How Plug & Liner Operations Are Overcoming The Decline

How Plug & Liner Operations Are Overcoming The Decline

The greenhouse operations that make up our latest Top 25 Young Plant Growers list are the same 25 as one year ago. But there’s a glaring difference between this year’s Top 25 and last year’s: the number of young plant units those growers produced to sell this year compared to 2010.

Last year, the growers on our Top 25 list produced more than 3.5 billion young plants to sell. This year, the Top 25 as a whole is producing 10 percent fewer young plants to sell. Nine of the 25 indicate their young plant sales are down while only four say they produced more to sell this year than in 2010. Production for the other 12 growers on the list is flat (Table 2).

Among the operations reporting increased young plant sales are Floral Plant Growers, whose 20 to 21 million increase is the most significant positive change among the Top 25. Plug Connection (up as many as 5 million), Battlefield Farms (up 3 million) and Cal Seedling (up 2 million) also report slight production increases.

On the flip side, Green Circle Growers reports its young plant business is down considerably from a year ago. In 2010, Green Circle ranked second on our Top 25 list behind Tagawa Greenhouses and Ball Tagawa Growers with 380 million units produced to sell. This year, however, Green Circle produced 32 percent fewer units to sell–down 120 million young plants.

Green Circle isn’t the only operation down in young plants, though. Production is down at a number of operations and for a variety of reasons, including an economy that’s shrinking the Top 25’s customer base and rising competition like Total Growth Solutions that’s taking existing business away. There’s also the possibility a number of former customers are now handling their own propagation.

“Customers continue to demand larger sizes to offset rising heating and chemical costs,” says Green Circle’s David Van Wingerden. “At retail, larger combo containers continue to dominate, driving pack numbers down.”

Tagawa still tops our top 25 list with 450 million young plants produced, but its units are down 10 percent over last year’s. Speedling reports its units are down between 10 and 20 percent; C. Raker & Sons indicates it’s down 10 percent; and ForemostCo’s units produced are down about 33 percent.

“Our biggest problem is a market that is not growing and a commodity product,” says Paul Karlovich, Raker’s general manager. “We are solving the problem through efficiency improvements and new initiatives that leverage our growing expertise.”

The improvements or strategies Karlovich is trying include pre-buying natural gas, using energy-savings devices and consolidating product in the facility whenever possible.

Pricing is another challenge young plant growers are facing. Tom Van Vugt says the biggest challenge he faces as vice president of sales at Plainview Growers is balancing higher input costs with lower plug pricing. One energy-savings step Plainview has taken in recent years is the installation of a biomass boiler to burn wood and grass pellets. Green Circle and Pleasant View Gardens have also installed biomass systems within the last couple years.

“We are streamlining our processes and making ourselves more efficient to cut costs,” Van Vugt says.

Another New Jersey grower, Kube-Pak’s Bill Swanekamp, says pricing is the biggest challenge his operation faces, too.

“We need to raise our prices to cover the true costs of production–even if it is not popular,” he says.

Seeds vs. Cuttings

As part of our annual young plant grower survey to produce this report, we asked growers to break down their young plants produced from seeds, cuttings, tissue culture and bare root/divisions. In addition to surveying the Top 25 Young Plant Growers, we compiled data from young plant growers not ranked on the Top 25 list.

Of all the young plants the Top 25 is producing, we learned 77 percent are grown from seeds, 22 percent are from cuttings and less than 1 percent are from tissue culture. When we took a step back and looked at the young plant grower community as a whole (also including the top 25), we found more material is still being produced from seeds (47 percent) than cuttings (43 percent) but the gap between the two is significantly smaller (Table 2).

We also asked young plant growers about transitioning from seeds to cuttings, and vice versa, on certain crops. Swanekamp, for example, says Kube-Pak has moved from cuttings to seed-based angelonias. Lisa Ambrosio, meanwhile, indicates Wenke/Sunbelt Greenhouses is moving in the opposite direction with angelonias.

“We use cutting angelonia more than seed because they are larger, so it’s easier to get to size in Michigan,” she says. “But I think more items are going from cuttings to seed.”

Among the cutting-to-seed items Wenke/Sunbelt has adopted are Gryphon begonias, Plentifall pansies and Toucan portulacas. Ambrosio has also noticed new trends in liner sizes.

“Fifty-cell combo liners are growing in demand,” she says. “We’re also doing more with smaller liners in 209 trays.”

Other liner and plug size trends among the Top 25 growers include:

- More sales in plug sizes from 288 on up and less demand for 512s, according to Kube-Pak’s Swanekamp;

- Growers moving to higher density liners, such as from 84s to 128s like Pleasant View; and, of course

- Growers demanding larger plugs at smaller plug pricing, according to Van Vugt.

Order Fulfillment & Delivery

Another area we asked the Top 25 Young Plant Growers about is order fulfillment (Table 3). Not a single operation among the Top 25 indicates it’s fulfilling every single order as requested, but the majority (60 percent) indicates all but 1 to 2 percent of orders are fulfilled as requested (including no substituted material). Thirty percent of the Top 25 say they fulfill between 96 and 98 percent of all orders, and only one of the Top 25 we surveyed indicated it wasn’t aware of its fulfillment rate because it does not track such data.

