Matthew Grassi Editor, Greenhouse Management, Produce Grower firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Grassi Editor, Greenhouse Management, Produce Grower email@example.com
When greenhouse and nursery plants are at their healthiest during propagation, they have the necessary building blocks to develop a strong root system and turn into valuable finished crops. However, protecting plants before and during propagation can be a challenge, especially when transportation and growth environments can easily b
ecome conducive for disease development. “Despite the best planning and efforts for seamless delivery from farms to greenhouses, it’s inevitable in the business of spring production that your cutting deliveries may become delayed,” explains Jamie Gibson, technical lead at Syngenta Flowers. “An extra day or two in transit can create several issues for plant species that are susceptible to ethylene damage or tissue breakdown. Fungicide sprays should be applied as soon as cuttings are rehydrated and turgid to help minimize Botrytis problems on damaged leaf tissues.”
Once propagation begins, unrooted cuttings, seedlings and liners generally require warm temperatures and frequent misting or high humidity for proper rooting. But this warm, humid environment also provides optimal conditions for spores of pathogenic agents to germinate, invading wounds and tender plant tissue. During propagation, plants may be at risk of developing various diseases, including foliar blights caused by Botrytis cinerea, leaf spots caused by Alternaria, Colletotrichum and Myrothecium spp., as well as lower stem rots. Seedlings are also at risk of damping-off from Pythium, Phytophthora and Rhizoctonia spp. when the growing media is wet for a prolonged period.
Adopting strong cultural practices and employing preventive fungicide applications can help growers maintain a successful crop throughout production. And with the proper selection of fungicides used as part of an agronomic program, growers not only protect plants against pathogens but may even boost their crop’s overall health.
“Plant health benefits are additional advantages from the treatment that occur above and beyond disease protection,” says Gibson. “One example of a plant health benefit is enhanced rooting. Faster root development could result in a shorter crop time, as well as the production of more fibrous roots, which aid in nutrient and water uptake, and better growth. The additional benefits are due to positive effects on the plant’s physiology, which can vary according to plant species and growing environment.”
Strobilurin fungicides are best known for providing these plant health benefits as well as lower rates of transpiration, which maximize the efficiency of water use, and increased nitrate reductase levels in plants, which allows nitrates to be more readily available to produce proteins essential to plant growth.
“Strobilurin fungicides also reduce the production of ethylene, which delays senescence, consequently improving growth and plant vigor because of increased production of carbohydrates within the plant,” says Charlie Krasnow, research and development scientist at Syngenta. “These particular benefits promote better resilience in plants, which help them hold up better during shipping and improves shelf life at retail.”
Mural® fungicide from Syngenta features a combination of azoxystrobin and SOLATENOL® technology.
Azoxystrobin, a well-known strobilurin chemistry, is systemic and offers xylem mobile movement, meaning it is absorbed by the plant and translocated upward to protect new growth. SOLATENOL technology is an advanced generation SDHI (succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor), which binds to the waxy layer of plants and slowly penetrates the tissue, creating a barrier of protection.
This combination makes Mural ideal for inhibiting spore germination and mycelial growth during propagation and throughout production, by providing protection for the plant inside and out.
“The active ingredient combination has a synergistic relationship. We worked hard to optimize this ratio,” Krasnow adds.
Interestingly, plant health benefits, such as root enhancement, are more often seen at lower use rates. Mural provides broad-spectrum disease control and offers plant health benefits at rates of just 4 oz. (foliar) or 2-3 oz. (drench), which are rates typically used on young plants in production for effective disease control.
“The technical team at Syngenta Flowers is a big advocate of Mural as we have seen its use be tremendously beneficial in managing Botrytis on several large cash crops such as geraniums, hanging baskets and potted flowering crops, especially when there are older chemistries that have been shown to be resistant to Botrytis,” Gibson adds. “Protecting umbels of geranium, hydrangea and pentas is critical during spring when the disease triangle (host, pathogen, environment) is present.”
In addition to Botrytis, Mural also provides effective control of downy mildew, Pythium and Rhizoctonia in rotation programs for ornamentals and vegetable plants grown for transplant including cucurbits, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes.
