Where are they now? By Carrie Burns

The industry called them crazy, but Mike and Rachel Gooder made good on their "risky" Plantpeddler investment.

One year, three million dollars and 10 full runs later,Plantpeddler in Cresco, Iowa, is growing as fast as you can say “moreacreage.” Mike and Rachel Gooder opened the doors to their new facility,Plantpeddler Young Plants, on January 10, 2002. So, how has the last year been?”I can put it in simple terms: The investors are happy; and we are ontarget with the business plan projections,” says Mike. 

Why the new facility?

Plantpeddler began a relationship with Dummen Germany aboutfour years ago, and formed a partnership two years ago. “Plantpeddler YoungPlants is the direct result of a need for a high-profile, state-of-the-artrooting facility to enhance the success of our joint venture partnership inDummen USA,” says Mike. “So the project was really driven by a needfor a world-class rooting facility.”

As we all know, nothing turns out the way we want it towithout planning. Mike and Rachel began planning the project a little over twoyears before actually breaking ground. Plantpeddler started assembling a teamand taking input from all facets of the industry — investigating facilities,visiting facilities, meeting with various vendors of hard materials, looking atoperations both in the United States and Europe. The first step was definingthe goals of the facility and making sure all of the team members had a goodunderstanding of how to achieve this level of performance.

Advanced automation and technology

The 2-acre facility hosts a huge headhouse with the bestautomation possible — advanced sticking lines, automated bench loading,continuous flow bench washer, linear robot and irrigation control center. Mikeresearched his options and came up with a pretty good mix.

While some of the components for the facility were old, theteam found that others would be best new. The team had developed verysophisticated logarithms for the production of rooted liners usingenvironmental controls and stationary mist lines, and when they considered thenew facility, they knew they had to use booms to facilitate the watering. Butas they researched more, they decided to try something new. “We wereshocked to discover booms had no intelligence on board. Á Booms neverlooked at environmental data to make decisions, only glorified time clockcontrol. To ensure plant quality production, you need an environmental computeranalyzing data inputs and making smart decisions,” Mike says. “So, wechallenged the boom companies to link our environmental computer to the booms.To our knowledge, Plantpeddler Young Plants was the first facility with thislevel of integration accomplished in the world.”

Plantpeddler invested one-third of its money up-front in theautomation material-handling side of the project because building a facilitythat was inadequately automated would result in the staff learning bad habits.Trying to re-train them at a later point would result in wasted time andeffort.

“We have a belief as a company about investing inautomation early, so that you immediately reap the rewards.”

That kind of mentality is what makes Plantpeddler sosuccessful. That and Mike and Rachel’s determination to see everything. Mike isconstantly traveling in and outside the United States to other growers andtrade shows. And sometimes Plantpeddler even looks outside the industry forideas. The company is testing a packaging system that will load all mastercartons, improving the efficiency of the packaging line. “I’ve been intons of greenhouses, and maybe one or two percent have any type of packing lineautomated with taping machines, so why don’t we use standard efficiencies thatare used by other industries?” Plantpeddler believes in applying conceptsand solutions used by other industries to solve horticultural problems.

The last year

“When we compare actual performance numbers atPlantpeddler Young Plants to our partner, Dummen Germany — we have verysimilar products, of course the same genetics, similar propagation systems –we do a fantastic job on all of our costs,” says Mike. “Due to theinvestment in intial infrastructure (including automation) our depreciation ishigher, but we can stick faster, yield a higher percentage at harvest and shipmore efficiently. Our challenge is to grow the facility, as the next stepbrings costs into balance.”

Things have been going so well for Plantpeddler- Dummen USAthat the team can’t believe it’s been only a year. “We look back a yearago in January when we were hosting the industry open house; we ran our firstcrop of geraniums through. Coming around full-circle, we’re confident cominginto this spring,” Mike says.

Plantpeddler’s competition for liner production comesinternationally, from places such as Canada and potentially South America.”It is time for American growers to take responsibility for our destiny.We can build a facility that produces a high-quality crop, but it must competewith international pricing. That is essential in the next 5-10 years. To dothat, you must decrease labor and material inputs while increasing productquality. In the end, low-cost providers will win.”

Future plans

Plantpeddler Young Plants is constantly looking toward thefuture, and building relationships is key. “We select vendor relationshipsbased on common, long-term objectives and philosophies. Once partnering with asupplier, we believe in building a bridge that strengthens both parties,”says Mike.

 The 1-year-oldfacility is step one of phase one. Each of the three phases is a 5-acreproduction block with a headhouse. “As we prepare to build again, we willre-evaluate everything involved and say, ‘Did it work? Why or why not?’ Thatevaluation process is going on now. One year in operation, we are now analyzingdata collected to determine the level of performance and if it met theprojections within the facility design.” So it is just about certain thatthe next two phases will be as smooth as the first if not smoother.

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Carrie Burns

Carrie Burns is associate editor of GPN.

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