Vegetables Are Bedding Plants

In the June 12, 2008 Lansing State Journal, the comic strip Arlo & Janis surely hit home! It shows an old fellow planting vegetables and saying to himself, “Why haven’t we grown vegetables before?” He thinks they are healthy, creative and so green! His wife tells him they are going to be the next big thing. He looks at her and says, “I thought this was my idea.”

After reading the statistics from the USDA on the 15 percent decrease in vegetable plant sales from 2006 to 2007 and having it reported in another trade magazine, growers thought they should reduce vegetable plant production. Unfortunately, reading a report that is almost two years old is like reading what the stock market was valued at two years ago.

With the increases in the price of food and the tomato-salmonella scare, going back to having vegetable gardens became to many people not a hobby, but a necessity.

The motivation is certainly there, so the demand for the product increases. Vegetable seed and plant sales increased by 40 percent this year. The national media has featured articles on why to grow vegetables and how to do it yourself.

Our local paper reported a large increase in local sales of vegetables and carried a photograph of a customer buying plants, indicating that people needed to get their plants quickly because the supply was limited.

The main people in our business to profit from this trend were the local retailers and growers who were able to respond quickly to the demand. The major chains were locked into a program of branded vegetables in only larger sizes. Since the bedding plant industry started with vegetable plants, it seems only logical that we should be a major supplier of this commodity to the home gardener.

What Do You Mean Organic?

Lately a lot of emphasis has been placed on “organic” gardening. “Organic” is an interesting word and can be interpreted in many ways. One old definition is “acting as an instrument of nature or acting to a certain desired function or end.”

I spent a year in the early 1960s taking “organic” chemistry. The definition of this science at the time was “pertaining to or designating a branch of chemistry treating in general the compounds produced in plants and animals and of many other compounds of artificial origins containing carbon,” in contrast to inorganic compounds from non-carbon related sources. There was no mention of sources that were natural or non-natural, so anything you use outside of products that contain carbon or are a derivative of plant and animal products is non-organic.

If you follow this logic, when “organic” growers use rock phosphate as a source of phosphorus, they are not “organic.” There are many other examples of sources of nutrients that are derived from other than plant, animal or carbon-containing sources.

I visited a garden center that had “organic” vegetables with a sign that said “USDA approved.” You could buy one tomato plant in a five-gallon container with four green tomatoes on it for $16.95. You could buy a two-gallon container with a green pepper plant that had four dead buds and one pepper that was two inches long with symptoms of a fungal or bacterial disease. Or you could buy a one-quart organically grown vegetable plant for $2.49. These plants were showing signs of moisture stress and would have little or no chance of surviving. This was at a large chain store on June 12 in mid-Michigan.
What happens when I buy an organic plug or seedling and plant it in my garden? If I use the “best practices” method of growing, I use fertilizer and pesticides to produce a product that I can enjoy and use for food. Someone needs to tell the real story about a system of growing plants to feed the world’s population. It will not be “organic” production. You would need one and a half times the space and three times the labor to produce the same end results.

Consumer Reaction

The other day my wife Barbara and I invited some of her friends to lunch. She prepared the food and I served the meal. Since I was thinking about this article, I decided I would ask three questions of our guests to get a consumer’s reaction to our two latest buzzwords, organic and sustainability.

I asked, “What is sustainability as it relates to horticulture?” One answer was, “It has to do with the shelf life of your product. The longer you can sustain it, the more money you will make.” Another woman said, “I don’t know.” I said that may be the best answer!

The next question I asked them was, “What does organic mean related to horticulture?” After discussing it, they said, “Organic means naturally grown – no chemicals or artificial compounds used. It is more expensive and does not have the cosmetic appeal of normally grown fruits and vegetables.”
I then asked the question, “If you were in a chain store and had three containers of the same product side by side, one “organic,” one a “store brand” and one a “best practices” product, which one would you buy?” The first thing they asked me was, “What is the price of each one?” I asked them, “What do you think the prices would be?” They responded that the “organic” would be the most expensive, followed by the “best practices” product and that the “store brand” would be the least expensive. Then I asked them, “Which one would you buy?” They said, “The one that looked the best and was least expensive.”