With its broad-spectrum disease control and plant health benefits, including increased root density, Mural is an ideal fungicide for use in propagation as a spray or as a drench. Its many use sites make it a versatile option for any grower. Learn how to get more with Mural at GreenCastOnline.com/Mural.
Follow Syngenta on Facebook, @SyngentaOrnamentalsUS, and YouTube, @SyngentaOrnamentals, for the latest news and product information.© 2021 Syngenta. Important: Always read and follow label instructions. Some products may not be registered for sale or use in all states or counties and/or may have state-specific use requirements. Please check with your local extension service to ensure registration and proper use. GreenCast® Heritage®, Mural®, SOLATENOL® and the Syngenta logo are trademarks of a Syngenta Group Company. All other trademarks are property of their respective owners.
Whiteflies are prolific pests for many greenhouse and nursery crops. They spread viral diseases and suck out plant juices, causing leaves to yellow and shrivel before potentially killing the plant. These insects reproduce rapidly and reside on the underside of leaves, making them difficult to control. A pest like whiteflies requires a comprehensive approach to stave off rising populations, pairing chemical controls such as Mainspring® GNL insecticide with proven cultural practices.
“Many operations use biological controls as part of their pest management program, but there are times when whitefly populations can become too high for a biological program to manage on its own,” says Nancy Rechcigl, technical field manager for ornamentals at Syngenta. “There are tools that can be used to reduce or control pests without having negative effects on beneficial insects. Mainspring GNL is a good product for that – it’s been tested across predatory mites and parasitoids and has good overall compatibility with biological control agents.”
Although there are numerous species of whiteflies in the U.S., the greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) and the silverleaf whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) are the two most commonly seen in greenhouse and outdoor nursery spaces. The silverleaf whitefly has multiple biotypes, with B and Q being the most encountered genetic variations. These biotypes look identical, but they can react very differently to chemical treatments – adding to the complexity of control. While lab tests can help growers identify and understand which biotypes they are dealing with, “it’s not uncommon to have a mixed population at an ornamental facility,” Rechcigl says. “So, what’s really important is creating a good rotation program with insecticides that have activity on both biotypes.”
Scouting for whiteflies can be as simple as seeing what emerges after tapping a crop canopy.
Like many insects, whiteflies have immature and adult stages. Adults lay eggs on the underside of leaves, which hatch and release tiny scale-like crawlers that settle into a spot and begin feeding. Over time, they become larger in size, going through three additional nymphal stages before emerging as an adult.
“You want to monitor for adults because it’s important to know if and when they’re present in your growing area,” says Rechcigl. “The best way to do that is by placing yellow sticky cards just above the height of the plant canopy. This is a helpful tool, because it can be used to also monitor other flying pests such as thrips.”
Scott Ferguson of Atlantic Turf & Ornamental Consulting, says whiteflies dine upon a wide range of host plants. Many crops are susceptible, including poinsettias, gardenias, lantana, verbena, mandevilla and hibiscus. The tiny pests may also be found on cotton, peanut crops, and other vegetable plants.
“Here in Florida, every acre of tomatoes is treated with insecticide to control whiteflies, but we still have to turn over leaves to look for adults,” says Ferguson, an industry veteran who previously spent more than two decades with Syngenta.
Whiteflies at both the adult and immature stage have piercing-sucking mouthparts, which they insert into the plant phloem to extract sap. Nymphs cause the majority of damage, including leaf loss, reduced expansion, chlorotic spots on the top side of leaves, and discoloration or slivering. If whitefly numbers per leaf are large enough, they can do enough damage to kill the plant.
Whitefly adults can also transmit viruses from diseased to healthy plants. Similar to aphids, whiteflies excrete honeydew, a sweet substance that forms a sticky coating on leaves. Honeydew is often colonized by sooty mold, giving plants a black and dirty appearance. An abundance of sooty mold fungus prevents light from reaching the leaf surface, causing plant stress and eventual death.
