Growing on the Edge By Bridget White

Spring is finally here. Product is flying off the retail shelves, growers are starting to settle down a bit, the California Pack Trials have come and gone and the Marketing Innovation Award winners are being announced.

Denver, Colorado-based Welby Gardens, this year'srunner-up, distinguished themselves both through their marketing program (readmore about their program in Brandi Thomas' article on page 16) and alsowith their product category. Herbs are a growing market, and especially holistic,pesticide-free herbs like the ones in Welby's program. As more and moreof our crops become commodities — mums, poinsettias, bedding plant cellpacks — innovative growers like Welby are seeking ways to differentiatethemselves, and to make a little money. Fringe crops are a common solution.


What's Out There

Herb production is nothing new. Herbs have been a small,steady, niche market for many, many years, but recently, we hear of growersdevoting an increasing amount of greenhouse space to herb production. The herbprogram at Welby started as an experiment and is about to expand into a secondproduction range. Orlando, Florida-based Shore Acres, profiled in the September2001 issue of GPN, has moved from a standard bedding plant producer to devotingapproximately 50 percent of their production space to finish and plug herbproduction.

And herbs are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.Brown's Greenhouses, Arvada, Colo., has devised a way to market standardspring bulbs as a specialty item. (We'll have more information aboutBrown's in an upcoming issue of GPN. Until then, if you're havingtrouble with standard bulb production, see Bill Miller's article on PGRsand bulbs on page 8.) Meriam Karlsson, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, suggestsforget-me-nots as a specialty crop for both cut arrangements and pottedproduction; see page 32 for production information and cultivar selection.

Starting to see a pattern? Specialty crops — be theyherbs, specialty cut flowers, unusual vegetative material or anything else tothe left of ordinary — are the fastest-growing segment in floriculture,according to the 2001 GPN State of the Industry Report sponsored by SummitPlastics, and something a lot more growers should be investigating. I knowchanging production practices, training growers and workers how to grow a newcrop is not easy, but I see these types of specialty crops as the answer formany struggling growers, especially the small- to mid-sized grower.


A Little Closer to Home

If learning a new crop is a little too much to handle rightnow, don't worry. Having just returned from the Pack Trials, I canconfidently say that there are plenty of striking colors, new forms and othervariations on more traditional crops headed your way. Next month will startGPN's coverage of the Pack Trials, but if you're ready for a sneakpeek at some of the best of next year's offerings, take a look at theWinner's Circle article on page 20. These are winning varieties fromAARS, AAS and Fleuroselect, most of which will be released next year.

Familiar names like Rudbeckia, vinca and Wave petunia areamong the winners, but these are not the same varieties you're accustomedto seeing. In particular, new colors really make the varieties stand out,without being beyond a grower's comfort level.

The point? Whether it's a new color or a newpresentation or a whole new product category, the key to this market isdifferentiation. It wins awards, gives you a niche but most importantly, itsells plants.

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