See a need and fill it. Enterprising business people have built empires on this principle for centuries, and horticulturists are among them.
Over the past year, we have seen examples of growing operations exploring the possibilities of the emerging markets within horticulture that are starting to change the face of the industry, and even some that are thinking beyond horticulture and establishing themselves in new markets. A smart and sustainable business is one that is willing to explore beyond traditional boundaries to create demand outside of the normal market channels.
John and Jill Hoffman took a leap of faith 30 years ago. The owners of Hoffman Nursery (featured in this month’s cover story) bought a former tobacco farm in rural North Carolina to produce ornamental grasses and sedges for the landscape market. Through their work with landscape architects, contractors, and civil engineers to supply plants for green infrastructure projects, the Hoffman Nursery team realized the need for horticulturists’ expertise in choosing plants that work for stormwater remediation in green infrastructure.
Not only is Hoffman working to inform landscape professionals about the best plants for green infrastructure projects, but they see the opportunity that this market can offer for the entire horticulture industry. Hoffman Nursery is in solidarity with other operations like Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation of the Year North Creek Nurseries, which has led the green infrastructure charge in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and these growers are enthusiastically sharing their knowledge for the good of the industry. In a highly competitive industry like ours, it’s nice to see growers lending their expertise to open up opportunities for others.
The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge has been a boon for the floriculture industry, with growers like Bell Nursery producing pollinator-friendly plants like asclepias in mass numbers and increasing production of pollinator-attracting perennials and natives in their crop mixes. As consumer concern for pollinator health continues, and interest in naturalized landscapes grows, so will this market segment.
Owners of greenhouse operations are beginning to diversify by investing in growing cannabis. While admittedly this area has high barriers to entry with few licenses available currently, the market is showing potential to break open further. At press time, polling showed legalization measures favored by voters in all five states where they were on the ballot, according to The Washington Post.
As far as medicinal herbs go, cannabis isn’t the only one in the news. The wellness movement is fueling increasing demand for herbs like turmeric and ginger, among others. Peace Tree Farm is getting in on the action with its One Earth Edibles line of herbs and veggies.
With increasing demand for transparency ripe among consumers, so is the market for locally grown produce. Protected agriculture production in greenhouses makes year-round, locally grown produce possible. By retrofitting structures and learning what you need to know about growing produce in hydroponic systems, as well as complying with mandated food safety regulations, your operation could pick up some of the greenhouse to table business. Growers like Altman Farms and Pleasant View Gardens, through its new Lef Farms enterprise, have entered this market. Gotham Greens’ and Bright Farms’ entire business models are predicated on the fresh market and culinary demand for produce with a low to zero carbon footprint with their urban set ups.
Growers have had to continue to reinvent themselves over the years, as markets stagnate and their share of the figurative pie has gotten smaller — or worse, disappeared, due to drought, weather conditions, shifting demographics, competition, and consolidation.
We need to ask ourselves bluntly and bravely, how long the current market we sell into will serve us, and have a diversification plan ready in case the unthinkable happens. And if we help each other along the way, we can ensure the industry will grow sustainably into the future.