It’s Time To Rethink The Value And Timing Of California Spring Trials [Opinion]

It’s Time To Rethink The Value And Timing Of California Spring Trials [Opinion]

Laura Drotleff - featureFourteen years ago, Greenhouse Grower saw an opportunity to bring next-day coverage of California Pack Trials (now California Spring Trials or CAST) to your inbox. The objective was to be your eyes and ears on location, to report the debut of the newest varieties and marketing programs, and report major breeder announcements, especially for those not attending. We continued to develop new story-telling tools with video capabilities, slideshows, and more. And once social media took hold, everyone attending CAST became reporters of their favorite varieties and displays at trials. So we’re left with the question — how should we continue to evolve our coverage, to bring the most value for you?

It’s easy to fall into a certain pattern, to stick with what works — or seems to work. And just because you’re working really hard at something that you’ve had success with in the past, it doesn’t mean it’s the smartest or best way to do it. Getting a fresh perspective can be exactly what’s needed to re-examine your goals.


During California Spring Trials (CAST) this year, Dr. Allan Armitage and I traveled with two coworkers who were new to the event: Managing Editor Janeen Wright and Meister Media’s Corporate Content Director Jim Sulecki. They questioned everything, from why we were staying up until 3 a.m. or later every night to write stories and build slideshows for each location, to what CAST is and what its value holds to the industry. It’s no question CAST has grown and evolved in the years since it was first established as the California Pack Trials, so it was interesting to see their reactions and hear their opinions about CAST.

As we drove from one stop to the next, Janeen and Jim asked questions that led to some interesting discussions:

Why are the CAST locations so spread out?

Breeders stationed in California like to host trials at their own sites, but perhaps the industry would benefit from a more consolidated event. Jim Sulecki, who oversees Meister Media Worldwide’s editorial efforts in 10 agricultural markets, likened CAST to what the traditional agriculture industry’s Farm Progress Show, held in Iowa, would look like if it told attendees if they wanted to see planters, drive to Indiana; if they’re interested in sprayers, go to Wisconsin, and if they were into harvesters, they’re clear up in South Dakota. CAST is costly from a travel and time perspective.

Why is CAST held in April, the busiest time of the year for growers?

Many growers have advocated for years for earlier dates, because the trials have generally been too late in the season in comparison to when spring breaks in many parts of the country. But that’s when breeders have agreed that the plants will look their best, for prime introduction to the market. In reality, it’s California, and plants are produced in greenhouses. Plus, we have every possible technological advantage to force plants into flower whenever we want them. So is that a viable argument anymore?

Who attends and how many?

This year’s count numbered anywhere from 750 to 1,400, including growers, retailers, brokers, and various members of the allied trade. Ultimately, the industry should consider who CAST really serves. Is it the grower, broker, the large retailers, or the breeders? Considering there have been developments since CAST originated, like Costa Farms’ Season Premier, held annually in January, it leads one to question if the current format for rolling out new varieties is still necessary. Some breeders don’t even display at CAST, opting to introduce new varieties at the European Flower Trials in Week 24, and/or at Cultivate in July. Breeders tell us both business and attendance increases each year at CAST, but what if it was different? How would a change in format and time of year affect our ultimate success? What if we’re limiting our opportunities by limiting who sees what? Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what we want to do?

This year seemed to be a little light on new variety introductions, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it begs the question: Do we still need CAST every year? Breeders tell us yes, but what do you say?

An old proverb states, “Happy are those who want only what they already have.” The trouble is, we all want more, so perhaps it’s time to interrupt what works to regain focus on our collective goal to grow and bring more value to our industry.

Grower Feedback: Do you go to California Spring Trials (CAST)? If so, what would you change? If not, what prevents you from attending? Is it timing? Expense? Would a change in format and time of year improve the odds for you to attend? Let me know your thoughts and ideas for how our industry can evolve to improve CAST for everyone at [email protected]

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Denise says:

As a grower and retailer of bedding plants we are so busy in the spring that we don’t have time to think of going to shows. I would love to attend CAST ( have never been there before ) but we just can’t make it that time of year. Change the timing and we will come!
I would go to see what is new because we love trying everything new. Since our only selling season is in the spring ( we are in Canada ) any plant that is introduced we can’t get until the following year because April is too late for us to have it ready for May. If the show was in the fall I would order the plants so they were ready to sell the following spring.
In the past I have relied on the wonderful emails, videos etc that I receive and once work quiets down in the summer I go through each one and make up an order.

Kathy Wheaton says:

The issue is not (in my opinion) weather we need this or not. IF, IF you were only showing plants to 700 to 1500 or even 2000 people the answer would be .it cost to much for such a limited audience. HOWEVER those people in turn show a LOT of other folks what they have seen. Ok now here is the problem from my ‘view’ It is in April. and I can not often even take time for lunch, so I am NOT going to have time to look at pictures, read articles or watch videos, let alone go to a show. By the time I have time, July or August, this season is past. and I am planning for next. By the time its July, I feel that I am looking at ‘old’ stuff. Because months have gone by. I still do look, because well I have to. I love plants. But then steps in the second big issue.
I get to see, what excited the producer of the data. The pics of what they liked… I can not tell you how many times, I see something as the video is going down a isle, and I want to shout, WAIT! GO BACK ! WHAT ABOUT THAT ONE? and after a while I sort of give up. Because it doesn’t tell me what I need to know, I don’t get to see what I would like to see, and I can’t go to the event. I think there need to be a major rethinking of the how’s whys’ what and when..