High populations of whiteflies also draw ants, which feed on the honeydew and even protect pests from their natural enemies.
“You’ll see a shiny gloss on leaves below where the whiteflies are feeding,” says Rechcigl. “That’s the kind of activity you have to watch out for.”
Year-round pests, whiteflies can rapidly overwhelm unprepared nurseries and greenhouses because of how quickly they mature from the egg stage to adults (as few as 21 days). Understanding this lifecycle can help growers prevent or mitigate infestations.
Cultural controls and good sanitation practices may moderate the severity of a whitefly invasion, but chemical products are necessary to eliminate the problem. Ferguson suggests rotating insecticides based on their activity and strengths, meaning growers must study labels closely to ensure they’re choosing the right product.
“Make sure you use a material that controls whiteflies and doesn’t just suppress them,” says Ferguson. “Suppression will give you less than 70% to 80% coverage. Products that say ‘control’ are 90% effective.”
Mainspring GNL, a diamide insecticide, provides whitefly control as a non-neonicotinoid alternative for growers, acting as ryanodine receptor modulators in the whitefly nervous system. With a unique active ingredient in Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC) Group 28, Mainspring GNL is ideal for integrated pest management programs that incorporate multiple modes of action.
Rechcigl says, “Mainspring GNL works via ingestion and acts like a shield. When whiteflies ingest the active ingredient, they’re prevented from feeding. This is going to keep populations from building to high levels.”
As a foliar spray, Mainspring GNL works best when applied sequentially in two- to three-week intervals. Drench applications for rooted plants provide broad-spectrum control for up to 12 weeks, preventing damage from whiteflies as well as thrips, aphids, leafminers and more. Upon use, insect mortality occurs within two to seven days. Mainspring GNL can also be used in an integrated program with biologicals like Amblyseius swirskii, a predatory mite, or Eretmocerus or Encarsia spp., both parasitoids, often utilized to combat whitefly populations.
“For poinsettias, you want to use Mainspring GNL two to three weeks after transplanting once the crop has rooted in,” Ferguson says. “It can also be applied through drip irrigation where you’re injecting it into the water. Because Mainspring GNL gives you long residual control, it’s way easier to maintain control before whiteflies show up.”
That’s not to say chemicals are an end-all for managing whitefly infestations. Implementing proper cultural practices – be it keeping weed-free production areas, inspecting new plant shipments, or installing screens to stop insects from entering a nursery – can deliver additional critical protection.
Ultimately, a preventive approach, will save growers time and resources compared to strictly curative treatments.
“Trying to control a high pest population costs more than preventing it from reaching damaging levels,” says Rechcigl. “If you wait until populations are at a critical stage, then more control applications will be needed, especially if you’re using sprays. So you’ll have cost of product plus labor to reduce out-of-control populations.”Learn more at GreenCastOnline.com\MainspringGNL.
Follow Syngenta on Facebook @SyngentaOrnamentalsUS and YouTube @SyngentaOrnamentals for the latest news and product information.©2021 Syngenta. Important: Always read and follow label instructions. Some products may not be registered for sale or use in all states or counties and/or may have state-specific use requirements. Please check with your local extension service to ensure registration and proper use. GreenCast®, Mainspring® and the Syngenta logo are trademarks of a Syngenta Group Company.
The rose has long been a symbol for love and romance, serving as an iconic and lucrative ornamental for commercial growers.
But as much as it has achieved universally beloved status, the rose can be a challenging crop to produce. With production occurring year-round, greenhouse and nursery crews must be vigilant about the pests and diseases biding their time to attack.
Comprehensive agronomic programs can be a critical tool to keep roses protected. An effective program includes insecticides and fungicides, as well as time-tested cultural practices – spacing, scouting, and more – to ensure a high-quality production cycle.
“Scouting and early diagnosis of infected plants are critical for preventing the spread of rose diseases and implementing effective disease control strategies,” says Fulya Baysal-Gurel, research assistant professor at Tennessee State University. “Humidity, temperature and light management, as well as spacing, sanitation practices, and preventive fungicide applications, are all important for controlling rose diseases.”
