Right after the big announcement that Syngenta purchased Yoder’s pot mum, garden mum and aster lines, we asked Yoder Brothers’ President Bill Rasbach what will happen with the rest of the company moving forward. It turns out, we will be seeing three new names for three key divisions of what was Yoder Brothers.
GG: Syngenta had been exploring purchasing Yoder for some time to complete its crop mix with mums. What made Yoder decide the time was right to sell?
Rasbach: There were a couple of things involved. One is that we had been working with Fides in Europe the past 10 years and last year they decided to start their own breeding on pot and garden mums. Since they became a competitor, we needed someone else to represent us in Europe. Syngenta, with its strong distribution in Europe, was the best fit. I don’t think people realize the majority of pot mums in Europe are Yoder varieties.
The second reason was financial security and what’s going on in the market with consolidation. We felt the time was right and the sale would provide us with funding to do what we want to with our other lines.
GG: Three of the former Flower Fields partners are now owned by Syngenta–Fischer, Goldsmith and Yoder. There obviously was a desire to work together even before consolidated ownership. How has consolidation become a necessary direction for our industry?
Rasbach: It is kind of unique that three of the four companies were bought by Syngenta. When we were all involved with The Flower Fields alliance, we perceived the need to cooperate more to fill the requirements of the big boxes. Instead of four companies filing in the door independently, we could present a united front. What we weren’t able to accomplish as a group of individual companies, Syngenta can and has the resources to do. Both approaches were trying to address the needs of the big box customer but from a different perspective–one large company instead of three entrepreneurial companies without enough resources to pull it off. The need to service big box buyers is pushing back to genetics and raw materials with the growers in between.
GG: The Yoder brand and legacy will follow the pot mum and garden lines. How will there be more potential for these lines globally under Syngenta?
Rasbach: In my mind, Syngenta provides things that will be positive for our product line, specifically the capital required to mitigate risks. Three or four years ago, Hurricane Wilma caused $5 million worth of damage to our farm in Alva, Fla. In the future, Syngenta will have the resources to overcome this type of disaster. If Quarantine-37 goes away, we would have had to build farms in South America or Africa to compete. Syngenta already has offshore production sites. It’s important to note that we are not selling the company, retiring and going away. We’re all going to be neighbors on this farm and support Syngenta through the transition. Syngenta is very keen on representing the Yoder name going forward and we are excited about the relationship.
GG: Although mums represent about a fourth of Yoder’s business, they dominated the company’s identity. How will a new name be liberating to create awareness for all the other product lines and activities Yoder is strong in?
Rasbach: We’re excited about not being known as the mum company anymore. Mums and asters represented less than 25 percent of our business, yet Yoder was always known as the mum company. Moving forward, we will be dividing the rest of Yoder Brothers into three units with three new names:
- The sales group will be an agency group like Gloeckner or McHutchison. It will sell our products, but also broker products for other companies like Syngenta and Paul Ecke Ranch. In that regard, we will be investing money into creating the most technologically advanced distribution company. We have advantages with our grower and supplier background to understand the needs of companies who supply growers, like Ecke and Raker, as well as what our grower customers’ needs are. We will be investing in information systems to close that gap.
- We will be growing our finished product business. In the past, we always felt like we had handcuffs on us as a supplier of mum cuttings. We were timid about competing on the finished product business. Now we don’t have to be concerned, because we’re not producing mum cuttings anymore. It’s a liberating feeling. Before, we always had to ask how it would impact other growers buying our mums. Now that is taken off our shoulders. We are in a unique position as a finished product grower with operations in Canada and Florida, and the times of year we can provide the best products with reduced energy costs and increased quality. We will be able to do unique things with products out of season, or growing them just a little bit differently.
- We did not sell our cut mum lines, which are a vastly larger market than pot mums worldwide. Yoder is a major breeder of cut mums in South America with major market share. The opportunity to take those genetics to the same supermarket people buying potted plants is a whole new opportunity to provide them with a fuller basket of products.
- Our young plants division will produce perennial URCs and liners, hibiscus liners, dormant azaleas, Poulsen roses and Suntory Sun Parasol mandevillas for other growers. We will have the wherewithal to solidify our presence in those markets and will build on what we’ve always been known for–reliability and technical expertise.
GG: Can we expect the new names to roll out at Short Course?
Rasbach: The new names will roll out shortly, but our final use of the Yoder name will go away before Short Course. We want to support Syngenta’s association with the name. We will have an umbrella company, but will focus on making the three divisions as independent as possible with three separate names and identities. We have until July to wear out our clothes with the Yoder logo.
GG: How will Yoder still be involved in research and development to create new plants?
Rasbach: We’re going to continue breeding cut mums, hibiscus, azaleas and perennials. We also didn’t sell the Igloo mums, the hardy fall mum, which is planted like a perennial. It’s quite a line and series, which will move to our perennial product offering. We will continue breeding in all those lines, just not pot mums and garden mums. We will work with other breeders, as well. Yoder still brings a sales force and truck lines from Florida. We’re still known for our production processes and planning. Examples include the HBA hydrangeas, Suntory Sun Parasol® mandevillas and our Blooms of Bressingham® activities with breeders around the world. New products and breeding are in our blood. You’ll continue to see new products come from us.
GG: What will be the challenges ahead?
Rasbach: For the industry, consolidation activity is not over. Until it has worked its way through, it will continue to be a challenge for everyone.
Energy is an issue–the cost of raw energy and energy used to produce all of the inputs for our products. We looked at the European model and decided to focus on growing products in their natural growing season. It’s even better if you can grow plants outside without the use of energy. We grow hydrangeas outside and force them inside. Garden mums are excellent outside. We grow our stock outside in Florida. We need to produce products that don’t consume extra fossil fuel energy. We believe strongly in sustainability and reducing our energy inputs. There are numerous products this industry could produce that don’t need a lot of energy. Our focus will be on these types of products in the future; our perennial product line can be a source for these types of products.
Last but not least, is the availability of capital to fund all the changes needed for the industry to be successful. This is not just the recent banking crisis, but a chronic issue for our industry. Fides is successful with Kirin standing behind it. Suntory is out there. Syngenta is out there. Probably more will come with that type of association.
I don’t see a shortage of demand, but rather getting organized to supply that demand.
GG: Is there anything you’d like to say to Yoder’s long-term mum customers?
Rasbach: We’ll still be involved as a technical and sales resource. We’d like to thank everyone in the industry–customers, brokers, universities and associates with our mum product line for more than 85 years. All the support is really appreciated. We feel very comfortable that the Yoder name and product lines are in good hands with Syngenta, otherwise we would not have done it. We’re sitting next door to them and will do everything we can to assure the transition is a good one. It’s been a great ride and we owe a lot of people an awful lot.