Well-planned production can boost your sales and profits. Dennis Crum shares his methods for gathering information, doing research and staying creative to ensure each year’s crops are fresh and interesting to buyers.
“Information is one of the best assets in crop planning, and good recordkeeping is essential,” says Dennis Crum, Director of Growing Operations at Four Star. He oversees the planning and production of millions of young plants every year, and knows how important careful planning is to efficient and profitable operations.
“Many growers tell their brokers just to reorder the same thing each year, but growers miss a lot of opportunities to sell more and do it profitably by thorough planning before each growing season,” he adds.
While he relies on Four Star’s computerized tracking system for much of his information, Crum notes that growers don’t need to have the same to track their work. “Keep records in a notebook, but be thorough, so the information is there when it’s time to review,” he explains. “It’s too hard to remember by memory so write it all down.”
What did you grow and sell?
Crum advises growers to start with tracking what plants sold. “What was the total number of each item vs. the number of them sold? Once you know your sell-through percentage you can start making decisions on what needs to be dropped,” he says.
“Typically, one-third of them sell as fast as they are ready, one-third sell on time, and one-third sell when there aren’t other options,” Crum notes. “Those ones that lingered are the ones you need to ask yourself about. Why are you growing second-stringers and not more of those that sold in the first one-third? It probably took six to eight weeks to get to that point – you could have turned another crop of first-stringers in that time.”
He also advises growers to review how easy or hard varieties were to grow. “Some crops will be easy and some average for you to grow. You may have to judge carefully those high-maintenance ones. Some might have sold well but maybe they took longer to grow and required PGRs or some pinching, and maybe even then they weren’t flowering at market. Then you might ask yourself if there are other crops that you can sell for more money and a lot less trouble.”
What other options are out there?
Every year, breeders introduce many new varieties to the already existing pool of options for growers, and it can seem overwhelming. But finding alternative varieties isn’t that hard and it should be an ongoing process, Crum says. “Do research by asking brokers, reading magazines and checking catalogs to find out what new varieties are performing well via trial gardens.”
This advice counts for small pots, as well as monos and combinations, he adds. “We typically grow about 200 to 300 trial combinations to replace what we consider to be the bottom one-third every year. We try to find alternatives that bring a new look and use new varieties or a mix of existing and new varieties because we always want to stay fresh. Every year, we introduce some new ones and drop some.”
Another way to research the market is to ask a lot of questions:
- What do your customers want?
- What do garden centers want?
- Which ones do your employees like?
- What comments do customers have about varieties (hard to grow, stays beautiful all season, etc.)
- What do shippers say? (Are they easy to pull?, etc.)
- What truck capacity and rack size is available if you grow large upright combinations?
- Are you charging the proper prices for them?
“At Four Star, we have computerized information on retail sales, so we know what our top-selling Grande varieties and combinations are, which is really helpful. This gives us the knowledge of what sells best and fastest, and it beats guessing! This information is available to growers to use it like we do.”
What are your growing capabilities?
Planning is closely tied to the amount of space available for each crop. “There are only so many options when you consider the amount of space available to grow, times the number of turns you plan, times the requirements of a proper growing environment,” Crum explains. “I’ve found that if you’re trying to fit in too many crops, you may be compromising the crop and they can turn out too long or too short, too warm or too cold.”
Efficient and easy growing is the goal and using your growing facilities wisely is the key. “One tool growers can use to simplify production is our Benchrun Collection, which includes top-selling Grande™ varieties with similar growing requirements,” he adds. “Both the Cool Crops and the Warm Crops Collections share similar rooting out and growing on temperatures, water requirements and PGR rates.”
Put your plan together
Once a grower has gathered the information, it’s time to build a new plan for the upcoming season, including how many crop turns. “At Four Star, we meet in June to review the past year and look at the number of Grandes, monos and combos for the numbers to add new and drop,” Crum explains.
“Then, at a follow-up meeting, we take that information and look at the number of weeks to finish and plot that out. Finally, we meet in August with our product line managers and sales team to flesh out the plans and review. Once we are agreed, we enter it into the system. This way, it’s easier to do once the past year is fresh in our memory, rather than waiting until late fall to plan,” he notes.
Crum points out that Four Star’s Supernova liners are specifically for fast production and to help growers ensure their crops are flowering at retail. Selected Proven Winners varieties are programmed with a treatment of intensive lighting, spacing to encourage growth, pinching, PGRs and heat to help the liners flower faster and consistently, with thicker branching.
“Some people think backwards when planning their turn and decide to add Supernova liners in the second or third turn, but they are really designed for the first turn for a mid-peak season finish,” Crum says. “The grower gets a quick turn, then can plan other Supernovas or standard liners for later crops for late spring, summer or fall.”
He continues, “We only offer Supernovas through Week 24. Our 104 liner will take eight to nine weeks, but in a Supernova, crops are finished in five to six weeks and they will all be done at the same time with uniform flowering and using fewer PGRs.” Click here for a complete listing of varieties offered as Supernovas.