, particularly the two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae), are voracious feeders that thrive in hot, dry environments. Their color can vary from a light yellow to yellow-green, with two dark spots on the abdomen. They can be found feeding on the underside of rose leaves.
Damage from two-spotted spider mites appear as tiny yellow-white spots or “stippling” on the upper foliage. Infestations that become severe often have noticeable webbing in the plant canopy, which serves as protection from predators. Heavily infested leaflets turn yellow and will drop from the plant.
If left untreated, foliage damage can lead to leaf loss and, eventually, plant death.Whiteflies
are another prolific nuisance for roses. The greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) and the silverleaf whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) are the two most commonly seen in greenhouse and outdoor nursery spaces, with the silverleaf whitefly being the most dominant. There are two biotypes of the Silverleaf (B and Q) that can be found in operations. Biotype Q can be more difficult to control since it is more tolerant to some of the insecticides commonly used in operations.
“The adult and immature stages feed on the underside of leaves and cause leaves to turn yellow in a blotchy pattern,” says Rechcigl. “Whiteflies also excrete honeydew from their feeding. This drops to the upper surface of leaves, making them sticky and giving them a shiny appearance. You may notice ants crawling up and down the plant to feed on the honeydew.”
On the disease front, roses are a frequent target of downy mildew – caused by the oomycete Peronospora sparsa. This can be a very serious disease if roses become infected. Early symptoms include foliage that has a reddish or yellow blotchy or mottled appearance.
“If you turn the leaf over, you’ll likely see some gray-pink sporulation on its underside, which corresponds with the blotchy areas,” says Rechcigl. As the disease progresses, the plant will defoliate, leaving it weak and unsalable.
Another mildew that infects roses is powdery mildew, caused by Sphaerotheca pannosa var. rosae (also known as Podosphaera pannosa). As the name implies, this pathogen produces a powdery, white growth on the upper surface of leaves, stems and flower parts. This disease can spread rapidly, and if left untreated, the pathogen will stunt and disfigure leaves and rose buds, stopping them from opening and greatly reducing plant quality.
“Proper identification of a pest or disease problem is critical for effective control,” says Rechcigl. Without it, you run the risk of making a “control” application that will not actually help, instead letting the problem get worse.
A well-rounded agronomic program incorporates chemical products that can avert harmful infestations before they begin. A best-in-class management strategy features three or more products – including an effective miticide like Avid® 0.15 EC, or a fungicide such as Segovis® or Mural® – with different modes of action.
Not only does this optimize control, but it also helps decrease the chances that resistance will become an issue – a risk for highly produced ornamentals like roses exacerbated by overreliance on a single product.
“Pathogen resistance to fungicides is well known, and the performance of many fungicides has been affected to some degree by pathogens developing resistance,” says Baysal-Gurel. “Using different modes of action in a rotation program is important to minimize the risk for resistance development.”
To manage powdery mildew in roses, spray applications of a preventative fungicide like Mural are typically made on a one- to three-week interval, depending on disease severity and whether the crops are being grown in a greenhouse or nursery. “This way, growers can extend their treatment interval while maintaining good protection from the fungus,” says Baysal-Gurel.
Mural is a broad-spectrum fungicide for use in both greenhouses and outdoor nurseries. Due to its systemic and translaminar (or ability to distribute the chemical from upper to lower leaf surfaces) activity, Mural protects the entire plant, whether applied as a spray or drench.
Segovis fungicide, meanwhile, is a reliable treatment for downy mildew. Providing a month’s worth of control due to systemic properties, Segovis is best applied as a drench.
A study at Tennessee State University evaluated the efficacy of Segovis and additional fungicides on rose downy mildew, with drench treatments applied at the first sign of infection. While all fungicide treatments significantly reduced final disease severity ratings, Baysal-Gurel says, the severity of downy mildew as well as disease progression were significantly lower in plants treated with Segovis.
“Benefits of using a drench application of systemic products in a treatment program were clear: One application of Segovis provided excellent protection to rose plants for 30 days,” she says.