What a great lunch! I learned a great deal from being the waiter. Sometimes it is better to ask questions and listen to the answers than to tell people what you think they ought to know.

The luncheon survey told me that consumers are not interested in how we grow it, but what they see and what they have to pay for the product at the store where they shop.

The final comment of one of the ladies was, “If it looks better, I’ll buy it. I have no sense of danger because I trust people to do the best they can to provide my food.” Here are four essentials you need to deliver a great product to that consumer.

1. Get the best plant material you can buy and make sure you grow it to its potential.

2. Provide that material to the consumer with the information needed to be successful in the garden.

When thinking about where to get that information, I remembered a publication of the USDA Extension dating back to the 1940s entitled “The Victory Garden.” Many of us older folks remember the victory gardens grown during World War II. That publication is no longer available, but you can find good information for your customers by checking the Web sites of many of our land grant universities’ Extension services. Some examples are www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening at Cornell University www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM819.pdf from Iowa State and www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/ho-175.pdf from Purdue.

3. Make certain that your plants look great at the point of sale.

Even if you grow the best plants in the best way with the best labels and colorful pots, it’s still hard to sell a dead plant! I am always amazed that it can take the grower seven to 10 weeks to grow a plant and the retailer can kill it in less than a day! Remember that the sale isn’t made until the consumer buys the plant and gets satisfaction from it.

4. Change always occurs.

This has been a very difficult year for many growers in all parts of the country. While we may be in an economic recession, in many parts of the country we have had a weather depression. Remember that, when times get tough, tough growers get going. It sometimes is like riding a roller coaster. You pay your money. You close your eyes. You take the ride, but you miss the view. I hope you will keep your eyes open and enjoy the view!

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...

October 10, 2017

Sharpen Your Skills in Cost Management and Profitability With This Online Course

The University of Florida is offering a new online course on costing and profitability. The course will take growers through the process of how to accurately evaluate cost of production, labor efficiency, pricing, and equipment investment decisions.

Read More
Willoway Nurseries Team

October 1, 2017

How Willoway Nurseries Gets Its Staff Engaged in The Company’s Future

Willoway Nurseries in Avon, OH, is creating a culture with people who think, act, and feel like owners. Learn how its team is taking the business to the next level.

Read More

September 21, 2017

Horticulture Is All About Connections

The beauty of our industry is that we are more than willing to reach out and help those around us. What connections can you make today to help your business, and what can you offer to help another grower?

Read More
Latest Stories

October 10, 2017

Sharpen Your Skills in Cost Management and Profitabilit…

The University of Florida is offering a new online course on costing and profitability. The course will take growers through the process of how to accurately evaluate cost of production, labor efficiency, pricing, and equipment investment decisions.

Read More
Willoway Nurseries Team

October 1, 2017

How Willoway Nurseries Gets Its Staff Engaged in The Co…

Willoway Nurseries in Avon, OH, is creating a culture with people who think, act, and feel like owners. Learn how its team is taking the business to the next level.

Read More

September 21, 2017

Horticulture Is All About Connections

The beauty of our industry is that we are more than willing to reach out and help those around us. What connections can you make today to help your business, and what can you offer to help another grower?

Read More
Worker taking cuttings at Vivero Internacional.

September 11, 2017

Vivero Internacional Elevates Clean Cuttings to New Hei…

One of the last independent cutting operations, this fast-growing company raises the standard for delivering clean, high-quality unrooted cuttings.

Read More
Selecta Sponsor bed at Raker trial gardens

September 5, 2017

C. Raker & Sons Acquired By Roberta’s Unique Garden…

Ownership will change hands in December, and Raker will supply young plants for the 2018 season. Beyond that, leadership of the two operations say they are excited to move forward with a partnership that will continue to supply the industry, and gardeners, with top-quality plants.

Read More

August 1, 2017

MPS Honors D.S. Cole Growers for 10 Years of Sustainabi…

At Cultivate’17, a ceremony to mark a 10-year milestone since D.S. Cole Growers became involved with More Profitable Sustainability (MPS), as the first U.S. grower to achieve MPS certification, took owner Doug Cole by surprise. Separate celebrations also recognized Metrolina Greenhouses and Dümmen Orange for achieving MPS certification.

