The Paul Ecke Ranch, Encinitas, Calif., has shipped a record volume of poinsettia cuttings for the 2003 Christmas crop, with a roughly estimated 80 percent of the cuttings being shipped by refrigerated truck. The result is a higher quality product and cost savings, according to Laurie Scullen, director of marketing for Ecke Ranch.
The combination of improved quality, reduced price and better control of all aspects of truck shipping over air shipping have brought about a "huge shift" in product delivery practices, Scullen explained. "We see a nice increase in quality," he said. "Cuttings are healthier if kept in better conditions and delivered more quickly from the stock plant to the greenhouse growers’ propagation benches. Though trucks may take a little bit longer to get to the grower, the cuttings are in controlled climate conditions almost the entire time."
There’s also a cost benefit, Scullen continued. "Truck freight tends to be less expensive — though it does vary — depending on how many boxes are shipped. In many cases, truck shipping offers the chance to reduce the infant cost, which is critically important in the poinsettia crop."
"All of the floriculture crops are under some price pressure right now, as large retailers demand more attention and service," Scullen commented. "Anything we can do upfront to help growers improve service and increase product quality saves them time and money through all steps of the growing process and adds to the greenhouse grower’s profit margin."
An additional reason that the timing is right for refrigerated truck shipping stems from reasons outside the industry’s control, Scullen noted. Post-September 11 security concerns have lead to increased paperwork and more stringent security requirements for air cargo shipments, which potentially lead to shipping delays.
Most Ecke Ranch poinsettia mother stock is grown in Guatemala, Scullen said. Unrooted cuttings are flown into Miami, Houston or Los Angeles for government inspection. From there, refrigerated truck shipments are made to greenhouses in 26 states.
Greenhouse growers have responded favorably to the shift to refrigerated trucking, Scullen said. Ecke Ranch included quality survey cards in shipments to ask for grower feedback. Growers are giving "very, very high scores" on service quality, cutting quality and cutting freshness. "Growers like the convenience of the truck and the fact that the materials come in cool, which is critically important for the cuttings’ health," he said.
More annuals are beginning to follow the refrigerated truck shipping trend, Scullen concluded, but poinsettias are more easily suited for it. "There’s a three- or four-week window when the entire crop comes into the country, so it’s easy to route multiple trucks. Annuals are spread out more. But as with poinsettias, refrigerated shipping of annuals tends to lead to a higher quality cutting, and there are potential cost savings for the grower. It’s our challenge now to follow the success of the poinsettia program and work with some of the annual growers to see if we can, on a regular basis, route trucks to certain parts of the country. That way, growers can expect regular refrigerated truck delivery of their annual cuttings, as well." For more information, go to www.eckeranch.com .