Forever Young Plant Growers

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Forever Young Plant Growers

The challenges facing today’s young plant growers are stacking up like trays on a shipping rack.

Finding a reliable labor supply is still difficult for many. Managing an increasing number of varieties isn’t easy, either. And providing product when customers need it at the last possible minute is becoming the norm for the greenhouse operations on our annual Top 25 Young Plant Growers List.

“The window for our customers is becoming shorter every year,” says Walter Gravagna, vice president at Van de Wetering Greenhouses. “Providing cost-effective inputs throughout the season will hopefully allow us to remain profitable. (For us), this shortened window has forced us to add square footage to produce more for that time period.”

The young plant market is becoming more competitive, too. And the key to remain as a competitor, Northwest Horticulture’s Bruce Gibson says, is knowing what your operation does best and capitalizing on those competencies.

Of course, knowing which sized plugs and liners give you the most bang for your buck is of increased importance these days, too.

“We are adding a smaller liner for vegetative annuals and a larger plug for seeded items,” says Lisa Ambrosio, operations manager at Wenke Greenhouses. “It’s all about maximizing the cost versus benefit. Vegetative annuals in a 209 plug tray can finish almost as fast as an 84 plug tray, but they cost less. Seeded plugs can finish two weeks faster in a 288 plug tray compared to a 512 plug tray, and they don’t cost that much more. So they are worth the extra cost to get the faster finish.”

Similar Players

Understanding details like finish time is a reason Wenke/Sunbelt Greenhouses is a regular on the Top 25 Young Plant Growers List each year. This year’s Top 25 list, in fact, features all regulars except one newcomer, Battlefield Farms, which makes its first list appearance after reporting it produced 110 million young plants to sell this year. Battlefield is in a 12th-place tie with Floral Plant Growers and Plainview Growers, selling half of its young plants directly to other growers and using the other half for its own use.

Another operation, Costa Farms, isn’t on the list but is expected to join in 2011 after launching a new division, Total Growth Solutions (TGS), to market and distribute plugs and other young plants through Syngenta Horticultural Services. TGS currently produces more than 115 million young plants–most of which are for internal use–but it is anticipated TGS will produce at least 35 million young plants to sell in 2011. Learn more about Costa’s and Battlefield’s production on page 22.

The top of our 2010 list, meanwhile, features the same operations in the same exact order in which they appeared a year ago. The top three operations–Tagawa Greenhouses/Ball Tagawa Growers, Green Circle Growers and Van de Wetering–respectively hold the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 spots for the fifth consecutive year.

Tagawa actually increased its young plant production by 30 million young plants this year to produce 490 million young plants to sell for 2010. Van de Wetering also increased production, but by 20 million. Green Circle grew 70 million fewer young plants to sell for 2010 yet maintains that No. 2 spot.

The rest of the list experienced little change. A few operations tweaked production one way or another from a year ago and moved slightly up or down our list.

The list cutoff is slightly higher than last year’s, though, as Pleasant View Gardens (No. 25t) and Zylstra Greenhouses (No. 25t) are each producing 35 million young plants. Zylstra, which ranked 25th last year, produced 30 million young plants to sell in 2009.

Additional Findings

All growers, young plant growers included, are looking for opportunities to gain sales. This year, our Top 25 gained sales in a variety of areas, but specialty annuals and vegetables are the two categories that stand out. As for declining sales, if any category stands out it is basic annuals, which three of the Top 25 report are down for 2010.

We also asked the Top 25 to share the biggest challenge their operations are facing as young plant growers and how they’re solving it. Here’s how a few responded:

- Trying to reduce the total number of offerings by raising prices on low-volume varieties or cutting from the list altogether.
–Managing speculation inventory by fine-tuning the production plan each year based on the previous year’s sales.
–Keeping costs down to avoid raising prices and competing against inferior genetics.

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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