The Top Young Plant Growers for 2018, and the Issues Facing Them

Young Plant plug and liner featureGrowers 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, and to make the right investments when it comes to crop protection, energy efficiency, and labor-saving technology.

Greenhouse Grower’s 2018 Plug and Liner Grower Survey illustrates that young plant growers face many of the same challenges as their finished grower peers. At the same time, they are always looking for ways 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 challenges facing them, while addressing the needs of their customers. Note: All data from the infographics in this article are from the 2018 Plug and Liner Grower Survey.

2018 RankYoung Plant GrowerStateUnits Prepared To Sell In 20182016 Rank
1SpeedlingFL2 billion*1
2Tagawa GreenhousesCO450 million2
3ArborGen Inc.SC338 millionn/a
4Metrolina GreenhousesNC325 million3
5Van de Wetering GreenhousesNY275 million4
6Green Circle GrowersOH260 million4
7Devan GreenhousesCanada250 to 300 millionn/a
8Greenheart FarmsAZ250 million*6
9Natural Beauty/Floral Plant GrowersWI161 million8
10Raker-Roberta's Young PlantsMI150 to 160 million6
11Bob’s Market & GreenhousesWV152 million10
12Knox NurseryFL150 million*9
13Plug ConnectionCA135 to 140 million*11
14Aris HorticultureOH120 to 130 million12
15tHanor FarmsMO100 million*14
15tKeithly Williams TransplantsCA100 millionn/a
17tJolly FarmerCanada90 to 100 million16t
17tPlainview GrowersNJ90 to 100 million*16t
19Kube-PakNJ90 million15
20Cal Seedling Co.CA76 million19
21Wagner GreenhousesMN50 million18
22Pacific Plug & LinerCA40 to 50 million20

Shipping Issues Top List of Concerns

Increases in shipping costs, as well as the uncertainties revolving around new transportation laws, are forcing some growers to make hard decisions.

“The impact has been significant, mostly by not having enough trucks available,” says Marlon Carrera of Pacific Plug & Liner in Watsonville, CA. “We are making more FedEx deliveries, which has increased our cost, and it’s forced us to look for alternatives such as partnering with other companies or finding new routes that can minimize the issue.”

The number of driving hours that drivers are allowed to use is also restrictive, and Carrera says in most cases, companies need to start using two drivers per truck to mitigate the problem, which of course simultaneously increases the operating cost.

Some companies, such as Roseville Farms in Apopka, FL, have seen truck load orders take longer, which has led them to reorganize shipping schedules.

“We’ve tried to maximize pack counts and ship full packages to minimize the cost per unit,” says David Raab, owner of Roseville Farms.


Labor Forcing Companies to Adapt

As expected, labor remains one of the biggest challenges facing the industry. So how are some of these growers dealing with the problem?

“As wages go up, we are constantly competing with the guy next to us for labor. Customer prices have to go up in order to pay our labor more.” — Melissa Wark, Headstart Nursery, Gilroy, CA

“We have almost doubled our staff, and we are approached all the time about working here. Drivers are always an issue, though. We handle that by having multiple capable drivers and splitting the load so nobody gets burned out, and they all do other work internally so they get full employment.” — Lloyd Traven, Peace Tree Farm, Kintnersville, PA

“The labor problem has stretched us to our limits and raises concerns over being able to find labor in the future. We have been considering automation to offset labor shortages.” — Jos de Boer, ForemostCo, Miami, FL

“Labor has very much affected our business, especially in ornamentals. We are seriously considering dropping bedding plants and growing hydroponic vegetables.” — Alissa Marles, Morinville Greenhouses, Morinville, AB, Canada

“Filling our labor needs has become harder, and all our expansion plans have been throttled back because of it.” — David Raab

Communication is Critical

One of the most effective ways to deal with young plant production and management challenges is simply through better communication. When it comes to working with your customers, sometimes it’s as simple as listening to them.

“Listening is the key to meeting customer needs,” says Peter Darrow of Jolly Farmer Products in Northampton, New Brunswick, Canada. “If you don’t hear what they’re saying, you won’t respond with appropriate answers.”

Darrow says Jolly Farmer staffs its sales office extra hours during the busy season, and always has a live attendant to handle customer calls.

“We allow customers to combine any mix of products in their shipping boxes, and offer a large assortment of products and small ordering increments, including half plug trays,” Darrow says. “All these details come together to meet our customers’ needs.”

Quality control once the product is delivered is just as important, de Boer says.

“We manage our own logistics to maximize quality upon arrival to the customer,” he says.

Communicating with your suppliers is also critical.

“We communicate quality issues at reception and report our final losses and the reasons for those losses, so the suppliers can be aware of what we are getting,” Carrera says.


A Host of Challenges

One of the questions in this year’s Plug and Liner Grower Survey was “What is your biggest challenge as a young plant grower and how are you solving it?” The responses were very diverse; here’s a sampling of what some of the growers said.

“Inventory management! Software is a nightmare — it comes at an extreme cost or lousy performance, often both.”

“Achieving our specifications by the target date.”

“Controlling cost and availability of labor. We continue to automate and we are always looking for ways to be more efficient using lean flow principles.”

“Quality of inputs. We talk and report constantly to suppliers the quality that we get at reception to make sure we can get better and consistent quality all the time.”

“Some of our biggest challenges are acquiring sufficient starter material and greenhouse space to fulfill the industry needs. We are working to establish quality relationships with suppliers and predicting future greenhouse space requirements.”

“It seems that I get talked down to more than male counterparts. Eventually they realize I know what I’m talking about, and things get easier.”

“Heating costs, irrigation, and algae problems.”

“Limitation on weekly deliveries and ability to get product to the customers when requested.”

“We are constantly reviewing where we are of value to our customers with their ability to purchase unrooted cuttings. We try to look out 10 years to see where we think the plant palette will be.”

“Customers going out of business is our biggest problem. Consolidation and subsequent bankruptcy has caused us to finish product and ship direct to retailers.”