Art Van Wingerden, chief operating officer and co-owner of Metrolina Greenhouses, estimates that as his big box customers continue to grow at a 3 to 5 percent rate, so will Metrolina Greenhouses’ growing facilities to keep up with demand.
In 2014, Metrolina covered 17 acres at its original Huntersville, N.C., location. The area had been used as an automated outdoor growing area, with glass MX3 open-roof Van Wingerden Greenhouses. Now covered and heated, Metrolina has annuals growing there for spring 2015.
“We like the ventilation of the push-pull MX roof, where we can open a series of roofs at one time,” Van Wingerden says. “We think the ventilation is much better, plus we can build longer greenhouses, so cranes and tables work a lot better.”
Over the next three to eight years, Metrolina will work to build and cover 40 additional acres in Huntersville to produce more annuals. The operation is currently working on grading the area and putting in all the pipe work and a new water retention pond. Van Wingerden says the operation will likely begin pouring concrete this year, and start building greenhouses in 2016.
“Our biggest thing is efficiency. On the annuals side, we think we’re more efficient when we grow on tables, and we move them around with cranes,” Van Wingerden says. Everything we do is with efficiency in mind, and obviously, the longer the runs are, the further a crane can go. The more efficiently we are producing, the more efficiently we are shipping and the more efficiently we are spacing.”
Metrolina started contracting with other growers 10 years ago to fill demand, and while its operation has continued to expand, so has its contract business, because it’s expensive to build greenhouses — especially the way Metrolina does it, Van Wingerden says. That business with contractors won’t diminish, despite the additional acres being built at Huntersville.
In York, S.C., Metrolina built a 10-acre shipping barn and a 3-acre production house in 2014.
The shipping facility is covered with plastic greenhouses with 36-foot trusses, every third peak opening for ventilation. Although the facility is not meant for growing, but rather to keep all the shipping and production people dry, six to seven acres of the facility may be heated next year to produce Asiatic lilies and some of the earlier products Metrolina offers.
That’s the idea now, but it could change, Van Wingerden says. When Metrolina Greenhouses purchased the location, formerly Stacy’s Greenhouses, in 2013, he says the dream was to retrofit and build that location to the same level of technology and automation that Metrolina’s Huntersville, N.C., location enjoys. However, the team there soon realized that the needs are not the same.
The next project at York will be 10 acres of cold frames, to keep crops covered during the winter, and keep them dry during shipping.
“Our vision for that place now is 30 percent will be covered area — cold frames — and 70 percent will be open air, for the perennials,” Van Wingerden says. “The cold frames are basically the direct opposite of what we usually do. People call it gold plating — we make them as nice as we possibly can. The cold frames are going to be about as cheap as we can go. So it’s going to have a roof on it and walls that go up and down the side, and that’s about it. You’re not going to see booms in there; you’re not going to see baskets; you’re not going to see tables moving back and forth; you’re not going to see glass on it. We might make every fifth roof open so at least we can get some insulation in there, but it’s going to be low-tech.”