Spread Your Risk Beyond Spring Sales [Opinion]

Being certified non-GMO is just another benefit it can offer consumers, according to Great Lakes Growers in Ohio.
Basil ‘Balsamic Blooms’ won Greenhouse Grower’s Medal Of Excellence, Editor’s Choice Breeding Award in 2015.

Growers who participated in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Crops Recap Survey said they have had enough of the uncertainty that the weather brings. They said it’s time to build up sales in other seasons like fall so we’re not so dependent on spring. As a couple of wholesale growers, both from the Southeast, very eloquently stated, our industry has mastered squeezing everything we can out of the spring season. And while this year happened to be a very successful one, thanks to the improving economy and elevated consumer confidence, they said, “now is no time to celebrate.”

“Spring is still Christmas in the horticulture industry, but we have done such a good job focusing on spring that we have neglected other seasons,” one grower said. “Having so many eggs in the spring basket is dangerous. Fall will never be what spring is, but having a solid second season is in our best interest. We should work as an industry to make fall more than an afterthought season. We need to spread our risk.”

There are a few ways to do this:

Capitalize on the foodie trend. Edibles are a huge category for growers, and for the past three years, Greenhouse Grower’s Spring Crops Recap has revealed that more growers have said they are going to increase production in this category than any other, aside from annuals.

They attribute this growth in production to increased demand among consumers, who are catching on to the idea that they can grow their own food year-round. The patio is becoming the next great garden, and with more growers focusing on edible plants that also hold an ornamental value, we’re likely to see more mixing of food and flowers. Breeders like Hem Genetics and Vegetalis were all over this trend at the 2015 California Spring Trials, and it’s one of the trends the HGTV brand is picking up for fall containers this year.

This year’s Medal Of Excellence For Breeding – Editor’s Choice winner, Basil ‘Balsamic Blooms’ from EuroAmerican Propagators was chosen because it’s both functional as a popular herb and fabulous with its large, dark-purple flowers that provide great ornamental value, making it perfect gateway to gardening plant.

Garden writer Christina Salwitz says the focus on ornamental edibles will be huge, especially among families and young consumers.

“We need to break away from the Geranium, Lobelia, Petunia mix — the younger customers want functionality in their designs, so this will help evolve the market in future years,” Salwitz said in a recent Women In Horticulture interview. “Edibles and containers allow a family to fix their dinner on their balcony, and bring something valuable to the family.”

Appeal to the hobbyists. Edibles extend not only to veggie and herb starts, but also to specialty crops like hops for brewing beer, coffee and tea plants for creating that perfect morning brew, and even medicinal herbs like turmeric for the health-conscious consumer.

Cash in on the demand for locally grown produce. Indoor agriculture is increasing in demand, as well. Consumers want locally grown, fresh veggies year round.

In my own neighborhood, surrounded by large grocery chains, a small farmers’ market opened that has been going gangbusters for two years. The parking lot is always full, and the market is looking at expanding to more locations. Why? Because it gives customers what they want — locally grown, fairly priced fruits and veggies.

Many growers have expressed uncertainty over converting greenhouses to systems that will produce greenhouse produce, due to food safety mandates and expense related to retrofitting. If you’re interested in growing food, high tunnel greenhouse production could be a good place to start.

We need to give consumers what they want, but it’s also our responsibility to show them what they might not already know they want. In the end, we’re in this business for a reason, and it’s a good one.

“As growers, we provide a tremendous service to the public,” one grower-retailer from the Northeast said in the Spring Crops Survey. “If people know we are here and what we are doing with a really good product, our businesses should thrive.”

Grower Homework: Beyond fall décor, growers can expand the fall season by providing cool-season vegetables and herbs in combinations with ornamentals, hobby plants like hops, and locally grown produce. How could these crops fit at your operation? Ask your customers what plants they want for fall, and share what you find out by writing to me at [email protected] or tweet @Laura_GG_TGC.

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