Battling mites by chemical means requires an industry-leading miticide like Avid, which also safeguards roses from the hungry depredations of whiteflies, aphids and thrips. The highly versatile, broad-spectrum pest control product targets the mite life cycle when swapped with insecticides carrying disparate modes of action.
“Avid’s use rate is about 8 to 16 fluid ounces per acre. For resistance management purposes, I recommend two applications, then rotate to a different product for two or three applications before going back to Avid,” Rechcigl says.
Proper cultural practices can further mitigate the challenges growers are likely to face from insects and disease. For example, no matter the production scenario, removing plant and weed debris should be the first step taken by any grower.
Equally important is plant spacing, which is vital for allowing air flow between plants, effectively reducing humidity within the rose canopy and incidence of foliar disease.
Coupled with crop protection tools and a strong agronomic program, these routines can save growers time, money and stress.
“If you’re prepared, you’ll be ready to act when you see a problem or prevent a problem from occurring,” says Rechcigl. “Preventing a problem is always less expensive than making corrective applications.”
Follow Syngenta on Facebook @SyngentaOrnamentalsUS and YouTube @SyngentaOrnamentals for the latest news and product information.©2021 Syngenta. Important: Always read and follow label instructions. Some products may not be registered for sale or use in all states or counties and/or may have state-specific use requirements. Please check with your local extension service to ensure registration and proper use. Avid®, GreenCast®, Mural®, Segovis® and the Syngenta logo are trademarks of a Syngenta Group Company.
Since we last checked in with one of America’s largest commercial greenhouse operations, the brothers Van Wingerden (Abe and Art, co-owners of Metrolina Greenhouses) have stewarded a 1,400-employee operation (along with 58 partner growers around the country) through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, found themselves front and center on television and have boosted a once $80 million-dollar annual business into today’s $300-million, 162-acre market leader.
“When you’re looking at the greenhouse industry today, it is just so different than it was 20 years ago, when it was all about annuals and perennials,” Art Van Wingerden says. “Now we’re all looking at vegetables and hemp and cannabis.”
“And people have been investing so much more time and money into their homes, and they’ve really gotten back to their roots,” Abe chimes in. “Which is why we think, for us in the floriculture business, the future is pretty bright.”
Specifically, the largest single-site greenhouse operation in the Western Hemisphere has watched an industry grow up.
“There’s 100 greenhouse growers in America now that report having more than 30 acres of greenhouse in operation, and 40 or 50 years ago when we started in this business all of those operations would’ve been the biggest in the U.S.,” Art adds.
“It’s a growing up industry. Back then it was a lot more mom-and-pop type operations,” Abe says. “We’re still a family business that sells to families who enjoy plants.”
Even for a sophisticated, incredibly well-organized operation like Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, North Carolina, 2020 and 2021 came at the Van Wingerden brothers as hard as it came at the rest of us.
“I think every week I could’ve given you a new story or anecdote,” Art chuckles when asked what the season has been like thus far. “Coming off a strong 2020, so far this season, we had a very strong April, and May has been really strong, too.”
Noting that a once 2 or 3% annual growth business is now in the low double digits since the start of COVID, the brothers are convinced we’re only at the halfway point in what’s been a sort of golden age for horticulture.
“We think there is a good three to four-year run for all of us in this industry,” Abe says. “All of these people have put in new water features and sunrooms and gazebos and backyard gardens, and they are going to keep needing plants.
“Consumers have just put too much time and money into their homes not to continue beautifying them and adding more plants each year,” he adds.
Of course, taking the data-driven, technology-embracing approach to one of the world’s oldest professions (farming), the Van Wingerdens are always ready with numbers and data to back up an assertion.
“We always refer to a Google study. They’ve found a way to track cell phone usage and searches, and pre-pandemic about 25% of adults in the U.S. either worked from home or primarily stayed at home during the week, and at the start of the pandemic that number hit 47% at it's peak.”
Today, Google is predicting that about 35% of the domestic workforce will continue to work remotely, which Abe says is “an amazing 10-point change in consumer behavior in just a two-year period. We’ve never really witnessed a swing of that magnitude.”
