and more. Visitors can then share […]

Read More
Top 100

May 6, 2013

Top 100 Growers 2013: The State Of Production

  As part of Greenhouse Grower’s 30th Anniversary, we reviewed the state of production among the nation’s largest operations. Our 2013 Top 100 Growers Survey, sponsored by Becker Underwood, asked three big questions to get a feel for where they see the biggest developments in greenhouse production. Innovations First, we asked them to identify the most important innovation in the greenhouse industry in the last 30 years. We got a variety of opinions, including integrated pest management, bottom heat and heat curtains, open roof greenhouses, plugs and other growing techniques and computer-based environmental controls. Most commonly cited were breeding improvements, hydroponic production and the big winner, automation and transplanters. “It’s not even close,” one respondent said. “Transplanters are the best innovation we’ve seen. To plant at the speed we do now, we would have to put 30 people on each production line.” Improvements Next, we asked them to tell us […]

Read More
Top 100

May 6, 2013

Greenhouse Grower Top 100 Growers: The 2013 List

It’s not necessarily an indication of a top-to-bottom trend in the horticulture industry, but one thing is clear from the results of the 2013 Greenhouse Grower Top 100 Grower survey: The largest greenhouse operations in the U.S are getting larger. Perhaps it’s a sign of things turning around after several years of a stagnant economy and an evolving customer base. Maybe the greenhouse industry is just continuing a shakeout, with the largest operations absorbing the production and space of growers who are leaving the market. Could be it’s simply the big continuing to get bigger to take advantage of the production efficiencies size can offer big retail customers and the growers’ own bottom lines. It’s likely some combination of all three. Whatever the reason, nearly a third of the growers in Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Top 100 survey reported growth. Some of them significantly so. Ups And Downs Greenhouse Grower’s annual […]

Read More

April 29, 2013

Rockwell Farms Introduces Ready-To-Pour Container Ferti…

Rockwell Farms has introduced Rockwell Farms Plant Food, a bottled liquid fertilizer that does not need to be diluted before use. Always looking for ways to help the consumer succeeed, Jason Roseman of Rockwell Farms says the operation is also always looking for ways to get consumers to come back and buy more plants and flowers. “We feel like fertilization is one of those things that can be very confusing,” Roseman says. “Not everyone does it, and not everyone knows what they’re supposed to do.” The solution: Rockwell Farms Plant Food. The formulation is 150 ppm of a 20-10-20 fertilizer and is sold in 24-ounce bottles. Rockwell recommends that one bottle be used to fertilize 1.5- to 3-gallon outdoor plant and flower containers every 21 days. The product’s signage shows a young patio gardener pouring the bottled fertilizer on a windowbox with the tagline, “Just pour on your way out […]

Read More