Growing on the Edge

May 9, 2002 - 12:53

Spring is finally here. Product is flying off the retail shelves, growers are starting to settle down a bit, the California Pack Trials have come and gone and the Marketing Innovation Award winners are being announced.

Denver, Colorado-based Welby Gardens, this year’s
runner-up, distinguished themselves both through their marketing program (read
more about their program in Brandi Thomas’ article on page 16) and also
with their product category. Herbs are a growing market, and especially holistic,
pesticide-free herbs like the ones in Welby’s program. As more and more
of our crops become commodities — mums, poinsettias, bedding plant cell
packs — innovative growers like Welby are seeking ways to differentiate
themselves, and to make a little money. Fringe crops are a common solution.


What’s Out There

Herb production is nothing new. Herbs have been a small,
steady, niche market for many, many years, but recently, we hear of growers
devoting an increasing amount of greenhouse space to herb production. The herb
program at Welby started as an experiment and is about to expand into a second
production range. Orlando, Florida-based Shore Acres, profiled in the September
2001 issue of GPN, has moved from a standard bedding plant producer to devoting
approximately 50 percent of their production space to finish and plug herb

And herbs are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Brown’s Greenhouses, Arvada, Colo., has devised a way to market standard
spring bulbs as a specialty item. (We’ll have more information about
Brown’s in an upcoming issue of GPN. Until then, if you’re having
trouble with standard bulb production, see Bill Miller’s article on PGRs
and bulbs on page 8.) Meriam Karlsson, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, suggests
forget-me-nots as a specialty crop for both cut arrangements and potted
production; see page 32 for production information and cultivar selection.

Starting to see a pattern? Specialty crops — be they
herbs, specialty cut flowers, unusual vegetative material or anything else to
the left of ordinary — are the fastest-growing segment in floriculture,
according to the 2001 GPN State of the Industry Report sponsored by Summit
Plastics, and something a lot more growers should be investigating. I know
changing production practices, training growers and workers how to grow a new
crop is not easy, but I see these types of specialty crops as the answer for
many struggling growers, especially the small- to mid-sized grower.


A Little Closer to Home

If learning a new crop is a little too much to handle right
now, don’t worry. Having just returned from the Pack Trials, I can
confidently say that there are plenty of striking colors, new forms and other
variations on more traditional crops headed your way. Next month will start
GPN’s coverage of the Pack Trials, but if you’re ready for a sneak
peek at some of the best of next year’s offerings, take a look at the
Winner’s Circle article on page 20. These are winning varieties from
AARS, AAS and Fleuroselect, most of which will be released next year.

Familiar names like Rudbeckia, vinca and Wave petunia are
among the winners, but these are not the same varieties you’re accustomed
to seeing. In particular, new colors really make the varieties stand out,
without being beyond a grower’s comfort level.

The point? Whether it’s a new color or a new
presentation or a whole new product category, the key to this market is
differentiation. It wins awards, gives you a niche but most importantly, it
sells plants.

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