Five nursery pros share their perspective Email
Written by Becky Garber-Godi   
Wednesday, July 13, 2022 03:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

The diverse plant palette you once enjoyed with consistent availability and a range of sizes may not only be up in the air this year, but for years to come. What to expect going forward depends on more complex scenarios than how rising fuel costs in 2022 drove up freight costs and then plant costs.

Behind-the-scenes insights came from two reps for wholesale plant growers and the owners of three wholesale nurseries along the Front Range: Wholesale grower reps Kent Broome (Rocky Mountain Horticulture Services) and David Dickey (DWD Plant Sales) joined Front Range nursery professionals, Dan Wise (Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery), Stanley Brown, Jr., (Alameda Wholesale Nursery, Englewood) and Matt Edmundson (Arbor Valley Nursery, Brighton) to share perspectives.

What’s up with plant supply?

Wholesale growers and nurseries have risk-taking in their DNA. They live or die by the weather as it’s either their best friend or their worst enemy. As Stanley Brown, Jr., notes, “Hail and drought will always be factors beyond our control. Hail can destroy an entire operation in an afternoon.”

Then there’s demand. Wholesale growers say they do their best to assess future demand and plant trees and shrubs accordingly. And sometimes information they get changes. “There is a disconnect between the supply side and the demand,” shared Matt Edmundson. For example, “Cities wanting more diversity in their tree canopy specify trees and after those trees are in the ground for a while, they change from one oak variety to another. We growers can’t hit a switch for instant change.”

Dan Wise agrees, “It’s rare we get information on future demand more than one year out. But we field grow 2- to 5-year crops so we must take the risk.” He knows growers need to get closer to demand.

While growers work to meet demand, they and their plant supply are always vulnerable to the economy. When the economy unexpectedly tanks as it did in 2008 or plant demand bounces high as it did during the pandemic, growers end up either overstocked or undersupplied to meet demand.

By 2014, David Dickey reports, “There was a backlog of conifers when trees planted pre-recession were coming online, but not selling. Edmundson pointed to the disparity between time to grow a conifer and deciduous tree. “A 2-inch tree from seed to sales is about seven years. The conifer can take up to 12 years to reach the 8-12 feet that customers want.”

Those extra years growing create more risk. Now most growers don’t want to grow past 6-7 feet. Economic undulations and unwanted risks changed grower behavior several years ago and that impacts plant availability today.

Dickey also noted that “Wholesale growers who do $30 million per year typically had 8-10 pages of shrubs listed in their availabilities. Now they have only 1-2 pages.” He predicted early in 2022 that container shrubs would be in short supply.

“For me as a buyer,” Wise shared, “I must order 12 months out and even then, availability is getting slimmer. We try to hold plants as long as we can, but customers still ask for plants that have been sold out for months.” [Read the full article in July/August issue of Colorado Green magazine.]
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