Plug and Liner Update: Young Plant Growers Seek Solutions to Shipping, Heating Costs

Speedling young plant growers

Many young plant producers deal with issues such as labor and energy costs, yet their focus remains on producing a high-quality end product. Photo: Frank Giles

Growers throughout the industry who want to provide high-quality products to their customers often rely on young plant producers as their primary connection to plant breeders. Because of this, it’s imperative for young plant growers to stay on top of critical issues affecting their businesses.


Greenhouse Grower’s 2019 Plug and Liner Grower Survey illustrates that young plant growers face many challenges. At the same time, they are always looking to improve.

Keep reading for a closer look at some of the steps today’s young plant growers are taking to stay on top of the issues facing them while addressing the needs of their customers. Note: All data from the infographics in this article are from the Greenhouse Grower 2019 Plug and Liner Grower Survey.

Changes in Plug Size

Size demand for plugs depends on the grower and the customer, which can sometimes create a dilemma.

“We are balancing our customers’ desire for 72s versus our company’s typical spacing for 128s,” says Carolyn Suis of Tissue-Grown Corp. in Santa Paula, CA.

Other growers face similar situations, such as Texas-based Magnolia Gardens, which normally grows in 72-count trays but has had requests for larger sizes.

“More of our customers are looking for as many plants per tray as possible,” says Brad Donahue of North Carolina Farms.

2019 Top Young Plant Growers

2019 RankYoung Plant GrowerUnits Prepared To Sell In 20192018 Rank
1Speedling, Inc.650 to 700 million1
2Tagawa Greenhouses367 million2
3ArborGen Inc.338 million3
4Metrolina Greenhouses320 million4
5Van de Wetering Greenhouses275 million*5
6Green Circle Growers260 million6
7Keithly Williams Transplants230 million15t
8Natural Beauty/Floral Plant Growers161 million*9
9Bob's Market and Greenhouses155 million11
10Knox Nursery150 million*12
11Ball Tagawa Growers140 millionn/a
12Plug Connection135 to 140 million13
13Aris Horticulture120 to 130 million14
14Hanor Farms100 million*15t
15Jolly Farmer Products90 to 100 million17t
16Raker-Roberta's Young Plants90 to 100 million10
17Cal Seedling80 to 86 million20
18Quik-Starts Plants75 millionn/a
19Pacific Plug & Liner50 to 60 million22
20American Color40 millionn/a
* = estimated

Dealing with Late Orders

A late start to spring contributed to late orders for some producers this year.

“We produce almost entirely from bookings, but this year, for the first time, we put down an extra 10% to 20%, depending on the crop, to be available for just-in-time orders,” says Neil Marek of Magnolia Gardens.

Planning well in advance and coordinating better with brokers are just a couple of the solutions growers are following to accommodate late orders.

“All availabilities are listed digitally with broker partners,” says Blair Hoey of Aris Horticulture. “We have massaged our cut-off dates to deal with last-minute orders, but most customers are at least two to five weeks ahead.”

Other growers say they are simply no longer trying to accommodate late orders and will only offer subs of what they have available.

Growers Adapt to Shipping Laws

Outside of labor, shipping costs and ever-changing regulations are the biggest challenges young plant growers face.

“We have had to add time to our delivery schedule and reduce loads on some routes due to required down time by drivers,” Hoey says. Other producers say they have had to hire
more drivers.

However, there are some steps growers are taking to deal with higher shipping costs, including:
• Working with other growers and backhauling with them
• Increasing density on carts
• Better route planning, resulting in more efficient delivery
• Using software programs to optimize routing
• Using bigger trucks so that one truck can ship more at the same time
• Seeking out offers for group rates

Energy Cost Solutions

In many ways, young plant growers absorb winter energy costs for finished grower customers. Here’s what some growers are doing to conserve energy and cope with heating costs.
• “Making sure our energy curtains are closing timely, ensuring that we maximize greenhouse space, and using wood chips to heat our greenhouses.”
• “We are using wood boilers and energy curtains to prevent heat loss and working on cooler schedules for our crops.”
• “We are installing more bottom heat.”
• “We invested in a biomass boiler years ago.”
• “We buy our natural gas in the futures market for multiple years in advance. Replacing shade and taking advantage of energy rebates is also important.”
• “Attempting to raise and turn the crop as fast as possible.”
• “Our house is set up so that the temperature will vary from one end to the other. That way we save on heat and begin hardening off the plants for shipping.”