Transplanting Technology

Eight months into the job, Speedling Inc.’s president and CEO David Robbins has been exploring the potential to expand the plug producer’s global footprint in vegetables and ornamentals while bringing transplant technology to a wide range of agricultural markets.

Based in Sun City, Fla., Speedling is owned by Wearn Brothers Ltd. (WBL) in Singapore. It has eight production facilities in the United States and 10 in China. In the U.S. ornamentals market, Speedling ranks at No. 5 on our Top 100 Growers with 5,322,000 square feet of greenhouse production, 37 percent of which is offshore. On our Top 25 Young Plant Growers, Speedling ranks at No. 4, producing more than 300 million plugs a year.

Robbins came to Speedling from perennials powerhouse Northwest Horticulture in Mt. Vernon, Wash. Prior to that, he was COO and CFO of vegetable transplant grower Greenheart Farms in California for 13 years. He expanded that business from $5 million to $18 million in sales and crops to include poinsettias, roses and reclamation grasses.

But his first exposure to agriculture was in the food business, as a frozen foods plant manager at age 23 in 1974, moving up to become CEO at age 32. Products also included canned and dehydrated foods, as well as beverages. Robbins encouraged vegetable growers to use transplants.

“In tomatoes, we went from 2,500 acres produced with transplants to 20,000 acres in just five years,” he says. “Today, 50 to 60 percent of California’s processing tomatoes are produced from transplants. Growers get more yields from hybrid seed in transplants. It’s exciting to change the paradigms in agricultural systems.”

He was able to accomplish the same thing with roses at Greenheart Farms, replacing labor-intensive bare root production with containerized transplants.

At Speedling, Robbins sees incredible opportunities. “This is a much bigger company that’s more diverse geographically and internationally,” he says. “Being 50 percent agriculture and 50 percent ornamental brings real strategic advantages. This has more potential than a specialized company.”

Cultivating China

Being owned by Asians in Singapore made it a natural fit for Speedling to launch business ventures there in 1998. In addition to producing ornamental and vegetable plugs for Chinese consumption, Speedling is involved in producing cut flowers for secondary markets, like Thailand and Malaysia. Although Robbins questions if it would make sense to ship cut flowers to the United States and compete with South America, he believes the China operations could compete against Africa in Europe.

Another possibility is exporting cuttings that can be rooted in the United States. In China, Speedling is already working with breeders like Goldsmith to serve the Chinese market and plans to expand breeder relationships in both flowers and vegetables. Key vegetable crops include peppers, tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus and other field crops. New crops include rice transplants, which would help Chinese farmers conserve water, and Chinese herbals for both domestic production and export to the United States.

Doing business in China is difficult but it can be done, Robbins says. “In China, you never own property. If you have at least 51 percent control, you can have a five-year contract with the Chinese government, but if things aren’t working, it can be different next year,” he explains. “We rely on U.S.- and Canadian-trained Chinese employees who can be trusted to take our business to the next level.”

Contrasting activities in China with those in the United States, Robbins says China is more primitive with a focus on the basics, and in the United States, Speedling is focused on refinement. “While the U.S. market evolved over time, China is more like Australia, going from rudimentary to automatic overnight,” he says. “The difference is 500-acre farms versus 20-acre farms and a greater need for efficiencies. In China, a lot of the farms are 10 acres or less. There are consortiums of farmers and the challenge of getting everyone to agree. They also need to invest in infrastructure to bring product to market. We want to be part of that.”

Domestic Strategies

The past few years, Speedling has focused on profitability. Under Robbins, Speedling will be focused on maximizing efficiencies and performance, forging strategic alliances and becoming more proactive in sales and marketing.

At one point, Speedling was going to reinvest in its Sun City facility. But does it make sense to build expensive greenhouse facilities in the path of a hurricane? “While Sun City is ideal for climate and location serving the Florida market, it doesn’t make sense because of hurricanes and flood zones,” he says. “Why invest in $30 per-square-foot greenhouses when real estate is going up $10,000 an acre a year? Our intent is to continue in Florida. We’re making risk assessments of our locations. We’re also investing in joint ventures with other growers in brand new, automated facilities.”

