Behind The Scenes At Jiffy

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One advantage Dutch floriculture has over our industry here in the United States is its monocultural focus. Because the auction system is still very much in place, the market allows Dutch growers to focus on particular crops and become true experts on their production. And because growers have mastered particular crops, the quality of their product is arguably better than the quality you’ll find here in the U.S.

Now, that notion isn’t a slight on U.S. growers. Instead, it’s more the result of our polyculture, which forces growers to manage a variety of production systems and become experts on a variety of crops. Just ask yourself how many SKUs your operation manages–the number for some of you might even be in the thousands–and think how much easier your job would be if you weren’t responsible for providing every last variety to your retailers.

This, however, is how greenhouse floriculture in the U.S. is structured. But our fixed structure doesn’t mean growers can’t become true production experts on all their crops. Sure, every crop is grown differently depending on the grower’s production system, but the Jiffy Group is on a mission to understand the many different grower systems (i.e. fertilization, irrigation, etc.) and find specific growing media solutions to improve their production.

Since 2008 when Jiffy acquired Tref, a growing media supplier with peatlands in several European countries, Jiffy has been incorporating Tref’s expertise into its own culture. Now, Jiffy is sourcing peat from both Canada and Europe and blending it for U.S. growers at a new production facility in Macon, Ga. The Tref acquisition brings Jiffy’s number of standard mixes in the U.S. to 20. Jiffy has also developed several custom mixes to meet specific grower needs.

During four days in May, Greenhouse Grower received an exclusive tour of Jiffy’s facilities to see just how Jiffy is bringing its Canadian-European blends to market, as well as get a look at the Tref techniques Jiffy has adopted into its own production.

Greenhouse Grower’s tour began at Jiffy’s facility in Macon, where the company is mimicking Tref’s technology. We also visited Jiffy’s production facility and transshipment terminal in Moerdijk, Holland. And we hopped on a plane to Estonia, where we got a glimpse of two Jiffy peatlands, a second production facility and a shipping terminal.

Jiffy’s Macon Plant

Jiffy began full-scale production in Macon back in January, and it started to build equipment for its facility about six months before that. The company actually shares the facility with the Ferry-Morse Seed Company, which has two packaging lines of its own in Macon for garden center products. The fact Ferry-Morse already had a presence in Macon made Jiffy’s transition there a smooth one.

Plant Manager Leona Wilson explained how Jiffy receives its peat in Macon from both Canada and Europe in compressed bales.

“After we receive the peat in compressed bales, we run it through our peat breaker, which essentially fluffs the peat up,” Wilson says. “We add a little bit of water in the process and then store it in different positions in the facility. When ready, we load that peat into our mix line, relative to whatever production or recipe we’re running.”
Another product Wilson receives in Macon is coir from a Jiffy plant in Sri Lanka. Coir arrives in Macon in compressed 5 kilogram blocks.

“We put coir in a mix because it has the ability to take up so much water and help with rewetting,” says John Bonin, Jiffy’s manager of business development and territory sales for the Northeast U.S.

One issue the coir industry has encountered, Bonin says, is weeds that grow in coir. Jiffy, however, has taken measures to provide a consistently clean coir product from its facility in Sri Lanka by maintaining ISO (International Standardization Organization) and RHP certifications. The RHP quality mark is specific to substrates, and it’s issued by the RHP Foundation, a center that focuses on substrates and soil-improving materials in Europe. All Tref substrates, raw materials and fertilizers in Europe carry the RHP certificate.

But whether or not coir is among the ingredients in a Jiffy mix, all mixes flow along the same production line where items like perlite and lime are added. The peat Jiffy receives in compressed bales is already screened more than once in Canada and Europe, but Jiffy has the ability to screen all material one last time in Macon before the final product is packaged and sent to the grower.

In all, Jiffy provides grower products in three sizes out of Macon: in 60 cubic-foot bulk bags; 2.8 cubic-foot loose-fill bags; and 110 cubic-foot compressed “big bales.”
“We’re mimicking what Tref has in place for us based on their expertise,” Bonin says. “Whether we’re providing a soil that retains more moisture on the bench or a more porous formulation, growers are looking for production solutions. Maybe a grower can save time with a Jiffy Mix solution, perhaps three to four days on a bench.”

A Visit To Moerdijk

Before Jiffy entered the picture, Tref’s goal was to be the growing media leader in all of Europe. Since Jiffy acquired Tref, the company’s goal has grown to be the global product leader in its category. And the global center for Jiffy happens to be in Moerdijk, Netherlands, one of Greenhouse Grower’s next stops on its four-day tour.

Customized Retail Solutions

Gary O’Malia and his brother, Larry, have 40 acres of vegetable production to manage, so one of the last things the two want to do is micromanage the crops in their half-acre retail range at Larry O’Malia Greenhouses in Plains, Pa.
The two brothers have been striving for fewer waterings at retail. To achieve their goal, they’ve explored producing crops like their Easter mums in growing media that incorporate peat with longer fibers.

“I remember reading about a grower who was getting peat from Europe with longer fibers in his mixes,” Gary says. “I was wondering if it was practical to be bringing peat from Europe.”

Once the O’Malias connected with Jiffy’s John Bonin, they discovered the advantages of blending Canadian peat with the European peat Jiffy is making available to U.S. growers. Gary always found peat with shorter fibers–the kind typically sourced from Canada–compacts a little too much for his liking. The O’Malias, however, found blending longer-fibered European peat with Canadian peat improved their mix on the retail bench.