Read More
Nexus greenhouse construction for Knox Cannabis Facility

July 27, 2017

Ornamental Growers Will Revolutionize Cannabis Industry…

Professional growers have much to offer the emerging cannabis market, according to the co-owner of Knox Medical, one of the licensed cannabis producers in Florida.

Read More
Ball ColorLink logo

July 11, 2017

Get Guidance on Running Your Business from Ball ColorLi…

Representatives from Ball ColorLink will be on-hand at Cultivate’17 to answer questions and present business-building tools and industry insights to growers.

Read More
Lean Consortium in Washington

July 10, 2017

Washington Growers Join New Horticulture Lean Consortiu…

The group of growers has committed to learning and applying the principles of Lean, a method for eliminating waste that results in more value to customers delivered at a lower cost, in a shorter time, with fewer defects and less human effort.

Read More

April 11, 2017

Jerry Halamuda of Color Spot Nurseries Retires

The co-founder of Color Spot Nurseries has retired, effective immediately, and has named a replacement.

Read More

March 21, 2017

How Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Can Prepare for a Prod…

The United Fresh Produce Association is holding a Recall Ready Workshop in April that is designed to help growers properly manage a recall, from liability to communications.

Read More

March 14, 2017

Expanded Customer Footprint, E-Commerce, Succession Key…

Costa Farms' acquisition of indoor foliage producer Delray Plants rocked the industry, but the story behind Delray Plants' sale is the same as for many growers struggling with succession planning. For Costa Farms, the strategic purchase expands its customer footprint and also fast tracks its foray into e-commerce.

Read More

March 10, 2017

Costa Farms Expands With Purchase of Indoor Houseplant …

Costa Farms annnounced March 10 that it has acquired Delray Plants, one of the leaders in the indoor houseplant industry. The two operations are committed to the same values, principles, and goals to grow the industry, and will fit well together to accomplish this, say Randy Gilde, CEO of Delray Plants, and Joche Smith, CEO of Costa Farms.

Read More
Ken and Deena Altman

March 7, 2017

Altman Plants in Escrow to Purchase EuroAmerican Propag…

Ken Altman, a co-owner of Altman Plants based in Vista, CA, has confirmed that the operation is currently in escrow to purchase EuroAmerican Propagators, the Bonsall, CA-based young plant and finished plant grower that filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy on Jan. 23, 2017. Ken and Deena Altman are co-owners of Altman Plants and The Plug Connection, along with their son Matthew, who has recently bought into the family business. The 55 acres of land and all of the facilities on it, which were previously owned by Jerry Church, a partner in EuroAmerican Propagators, are part of the purchase agreement currently in escrow, Altman says. However, it would not be absorbed by Altman Plants, which in 2016 was number 3 on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers list with more than 11 million square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouse production, 62 acres of shade production, and 400 acres of outdoor field production. Altman Plants’ property […]

Read More
EuroAmerican Propagators Greenhouses

February 14, 2017

Suppliers Comment on Plant Genetics’ Fate After EuroAme…

Since the operation’s bankruptcy filing on January 23, 2017, suppliers associated with EuroAmerican Propagators have updated Greenhouse Grower on what the operation’s bankruptcy means for them – and how it will impact grower customers.

Read More
Stephanie Whitehouse

January 17, 2017

Stephanie Whitehouse Takes Her Passion for Plants to Di…

Stephanie Whitehouse, who has spent the last seven years as the Sales and Marketing Director for Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, PA, recently joined Dickman Farms Greenhouse and Garden Center in Auburn, NY, as the company’s new Retail General Manager.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

December 6, 2016

Are You Driving Young Growers Away? [Opinion]

In a time when the industry is facing a critical shortage of both labor and skilled, educated growers, it's important that grower operations don't unwittingly turn candidates off to a career at their business or in the industry in general. Take a closer look at your hiring practices to ensure you are being inclusive and not breaking any laws.

Read More
Trays move on an overhead conveyor to the end of the production line, where workers carefully pack the cleaned, sized, graded, counted and sorted Calla tubers

November 29, 2016

Texas Judge Halts Overtime Rule; Here’s What It Means F…

According to Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort, the injunction against the overtime rule is welcome news for horticulture.

Read More