As the owner of Kalamazoo Specialty Plants, Rick Ouding does a little bit of everything. These days, he says, he manages growing schedules, orders pizza on late nights for employees and gives greenhouse tours.
Ouding’s role also means he’s in charge of how to adapt and improve the greenhouse, which encompasses over half a million square feet of growing space. Around six years ago, Ouding first trialed LEDs from a local startup company producing LEDs for horticulture operations. Since his initial experience, Kalamazoo Specialty Plants has gone on to trial LEDs on a variety of its plants to help him fully understand the benefits offered by LED lighting. Recently, after running a small trial with Philips LED toplighting, Kalamazoo made the switch to Philips LEDs. The Philips Lighting team also helped Ouding determine which LEDs were best for his operation based on the trial results.
“We’d been looking at buying LEDs for a while, and I was waiting for it to make sense,” Ouding says. “When they came out with their most recent offering, the toplighting high intensity, and the cost became reasonable enough, then it really made sense. We were ready, so we knew the benefits. But the cost and wattage got to where we were comfortable making the investment.” Kalamazoo Specialty Plants is currently using toplighitng with a spectrum deep red / medium blue.
Ouding founded Kalamazoo Specialty Plants in 1986 as the sole founder. The business is split between its own retail operation and selling to various independent garden centers (IGCs) through a broker that reaches as far south as Houston and as far north as Minnesota and the Dakotas. He lists potted annuals, hanging baskets and perennials as some of the company’s main crops.
Because this business model typically means the business is not growing for set order amounts, IGCs do not typically order specific plants or hanging baskets until there is a need.
“We go by the previous year’s history, but quite often, we run short of product year after year,” Ouding says. “It’s a challenge to think of what will be the next big item and what’s going to really sell well in the next year.”
Ouding adds that it can be challenging to grow in the winter as well. Because Kalamazoo is located fairly close to Lake Michigan, wind and snow can diminish an already-tight growing season.
“In January, February and March, it’s abysmal,” he says.
How LEDs help the business
In the winter months, when the weather is “abysmal”, is when Ouding says his business has received the most benefit from using LEDs. In Michigan, that’s when light levels are lowest and, without supplemental lighting, it would be impossible to grow. Ouding adds that he’s seeing an improvement in plant rooting since switching to LEDs—quicker, higher quality and more uniform. LED lighting made both his propagation and plug efforts easier overall.
“We’re rooting millions of cuttings. We’re starting millions of seedlings,” Ouding says. “We can actually start [the plants] a few weeks later, so maybe that means we aren’t opening another greenhouse in December or January when we would have normally.”
Before, while using high pressure sodium (HPS) lights, the grower had difficulty growing through the winter and meeting orders during harsh winter months. It’s just a bit easier now with LED toplighting
“For us, it’s really a game changer,” Ouding says.