Around The Table By Christa Reynolds

“Spring” often makes the public think of blooming flowers and the beautiful hint of warmer weather after winter. However, this time frame can be very challenging for growers, with variable weather conditions, heating and cooling issues, and retailers’ changing demands.

Yet, in spite of all these challenges, the following growers were able to make spring a productive time. Continue reading to learn how they did so and what plans are in their future.

What was the biggest production challenge you encountered this spring? What was the biggest business challenge you faced?

“We really pressed our capacity this spring with our efforts to meet the demand for our product. Of course, this presented our growers with the challenge to hit delivery windows with the quality our customers require. We’re very happy with the results our growing operation achieved this spring. The biggest business challenge we continue to face is the increasing demands retailers place on our industry.”

— Jack Pearlstein

“The biggest production challenge we have is to produce an ever increasing array of product. The biggest business challenge we face is receiving orders later and later and working on thinner and thinner margins.”

— Gerry Raker

“In our West Coast operation, we had a very cool, wet spring, which resulted in a lot of slow growth and increased shrink due to various disease issues. We experienced a challenge finding enough staff to make it through the peak season at our Ontario nursery. A really big business challenge is that the perennial market has become a mature market, meaning prices and margins are under attack. We’ve seen a number of competitors go out of business this year, so we know.”

— John Schroeder

How did weather in your area affect production this spring?

“Aside from a freeze event in December, which affected one small crop that was scheduled for sales in February/March, weather was not a negative factor for us this spring. We may have had the best growing weather we’ve seen in a few years, and crop timing and quality were all as expected.”

— Jack Pearlstein

“The weather did not have any effect on our production. Generally good weather this past spring should have a positive impact on next year’s sales.”

— Gerry Raker

“As in my previous answer, it proved to be a challenge! Wet, cool and a very late spring really messes up your production cycles. It sure doesn’t do much for sales either. Fortunately, we had great late season sales (May-July) and plant quality was excellent by then.”

— John Schroeder

How were your prices this year compared to last?

“We’re seeing a slight upward trend in net realized prices.”

— Jack Pearlstein

“Our prices were up 4-6 percent.”

— Gerry Raker

“We find our costs go up every year, and so we expect to raise our prices regularly as well. Sometimes we find it easier to improve prices (both for us and the retailer), by creating niche products and brands that allow us to sell for more. Our new Rock Star line of alpines is an example of that.”

— John Schroeder

How did the fluctuating energy costs affect your operation during the spring season?

“Water, gas and electricity are all up in cost in our market and have challenged us to continue investing in energy-efficient systems and practices. We’re doing fairly well in controlling these costs through these efforts.”

— Jack Pearlstein

“We forward contract so our prices were locked in for this past spring. Fluctuating prices do make it difficult to know when to lock in your price.”

— Gerry Raker

“As a perennial grower, we don’t use much greenhouse heating. But it sure drives our cost of delivery up! We need to be very vigilant that we maintain profitability with those customers located far away from our nursery.”

— John Schroeder

Based on your experiences this past spring, what do you plan to do differently in 2008? What will you do the same? Why?

“We’re continuing to see more demand for our product which is driving us to continue increasing our production.”

— Jack Pearlstein

“We are not going to do anything differently. The thing that we do that is the same is get better at what we already know how to do. We are going to get better at growing more variety and be more efficient in spite of it. We are going to reduce overhead costs. We are going to improve quality and service.”

— Gerry Raker

“We have spent a lot of time over the last few years carefully analyzing our product lineup. Since we produce over 1,500 varieties for a mature market, entirely on spec (no pre-bookings!), it is imperative we produce just the right amount of plants, at just the right time. We will continue to make that an emphasis for the future. Otherwise, our goal remains the same: Sell out, don’t throw out!”

— John Schroeder




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