To become more proactive in sales, Robbins has approved the hiring of two regional sales representatives to manage relationships and support the broker network.
“We don’t want to compete with the broker network,” he says. “We want to get closer to our grower customer. If a grower goes from 120 stores to 110 stores and loses X percent of business, we’ll know that. It’s field support and relationship management.” Part of this support includes investing in information technology to interface with customers, including real-time availability with instantaneous updates.

Robbins sees relationships as a way to drive business and develop pull-through programs that truly are a win-win for the entire distribution chain. “In ornamentals, we have to convince the consumer there’s more value,” he says. “Between the breeder, grower, finisher and store, someone gets a lot of margin but not everybody. I’d like to see more fairness in pull-through marketing.”

One mandate from Singapore is to introduce at least one new product each year. New markets that are ripe for transplant technology include plants grown for biofuels, grain products for cattle and any biologically grown materials.

“There’s a lot of promise in anything that has low seed production or expensive seed,” Robbins says. “Our growth will be as much as 50 percent in five years, and I believe that’s conservative. It’s a tough business, but there’s a lot of opportunity. For me, this work feels like feeding the world and giving the gift of flowers.

What we produce are good products, nourishing for the soul and body. And I can come to work in jeans and do something I really believe in.”

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Transplanting Technology

  1. It is a pleasure to communicate with you to offer the product with which we have available to peat which is an element with many excellent qualities

    That list below

    Characteristics of peat
    Excellent growing medium for plants inside and / or under cover crops (greenhouses).
    Special to promote the rooting of cuttings and seedlings.
    It has no contaminants.
    Improving the physical properties of soil favoring water retention in sandy soil or loose
    It favors the conditions of soil aeration in clay and compacted.
    Ideal as a basic component for the production of substrates for seeding and ringing.
    Highly recommended for transplantation or plants for the preparation of seedlings and multiplication of plants by segments.
    Incorporates minerals own their homes free of contamination

    It is notable water savings in the amount of irrigation and fertilizer in the economy thanks to its holding capacity by the ideal solution for areas with drought

    info@novoterra.cl

    http://www.novoterra.cl

    Saluda Attn.

  2. It is a pleasure to communicate with you to offer the product with which we have available to peat which is an element with many excellent qualities

    That list below

    Characteristics of peat
    Excellent growing medium for plants inside and / or under cover crops (greenhouses).
    Special to promote the rooting of cuttings and seedlings.
    It has no contaminants.
    Improving the physical properties of soil favoring water retention in sandy soil or loose
    It favors the conditions of soil aeration in clay and compacted.
    Ideal as a basic component for the production of substrates for seeding and ringing.
    Highly recommended for transplantation or plants for the preparation of seedlings and multiplication of plants by segments.
    Incorporates minerals own their homes free of contamination

    It is notable water savings in the amount of irrigation and fertilizer in the economy thanks to its holding capacity by the ideal solution for areas with drought

    info@novoterra.cl

    http://www.novoterra.cl

    Saluda Attn.

More From Equipment...
Heating Roundup Feature Image

August 1, 2015

5 New Heating Options For The Greenhouse

Five heating systems manufacturers share their latest and greatest products. Tubing And Aluminum Heat Pipes (BioTherm) From Megatube and MicroClimate tubing to DuoFin and StarFin aluminum heat pipe, BioTherm is dedicated to providing heat solutions that can withstand the toughest greenhouse environments. The MegaTube and MicroClimate tubing options are easy to install and ideal for bench or floor heating. The tubing has a conductive heating surface that allows for maximum root-zone heating. The DuoFin and StarFin aluminum pipe options are great for perimeter heating and melting snow trapped in the greenhouse gutter. It can also be useful for bench heating. Both pipe options provide gentle, radiant heat for plants and don’t require welding. TrueLeaf.net Infinite Energy 2 Condensing Boiler (Delta T Solutions) With up to 98 percent efficiency, the IE2 condensing boiler boasts a stainless steel heat exchanger with larger waterways to ensure maximum heat transfer. The product’s design ensures flexibility while […]