“I’ve got friends who’ve never bought plants before until COVID hit, and now they’ve got all these shrubs and plants at the house to take care, and people have just kind of fallen back in love with their homes,” Art adds.
Moving forward, the operation is expecting consumer demand for indoor foliage, annuals and perennials, as well as outdoor tropicals (those are REALLY hot right now, according to Abe) will remain robust.
“And we tend to believe that some other things, like seed sales — I think a lot of consumers realized how difficult it is to grow something from seed during the pandemic — that might start to drop off just a bit,” Art says. “Products that are sort of ready to use off the shelf and easier to execute — people are already going back to the office and starting to travel again — when you have nothing but time at home, those kind-of made sense. Now they want finished goods that are a bit easier to deal with.”
Show me a greenhouse operator and (generally speaking) I will show you someone who has struggled with hiring from today’s labor pool. It’s basically a given in the industry — no matter how big or well-capitalized a grower is, with how manual and repetitive the work can be at entry level.
Back in 2019, before the pandemic shook up the domestic labor pool like an overly caffeinated bartender mixing up a fresh martini, Metrolina started getting into the H-2A foreign farm worker program, and that really helped them sort out their seasonal labor pool.
“That was a huge change for us,” Abe explains. “We’ve always liked having a very local workforce, and we still have a lot of local people filling those permanent full-time positions every year, but the enhanced unemployment benefits and COVID going on we did not have an easy time finding employees.”
H-2A workers now fill most of the operation’s seasonal roles — when the greenhouse scales up aggressively from 800 to 1,400 during the spring busy season — and they are getting by okay, but it hasn’t been the most fun aspect of 2021, that’s for sure.
“Look, people just didn’t want to work, and even with all of the restaurants that closed down here locally, and the travel industry being put on pause, we thought we’d have this boon of new employees to utilize and unfortunately that has not been the case,” Abe adds.
Going forward, the brothers remain committed to staying open-minded on who they hire, and how they are staged throughout the organization. Passion for plants and horticulture remains a must-have.
“You can’t teach passion and being passionate about plants — that piece is huge for us,” Abe says. “We’re looking for people like that with a passion for getting some unique things done, who can work with and kind of navigate this unique mix of family and corporate that we have at Metrolina.”
While it’s tough to find the silver lining in the last 18 months for a lot of people, the brothers did notice that the “Big Slow Down" did make them more accessible within the operation itself.
“We’ve been here more than what we would’ve been with all of the conventions and meetings and sales trips,” Abe explains. “That has allowed us to get in the greenhouse more and get closer to our team and interact with them a lot more through the whole production process.”
“Now, it almost feels like when we do go back to normal — whenever that is, or if it ever even happens — we’ve got some leaders that are more ready to step up and lead and someday take the baton,” Art adds.
The brothers have some advice to offer the industry at large when it comes to travel schedules and the convention circuit.
“Don’t just go back to what you were doing in 2019, take a closer look at everything — travel plans, how your work — and figure out what you’ve learned and what you can apply to the business going forward,” Abe says.
Something else you might want to take a closer look at is the widely acclaimed Walmart TV commercial that literally put Metrolina smack dab on the map in 2021.
“The message in that commercial, it wasn’t about us. It wasn’t about Metrolina,” Art explains. “It was about Walmart buying from local businesses, and buying USA-made, and we were just right place, right time I think.”
Abe recalls how quickly (and smoothly) the situation escalated, from idea to finished 30-second spot.
“It was amazing, they came in here and asked us about doing it on a Wednesday, we filmed it the next Tuesday, and it ran for the first time that next Monday,” he says. “Part of that was they had to find businesses at the time that were fully masked, and we’ve been using PPE for years here.”
“And I think it was really good for the industry and everyone who’s involved in plants, because it kind of showcased our industry to the rest of the country,” Art adds. “It’s about our industry — and honestly, we didn’t have to pay a single cent for it. That was pretty massive.”
About that Walmart ad: Were those real Metrolina employees? Were Vilma, and Wendy, and the forklift driver who narrates the spot, actual workers? You betcha.
