Metrolina Greenhouses, ranked sixth on the Top 100 Growers list, will be expanding even more in the next few years. Art Van Wingerden gave Greenhouse Grower a look into the operation’s future and explains why expansion will be necessary.
GG: What’s driving the need for more production area at Metrolina? Are your customers increasing demand or are you supplying more retailers?
AVW: The current customers we have just want more product. We’re not picking up a ton of stores. We’re trying to, of course. We don’t like to build unless we can fill it up year round. Our retailers are expecting us to do 5 to 7 percent more in the same store as we did last year.
And we do a lot of contract growing, meaning we have people growing flats, 1801s, baskets and all kinds of other stuff for us. We started that about seven years ago and it’s been growing every year. We know if contract work is growing, we need more product, so that’s why we’re adding on. We added seven acres this year onto our MX1 greenhouse. We’ve been able to fill it up, get it sold and still keep all of our contract growing, too.
GG: What are Metrolina’s plans for adding greenhouse area over the next five to 10 years?
AVW: We bought about 110 acres several years ago and we have most of it leveled. We’re about 80 percent done. We’ll probably finish leveling in 2013. So then probably in 2014 or 2015 is when we’ll start adding on. We can put on 40 acres of greenhouse there and 11 acres of outdoor area, which we’ll start on this summer. We have 16 acres of outdoor area right now that we can build a greenhouse on. We won’t do that this year, but we hope to do it next summer.
We’ve taken greenhouse space away over the last three years, about four acres of growing space, to add onto our shipping area. We bring in so much contract growing and you have to have somewhere to park your cars. We took out area where our loading barns are and made that greenhouse space into shipping space.
GG: How much will this new production space be automated? Tell us about the equipment you envision being used in these houses.
AVW: Any production area we add on will be automated like we have in MX1 and MX2, so that’s a table and crane system. Cranes go into the greenhouse, pick the tables up and carry them where they need to be. That’s either carrying them from production out to the greenhouse or picking them up for shipping. We try to touch things with our hands as little as possible. We want the cranes and tables doing all the work. We also maximize our space. We don’t have walkways in every bay. It’s full growing space. I see us doing exactly the same thing there. We’ve had them for 15 years now and we really like the tables and cranes. On 60 acres of outdoor space, we have has a building with poles and trusses and it’s automated; it just doesn’t have a roof on it. We think it takes all the work out of it.
GG: How much has Metrolina expanded in recent years?
AVW: In the last 15 years, we’ve added 85 acres of greenhouse space, that’s covered and heated, and about 21 acres of outdoor area.
GG: Will all this expansion mean breaking ground
on a new site?
AVW: No. All of it will be on site. It is connected to where we are. That’s the way we like it. We’ve looked at doing offsite or two sites, but we don’t think it makes sense when you start figuring out all the freight. We’d rather ship everything from our location. If we build a location 50 miles away, we’d have to ship it here, sort it and then send it out. If you’re going to do that, you’re better off building it where you are. Freight is an expense you’re going to pay every year. Land is an expense you pay one time and you’re done.
GG: Anything else noteworthy going on inside the greenhouses at Metrolina?
AVW: We put a new roof system in our newest seven acres. We put a push/pull MX greenhouse in, but we did the push/pull a little different. Most push/pulls are off the truss, so all the weight goes down to the truss. We put an A-frame above the truss where we have a hanging push/pull system. The reason we did that is we want the gutters and curtain to go north/south. If you have the push/pull typical style down to the truss, then you can’t do the curtains the right way. Now we can do the curtains the right way. We’ve had it up for eight weeks. It’s a very neat system and I think it’s going to work really well.