“There are several silver linings to the pandemic when it comes to our industry. Not only are new age groups interested in our products, the surge in product consumption has also led to more people being interested in pursuing a career in the industry,” says Bart Hayes, Sales Manager at Westhoff. Hayes shares their recent experiences concerning labor, the low temperatures, and bringing back orange petunias to the US.

Bart Hayes at the California Summer Trials (CAST) 2021

2021: more prepared
According to Hayes, one of the reasons 2021 has been a better year for Westhoff than 2020, is the fact that everyone is more prepared now. “The market demand has been really strong and we are eager to meet this demand, and luckily, we are more prepared now to do so. When the pandemic hit in 2020, lots of producers were very nervous, leading to cancellations and products being discarded. Then, when it turned out that the demand was high, everyone was scrambling to try to get more products available. This year, we are running at full force and the growers are fully invested as well.”

Ice storms and power losses
The weather in North America, on the other hand, has not been very favorable. Hayes explains that there were some major weather events in mid-February, bringing along major consequences. “In parts of the country where the temperatures normally would not be so cold, there were heavy snowfalls at the start of this year. Along the Pacific northwest there were ice storms, and the south of the US saw some exceptionally low temperatures. Growers suddenly had to deal with power losses and employees not being able to get to work. This was definitely one of the major challenges this year.”

“Not the easiest industry to enter”
As the majority of the industry is dealing with labor shortages, it is a challenge for companies to accomplish everything they want. Yet, according to Hayes, automation is not always the suitable answer. “While automation can definitely be helpful, there are still too many jobs that can’t be done by robots, so we have to find other solutions.”

Luckily, there has been a recently revived interest in gardening, which is where part of the answer might be found. “Since the pandemic, there have been about 20-30 million new gardeners in North America. Not only are new age groups now interested in our products, the surge in product consumption has also led to a surge in professional interest. Many people who have discovered a new love of plants have become inspired to pursue a professional career. This is still challenging, however, as this is not the easiest industry to enter for people who don’t have the experience. Still, we should be welcoming of new professionals and the wealth of work experiences from outside the greenhouse industry they bring along. Hopefully, this can create new ideas, new inspiration, and new opportunities in horticulture.”

Petunia Mayan Sunset

Naturally orange petunias
One of Westhoff’s major recent breeding programs has been the orange petunias, after the A1DFR gene in petunia has been deemed a non-threat to US agriculture. Yet Westhoff is also working on breeding around this and getting orange petunias without this gene. “One of our breeders has been able to get as close to orange as possible, resulting in the Petunia Mayan Sunset. This is a bright pink flower, with a yellow to orange eye, which are colors that are very popular at the moment. We were excited about this launch, but we weren’t expecting how positive the feedback would be. It also performs great in hotter climates, as in California, as well as in rainier conditions, in Seattle for example. Hopefully, this is the start of a whole new generation of petunias, with better garden performance.”

For more information:
Bart Hayes
Sales Manager