Bill Calkins, Ball Seed:

"US: "Growers and retailers pleased with 2017"

"Many growers and retailers were not only pleased with the weather in the different areas of the country this year, but they were with the new products on the market as well. For spring 2018, growers are already seeing strong orders coming in and that often means that it has been a good year", says Bill Calkins, Marketing at Ball Seed.

Bill Calkins.

Good weather
According to Calkins, the good weather conditions contributed to good sales this year. "In most regions sales broke early in retail due to good early spring weather this year. It slowed down in some markets in April and May, but really picked up in the summer because it stayed cooler than normal in most regions. It was a cool, wet May for the Northeastern US, a high population market, and a market that benefited most from the extended season in June. Afterwards, it warmed up in fall across the country. This weather enabled growers to ship out their products early and stay on schedule with mid and late season production.

'Easier' varieties
Next to the satisfying weather conditions, the new product introductions seemed to be a success too. "Many greenhouse producers in North America and Canada were very excited with the new products that are on the market this year. There has been so much breeding to make the production of plants easier. A lot of attention is being paid to the characteristics of the crop that solve problems for growers, whether it is crops that can be grown cooler or crops that are genetically more compact and easier to ship to retail", says Calkins.

'Wow products'
This year Calkins saw a high demand for, as he calls them, wow products; particularly in annuals. MegaWatt from PanAmerican Seed and Sunpatients from Sakata, for example, did very well. These are big products that fit the major trends in the garden, as they are used in a lot of patio pots. "Next to being big, they are high value products too, so growers were able to make good money from them." Another product that did well is the Night Sky petunia from Selecta One. "I would define this product as a unique petunia with very good grower characteristics, so it is more than just a cool product."

Overall, Calkins sees trends in niche products, like tropical plants and foliage, but succulents are a major trend too. "We at Ball Seed are working with the suppliers to add those lines as quickly as we can, just to make sure that our customers have a reliable supply chain in place to adapt to these consumer trends." And Ball Seed sees huge potential in perennials. "It offers a lot of value to today's customer and for the grower, the production of perennials has become better understood. We've got first year flowering perennials that really make it easy for the greenhouse grower to give the consumer beautiful plants that consumers do not have to wait for. All in all, it's very exciting to see new products being introduced that are solving problems for growers and consumers."

Labor savings
Another important topic for growers this year was (and still is) labor savings. It's an important part of the business and it's getting harder and harder to find labor. We have great relationships with automation equipment companies. We’ve been really active in collaborating with suppliers and growers to automate the sticking of unrooted cuttings and the transplanting of plugs. Our customers have shown high interest in plants that need less attention during cultivation, requiring fewer chemicals and looking how to eliminate labor costs. And of course growers are finding solutions in machinery and automation and for Ball Seed it is a matter of staying on top of what is going in the industry and making sure that we have the products that growers can use to reduce their costs.

Better economy
"Most growers and retailers I talked to felt that 2017 was a good year", says Calkins. And the improved economy in the States and Canada probably plays an important role. "The economy is better this year, so people have a little bit more money to spend, which was seen in the retail sales. They were good for decorative products in general."

Even though it has been a good year for many in the industry, there are still some challenges ahead to overcome. According to Calkins, communicating with the younger generation that is taking over the greenhouse business from their parents can become a challenge for suppliers like Ball Seed, and for garden centers and retailers finding plants later in the season is a challenge that they've been encountering over the last years. "Regarding the new young generation of greenhouse owners, we as Ball Seed just need to make sure that we are meeting and serving these new grower customers the way they want to served and not trying to do the same thing that helped their parents be successful. We have to be quick, at times, instant. I think we, here at Ball Seed, are ready for that. We have been investing in technology to be there for our customers."

Another challenge is mainly for the garden centers and retailers, but offers opportunities for growers. "Growers are not planning that much extra as they used to, because of the efficiency and costs. They are nowadays a little bit less willing to take that risk, they plant according to their plan. Sometimes, for garden centers and retailers, it can be a challenge to find the availability of plants later in the season. Fortunately, there are greenhouses seeing that as a potential market. They have the products when everyone runs out."

For more information
Ball Seed
Bill Calkinss
Marketing, Ball Seed Company

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