Proactive With Poinsettias

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Proactive With Poinsettias

Rocket Farms isn’t hoping for a good poinsettia season. The company is making sure it will have its best poinsettia season.

Based in Salinas, Calif., Rocket Farms, which was one of our finalists for Operation of the Year, has a lot at stake. Last year, it devoted 4.4 million square feet at seven production facilities to the No. 1 blooming potted crop. It’s the largest producer of poinsettias on the West Coast, serving a variety of retailers, including Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and a wide range of supermarkets. These retailers expect better quality and are up against national home improvement chains blowing them out for a dollar each on Black Friday.

“Poinsettias are a highly technical crop to grow. They are not easy and there are a lot of nuances,” says Rocket Farms’ Executive Vice President Marc Clark. “We’ve got to mitigate our risk in poinsettias and not just roll the dice and hope we don’t throw a huge percentage away. It used to be that you could survive with 75 percent sell-through but now it has to be 90 percent or better. You have to hit it just right all the time. If you miss, you’re not going to make it.”

His idea was to take control of the situation and empower his growers to produce superior poinsettias by working with Paul Ecke Ranch on a comprehensive training program. Who better to partner with than the company that built the modern global poinsettia market from scratch? Ecke Ranch also publishes “The Poinsettia Manual,” the industry’s bible for producing this crop, and has taken grower education to the modern age with a series of grower webinars.

The program began June 3 and will run through October. For the first class, 10 of his growers spent a day at Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, Calif. Classes were presented in English and Spanish. A series of webinars followed every week with another in-person class at Ecke Ranch on July 24. Each grower received a certificate signed by Paul Ecke III and a jacket with a patch, commemorating the certification for 2010. The in-depth course covered irrigation, fertilization, lighting, height management, disease/insect control, black cloth management and other methods to increase quality.

“It was fantastic to see the sharing of ideas across the two companies,” Clark says. “This type of intensive training program has never been done before. With Ecke Ranch, we wrote up protocol specs on what we consider a five-star poinsettia. If you grow to spec to achieve top quality, how do you get there? We worked with Steve Rinehart at Ecke Ranch to develop a training manual with best practices, labor management, pesticide management, cold growing methods and graphical tracking.”

As the season progresses, the growers at the seven locations will be monitoring each other’s crops through October. “All our growers will meet every other week as we get closer to shipping,” Clark says. “There will be positive peer pressure as they walk each other’s crops and share successes and challenges.”

In addition to giving his growers the confidence, tools and education they need, retailers and consumers can be confident the poinsettias they buy will be the highest quality and longest lasting in value possible.

“Our objective is to set a new standard, raise the bar,” Clark says. “It’s like being a Honda-certified mechanic versus Joe Blow on the corner. There’s peace of mind knowing your car will be fixed properly.”

Clark says he hopes this approach spreads throughout the industry to reverse the trend of poinsettias being treated like low-value commodities. We commend Rocket Farms’ and Ecke Ranch’s investment in grower education and hope to see more supply chain partnerships to help growers produce the best and most profitable plants possible.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com

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