“We grow 3,000 pots of mums for Easter and it worked out really well,” Gary says. “We grew about one quarter of them with Jiffy (Mix No. 2). We were impressed. We thought the roots were better and the plants were sturdier with Jiffy.”

Now, the O’Malias are rolling Jiffy Mix No. 2 into some of their vegetable production. They’re also working with Jiffy to incorporate bark and coir to see if additional improvements can be made to reduce the number of waterings at retail.

“We’re looking at moisture management with them,” says John Bonin, Jiffy’s manager of business development and territory sales for the Northeast. “We’re going to set them apart in production to see if a coir blend works better for Larry and Gary as they go into summer. We’re also incorporating other mixes into their production during the summer months. Maybe there’s an opportunity for them to water the next day or later in the afternoon as opposed to that morning.”Adds Gary: “If you can water four or five times less over one crop, great. With city water, every little bit of savings counts.”

Moerdijk, like Macon, acts as a transshipment area where Jiffy receives peat from across Europe, including Germany, Sweden and the Baltic states. But one component Moerdijk features that Macon doesn’t is a port where raw peat is unloaded from vessels, immediately screened and eventually processed and packaged for growers.

European growers have been fortunate over the years to have a wealth of product options from Jiffy. If a European grower wants a white peat, Jiffy can source its peatlands in Sweden. If he wants a darker peat for crops that require extended production, Jiffy can turn to its peatlands in Ireland.

“The history of potting soil and its production started in Holland, so we want to bring that European flavor and our many years of experience in potting soil to the U.S.,” says Roelof Buisman, the manager of Jiffy’s Center of Excellence. “We also want to bring in European raw materials, like European peat coming from the Baltics screened in special fraction sizes.”

In Moerdijk, Jiffy receives all kinds of European peat. Some of it, like the peat sourced from Sweden, arrives on trucks in block form. Other peat, like the kind that arrives from Estonia, is milled and off-loaded from vessels.

And like Macon, Jiffy has the equipment in Moerdijk to compress raw, fractioned peat into bales. Some of those bales are shipped to Macon for processing, but the majority are distributed to growers throughout the Netherlands. Moerdijk also serves as a production facility where Jiffy adds final ingredients on site. And because of Holland’s size, that product can reach the grower as quickly as that same day.

Jiffy also has the ability from Moerdijk to access the controls in Macon if a production problem arises.

“If there’s a problem in Macon, we can access the production line in Moerdijk via our Mix 2000 program,” Buisman says.

Escape To Estonia

After a half day in Moerdijk, we spent the next two days in Estonia. Our first visit was to Ääsmäe, the location of one of five Estonian bogs in the northern part of the country. The Ääsmäe bog has been harvested since 1989. It features a top layer of white, spongy peat and a larger depth of darker, browner peat underneath.
Jiffy harvests about 4.33 inches of peat per year in Ääsmäe. The primary harvesting months are during the dry May, June, July and August, and the steps Jiffy takes to harvest in Estonia are similar to the steps it takes in Canada. Among the keys to harvesting in Ääsmäe are:

- Weed management. All weeds must be picked out of the peatlands by hand. RHP quality standards state peat producers cannot treat weeds chemically, so Jiffy’s workers handpick weeds at times when they cannot harvest peat. Equipment can also be used to pull weeds.

- The use of turners. Turners, or “spooners,” sport sharp blades that are pressed 2 to 3 centimeters into the ground to loosen peat for vacuum harvesters.

- Peatland restoration. According to Hele Nimmerfeld, who manages the northern bogs, Estonian peat producers are required to restore lands to their original state. “We rent the land from the state,” Nimmerfeld says. “We have to give it back to the state the way we found it, so you have to close ditches. You want to see forest and some lake, ideally.”

German Black Peat Running Low

Roelof Buisman, manager of Jiffy’s Center Of Excellence, expects black peat from Germany to completely run out in the next five years. So Jiffy’s presence in Estonia is particularly important to find an alternative for the European market.

“Black peat behaves differently than dark Estonian peat,” Buisman says. “But we have to search for an alternative. We have to find a peat that’s a little more sticky for the production of press pots for the vegetable market.”
Jiffy is currently exploring substances that could make Estonian peat act like a black peat. “If you want a solution you have to start research early,” Buisman says. “You have to teach growers how to handle it. They may have to ultimately modify their processes. So it is important to tell the story and make growers aware black peat is running out.

A short drive from Ääsmäe is Paldiski, an Estonian port city where raw peat is taken from Ääsmäe to be loaded onto vessels. The process can be a time-consuming one. We witnessed a vessel destined for Moerdijk that required a full day to load.

One reason the loading process can be a time-consuming one is because Jiffy needs to ensure the vessel is sterile. Depending on the materials the vessel hauled previously, there’s always the possibility those cargoes could contaminate Jiffy’s peat product.

“Wheat seeds or anything that germinates is a problem,” Buisman says. “So we have to take every precaution we can.”

The last stop on Greenhouse Grower’s Estonian tour was Jiffy’s Trefex production facility in Pärnu, Estonia. Many of the same systems used at Macon and Moerdijk (i.e. Mix 2000 computer system) and equipment (i.e. compressors) were present in Pärnu. The tour was further proof Jiffy truly is modeling all of its facilities–be it Pärnu, Estonia, or Macon, Ga.–after Moerdijk and Tref’s expertise.

“When Jiffy moved into the Baltic area, some people might have had the impression that the Baltics didn’t know what they were doing,” says Karmo Leemet, production facility manager at Trefex. “Now, the product is proving itself. The lead time isn’t two days like it is in the Netherlands, but there are benefits to the product coming out of here, as well.”

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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