Read More
Basil_Persian-AAS2015_620x329

July 31, 2015

All-America Selections Promotes Garden-Fresh Cooking

All-America Selections (AAS) has stepped forward with another first when promoting AAS Winners, this time in the form of cooking videos using vegetables/edibles that have performed extremely well in the AAS Trials. These days, a love of gardening is directly related to a passion for cooking. Tying the two together is a natural when marketing joys of cooking with fresh vegetables from the garden and farm market. After 82 years of conducting trials where only the best performers are declared AAS Winners, the organization now has more than 325 individual varieties that have been “Tested Nationally & Proven Locally.” It is some of these many varieties that culinary storyteller, entertainer and horticulture industry veteran Jonathan Bardzik will use in a series of five videos demonstrating cooking techniques with AAS Winning herbs and vegetables. “I am excited to partner with All-America Selections to show people across the country that AAS Winners perform […]

Read More
Burpee Home Gardens Brand Adds Flowers

July 31, 2015

4 Reasons Retailers Snub National Brands

Greenhouse Grower’s lead editor, Laura Drotleff, and I got into a debate about why garden retailers, especially independent garden centers, snub marketing efforts from breeders and growers. She was very much on the breeders’ and growers’ side, expressing frustration about how limited retailers’ vision can be on the topic. I’ve reported on the garden retail side of the industry since 1998, about the same length of time Laura has reported on growers. I’ve heard a lot of retailer views on this, so allow me to share the most common reasons why retailers decline free marketing: Costs. While the marketing materials are free, and sometimes advertising, participating in these projects usually requires minimum orders. From a grower’s perspective, the minimum orders are reasonable. If garden stores promote a plant line, they need to have enough supplies to satisfy demand. From a retail perspective, if inventory reports show a plant line can […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Heating Roundup Feature Image

August 1, 2015

5 New Heating Options For The Greenhouse

Five heating systems manufacturers share their latest and greatest products. Tubing And Aluminum Heat Pipes (BioTherm) From Megatube and MicroClimate tubing to DuoFin and StarFin aluminum heat pipe, BioTherm is dedicated to providing heat solutions that can withstand the toughest greenhouse environments. The MegaTube and MicroClimate tubing options are easy to install and ideal for bench or floor heating. The tubing has a conductive heating surface that allows for maximum root-zone heating. The DuoFin and StarFin aluminum pipe options are great for perimeter heating and melting snow trapped in the greenhouse gutter. It can also be useful for bench heating. Both pipe options provide gentle, radiant heat for plants and don’t require welding. TrueLeaf.net Infinite Energy 2 Condensing Boiler (Delta T Solutions) With up to 98 percent efficiency, the IE2 condensing boiler boasts a stainless steel heat exchanger with larger waterways to ensure maximum heat transfer. The product’s design ensures flexibility while […]

Read More
Heating Feature image

July 27, 2015

In Hot Pursuit Of Heating Trends For The Greenhouse

From biomass boilers to hydronic-heating systems, growers have a range of options to fit their operation’s unique needs. Here’s what five manufacturers had to say about the latest trends.

Read More
lighting feature

June 29, 2015

Customizing Crop Foliage Color With LEDs: Red Leaf Let…

In the first of a four-part series highlighting the multiple uses of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers share how end-of-production supplemental lighting with LEDs enhances red leaf lettuce color prior to harvesting and shipping.

Read More

June 28, 2015

Keep Your Cool In The Greenhouse

Summer is in full swing, and that means growers need to worry about protecting plants and greenhouse employees from brutal temperatures. No sweat! These product manufacturers have offerings to help beat the heat.

Read More
Greenhouse Electrical System

June 23, 2015

Don’t Let Your Greenhouse Electrical System Come …

The size of a greenhouse operation is one of the biggest factors when determining the type of electrical system to install. Part 2 of "Don't Let Your Electrical System Come Up Short" covers locating electrical wires, meeting electrical load demands and environmental considerations.

Read More
Schaefer-fan

June 23, 2015

Schaefer Ventilation Opens Distribution Center In Atlan…

Schaefer Ventilation Equipment, a manufacturer of ventilation and thermal comfort products, has opened a new distribution center in Atlanta, Ga., to increase efficiency and provide faster services to dealers. Additionally, the company has added a new staff member to its agricultural and horticultural division to help expand markets in Latin America.