“Everyone that is in that commercial really does work with us,” Abe answers. “That was really cool to see them all come together and get that done. Nobody believes us, but it’s true, those are all real Metrolina employees.”
One of the tenets that keeps Metrolina at a best-in-class level is a commitment to open mindedness and networking.
“Angelo Petitti [owner of Petitti Garden Centers in Avon, Ohio] comes and visits us once or twice a year, and we go see his place, too,” Art says. “If you’re not learning from everyone across this great industry, you’re really doing yourself a disservice.”
Adds Abe: “We actually get some of our best ideas from the smaller — we prefer to call them different — growers. You can learn anybody. If you’re a non-big box grower there’s probably a few things we do differently that you could learn from us, and the same goes for us with the growers selling to local garden centers.”
Metrolina’s sheer, massive size is almost a kind of baked-in advantage. When you have that much room under glass to work with, you can afford to make a few mistakes and still come out okay on the other side, Art explains.
“Those smaller growers have almost a bigger challenge than we do, because they have to run less (plants) so their line changes are going to be a lot more often,” he says.
And Metrolina doesn’t just learn from green industry contacts or friends. During the pandemic, Art actually toured a telephone manufacturer’s facility to learn about their processes.
“We picked up a few things there that have helped us in the greenhouse, there’s no doubt,” he adds.
“This isn’t about that one big idea — someone at Metrolina inventing the next Uber or something like that,” adds Abe. “It’s been a commitment to constant innovation over the years. That’s got to be a part of your strategy to succeed in this business.
“You’ve got to take it beyond sales goals, and budgets and really commit to building a world-class employee organization from the bottom up.”
As the brothers continue to grow Metrolina into a world-class, family-first organization into the next decade, it does beg the question of when the next generation of Van Wingerdens will take the reins in Huntersville.
“Abe and I between us have seven sons between the ages of 20 and 28 right now, and I don’t think any of them are ready or even thinking about coming back to run the business,” Art explains. “And we’re not the only ones. We’ve got 13 other nieces and nephews besides the ones in our two families.”
Although the brothers have started doing some succession planning in recent years, they’re not looking to head off to Bermuda anytime soon.
“I’d say we’re at least 10 years from that date when we even start to hand the reins over,” Abe says. “We’ll have to have some type of plan in place soon, but will the successor be handpicked already? I don’t know about that.”
In the last three years, the brothers have tasked Metrolina’s executive team to put together a long-term strategy that “develops what the next 10 years will look like,” Abe says.
“It’s just as important that we have a good business plan in place as being good business leaders,” he adds. “One day, we won't be here, but the business plan will be. We now have two chief operating officers and then we have about six other chief executives like our chief horticultural officer and chief information officer.”
Recently, the brothers signed up and completed an online college course for family businesses to help with succession planning. They learned a lot about where they were in the process, and where they are looking to take it.
“We’re making sure we’re on the forefront of [succession planning] and setting up a plan that makes sense,” Art says. “Sure, the plan does change every five years, but that doesn’t mean we’re not prepared for it.”
“It’s not a project with a deadline; it’s an ongoing process,” Abe adds.
So, coming out of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, still looked upon as America’s largest commercial greenhouse operation and having grown exponentially amidst the worst economic correction in most of our lifetimes, what’s Metrolina’s next move to hang onto all this momentum as society reopens?
“All industries go through different life cycles. Right now we’re in a growth [cycle] in horticulture, but as we all know things can change very quickly,” Art says.
He draws a parallel to the American beer industry, where “10 years ago the nobody would’ve thought the big brands wouldn’t be running the industry, and we’ve all watched this craft beer and local movement kind of disrupt that market.”“We’ve got to stay on the forefront of where the consumers are going, that’s going to be a big part of being successful moving forward in this industry,” Abe says.
The brothers also hope to refine and develop new capabilities in selling plants direct to consumers.
“We’re not built 100% for that currently, and some of the guys that have that down pat are really growing up fast because of it,” Art adds. “We’ll need to keep understanding our consumer and evolving this thing yearly.”