Again, taking a step back to look at the entire young plant grower community, the order fulfillment rate among all growers is not as strong. An astounding 10 percent of the growers we surveyed say every last order they take is fulfilled. Seventy percent of the entire young plant grower community meets at least 96 percent of all orders. Only 15 percent of young plant growers say they do not reach that 96-percent mark.

To Randy Tagawa, CEO at Tagawa Greenhouses, order fulfillment has been a major challenge but it’s an area on which his operation has recently homed in.

“We’ve been working to make sure we give our customers 100 percent order fulfillment and A-plus quality 100 percent of the time,” Tagawa says. “Our order fill rate has increased to 99.27 percent.”

Leave a Reply

More From Plant Culture...
Aquaponics At Brogue Hydroponics

March 30, 2015

10 Things You Need To Know About Aquaponics

Are you curious about expanding into aquaponics? From pest control to equipment, Bob and Jesse Kilgore of Brogue Hydroponics offer 10 factors you need to consider.

Read More
Aquaponics At Brogue Hydroponics

March 30, 2015

Aquaponics Is Making A Splash At Brogue Hydroponics

The owners of Brogue Hydroponics explain why they expanded into aquaponics, and how the shift has helped them uncover a new market opportunity.

Read More

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environments

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More
Latest Stories
Bee on a Sedum

March 17, 2015

4 Key Pollinator Research Projects To Be Funded By Hort…

The Horticultural Research Institute will grant $125,000 in financial support for four key projects as part of the Horticultural Industry Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative. The Initiative has three primary goals. First, to convene a task force to develop a bee and pollinator stewardship program, including creation of best management practices for plant production. Second, to identify and fund research that will help answer key science questions and fill gaps needed to design and refine the stewardship program. Third, to seek to positively position the horticultural community and its customers by collaborating with other compatible groups interested in augmenting pollinator habitat and protection.

Read More

March 11, 2015

Pollinator Initiative Promotes Bee-Friendly Talking Poi…

AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists are working tirelessly with the ornamental industry's Pollinator Stewardship Initiative on a number of new projects.

Read More

February 11, 2015

Infusion Technology Boosts Seed Performance, Study Sugg…

Seven-year-old wheat seed germination can increase by as much as 83 percent, according to a Vital Force Technology Study that looks at the effects of energy infusion technology on plant vitality.

Read More

February 3, 2015

American Floral Endowment Accepting Research Pre-Propos…

If you are pursuing a floriculture research project, now is the time to apply for funding through the American Floral Endowment. Research pre-proposal applications for 2015-2016 funding are due to AFE by June 1, 2015.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Marijuana’s Trajectory And Ascent To Horticultural Cr…

Marijuana growing is poised for change as growers and researchers focus on improving production practices.

Read More

December 9, 2014

Greenhouse Production: Two Years Of Basics & Beyond…

Greenhouse Grower's Basics & Beyond articles cover some of the latest news and research going on in greenhouse production. Here are article links for the last two years.

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

November 24, 2014

GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile &…

The social garden app GrowIt! takes the Gold Winner award at the design100 2014 Mobile & App Design Awards.

Read More

November 10, 2014

The Perennial Farm Joins HGTV HOME Plant Collection

The Perennial Farm joins the HGTV HOME Plant Collection growers' network for 2015.

Read More

November 4, 2014

AmericanHort Publishes Revised American Standard For Nu…

AmericanHort announces the revised American Standard for Nursery Stock (ANSI Z60.1) is now available for industry use. The Standard reflects the consensus of the industry regarding how nursery stock — living plants other than annuals — should be specified and sold within the trade.

Read More

September 26, 2014

Master The Art Of Watering

Watering is elemental to healthy plants, but one of the hardest concepts for new employees to master in the greenhouse. Recommend these tips to start them off right.

Read More

September 16, 2014

Ball FloraPlant’s Las Limas Facility Provides Gro…

Ball FloraPlant’s Las Limas farm in Esteli, Nicaragua, is one year away from full production, but sales and quality from the two-year-old facility are right on track.

Read More
Erysimum 'Cheers' from Darwin Perennials

September 15, 2014

Darwin Perennials Takes Production Offshore In Bogota, …

With its recent purchase of a farm in Colombia, Darwin Perennials is ready to amp up supply of its perennial genetics, to provide growers with tried-and-true varieties and comprehensive production specifications.

Read More

July 23, 2014

Plan Now To Prevent Bract Edge Burn On Poinsettias

Reduce fertilizer and water, and allow your poinsettias to develop slowly during the final four weeks of production to avoid bract edge burn.

Read More

July 11, 2014

Growing Your Crops Above Their Base Temperature

Lowering temperature set points in the greenhouse may help you combat rising heating costs.

Read More

May 1, 2014

Growers Report Nutritional Problems On Geraniums

In recent weeks, several growers have contacted Michigan State University Specialists about leaf discoloration on geraniums, especially the purpling of lower leaves.

Read More

April 22, 2014

How Two Postharvest Care Products Worked On Potted Plan…

What your potted plants look like at retail translates to sales or fails. North Carolina State University researchers report on how two postharvest care products performed.

Read More
Dianthus 'Passion' from Emerald Coast Growers

March 27, 2014

Growing Dianthus Successfully

Here's some advice on transplanting and producing this classic perennial favorite.

Read More
Aquilegia canadensis

March 10, 2014

Tips For Producing Aquilegia

Advice on planting, temperature, vernalization, lighting and more on columbine from Emerald Coast Growers' head grower Josiah Raymer.

Read More