Read More
HID Lighting System

June 18, 2015

Talking Shop: Using Lighting To Boost Beneficials

Peace Tree Farm was looking for a way to maintain beneficial insect populations through the winter. It found a potential solution through the use of rotating HID lighting.

Read More

June 17, 2015

Costa Farms Reduces Greenhouse Emissions With Solar Pow…

Costa Farms is seeking to make sustainability a top priority at its headquarters and two other buildings in Miami with the recent construction of new solar panels, which will replace 25 percent of the company's power usage with solar energy.

Read More
aquatrols

June 3, 2015

Aquatrols Renews Cooperative Research And Development A…

Aquatrols Corporation recently announced a new Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Dr. Matt Madsen and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The objective of the new CRADA is to further refine and evaluate surfactant seed coating technologies for use in wildfire rehabilitation, turf and pasture grasses, restoration species and other horticultural and agricultural systems. The three-year agreement renews a CRADA that Aquatrols first signed with the ARS in 2012. The original partnership has resulted in promising field and greenhouse trials, pending patents and initial steps toward commercialization of the surfactant seed coating technology. “We are very encouraged by the work that Dr. Madsen and his team have put together over the past three years,” says Aquatrols’ President and CEO Tracy Jarman. “This innovative technology has shown incredible potential with wide-ranging impacts in multiple industries. Aquatrols’ stated mission is to change the way the world grows and this technology has the […]

Read More
Growers are looking for low-cost options for temperature control, like circulating fans and exhaust fans.

April 10, 2015

New Ways To Give Growers Control Of The Greenhouse Envi…

From heating systems to circulation fans, manufacturing companies are finding new ways to help growers control the greenhouse environment, save on energy costs and streamline production.

Read More
Polyarch Berns

March 12, 2015

The Energy Efficient Greenhouse

New coverings technology means today’s films, plastics, shade cloths and climate screens slash heating and cooling costs while improving crop productivity year round. We checked with manufacturers to see what’s new and uncovered some best practices for buttoning up your greenhouse. Here’s what you need to know about the latest trends.

Read More
FormFlex_MTZ Hanging Basket

March 11, 2015

4 New Ways To Automate Your Operation

These new automation products can help streamline labor-intensive tasks, saving time and labor and increasing productivity.

Read More
Outfitting Your Greenhouse

February 24, 2015

Save Energy With The Right Greenhouse Glazing

The glazing you choose can make a big difference in your energy bill and the uniformity of your crops.

Read More
Michigan State University Extension

February 24, 2015

Ethylene From Defective Greenhouse Heaters Damages Crop…

Malfunctioning greenhouse heaters can lead to crop damage from ethylene and carbon monoxide induced illness for workers. Michigan State University's Extension educators Tom Dudek and Randy Beaudry teach you how to recognize the symptoms and check greenhouse heaters to avoid the concern.

Read More
Havest Automation Robot

February 18, 2015

Robots Grab Hold Of Growers’ Material Handling Needs

Harvest Automation’s HV-100 robots automate one of the hardest, most labor-intensive jobs at growing operations – plant spacing. With more technology coming, investing in robots could become even more realistic for growers of all sizes.

Read More

February 1, 2015

4 Lighting Products For Your Operation

These new lighting products have been developed for maximum energy efficiency in greenhouse production. Check out the slideshow to see which products are right for your operation.

Read More
LumiGrow

January 30, 2015

LumiGrow Expands Customer Base In 2014

LumiGrow, Inc. is adding more than 125 new commercial, governmental and research customers to its roster of customers, and beyond the new accounts added this year, many existing customers significantly increased the number of LumiGrow products they use and research customers made LumiGrow a part of their efforts to add to the body of knowledge about spectral science.

Read More
harvest automation featured image

January 13, 2015

Harvest Automation Extends Robot Rental Program

Harvest Automation's robot rental program proved to be such a success for the company that it is being extended through the spring. The program was unveiled last year as a way for customers to get started with HV-100 robots.

Read More