Riverview Flower Farms grows annuals and perennials exclusively for Home Depot at three different locations in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. With seven acres of greenhouse space in Seffner, Florida, and 30 and 18 acres in Riverview and Wimauma, Florida, respectively, the business grows year-round to fulfill its orders for Home Depot, according to senior manager and head grower Gregg Meyer.
“The advantage of that is that when we produce, we don’t have to change labels or change anything else, and they take everything that we have,” Meyer says. He adds that, ultimately, every product comes through the Riverview location in some capacity and that the operations uses a belt system where everyone works in teams to correctly sort and organize plants. “It’s all done very quickly,” he says.
Meyer, who joined Riverview about five years ago, has had a long career in horticulture. Before starting his current position, he worked at Grower Direct Farms in Connecticut under Leonard Van Wingerden, moving on to become the operations manager at Costa Farms’ North Carolina location. He then moved on to work at Dan and Jerry’s Greenhouse in Minnesota. At these previous stops, he used various SePRO products, including plant growth regulators, to help combat insect pest and disease issues and has since successfully brought his methods to Riverview.
“We’ve taken a lot of the insect issues out of our growing space,” Meyer says. “It’s about taking these products that have worked over my 40 years in the space and bringing them and updating what we were doing here.”
One product Meyer uses is Topflor, a PGR that he calls a “game changer.” The product can be used as an utilizing spray, drench and in pre-plant soak applications, according to SePRO's label. According to the label, it can be used in commercial nurseries, greenhousese and shadehouses.
“It does not delay the buds or the flowering of the plant, so we can use the other products first, but as the buds come up and we switch to the Topflor, it doesn’t delay anything,” he says, noting that this is vital for Riverview when it is working to meet shipping deadlines for Home Depot.
Another product Meyer has had success with is Obtego, a fungicide and plant symbiont. He says Riverview uses it to primarily prevent disease, but has also found that it has helped the operation’s succulents develop roots faster, speeding up the growing process by about two weeks on average.
“It has the benefits of rooting and now we’re dipping our succulents, sticking them and, on certain crops, drenching with Obtego,” Meyer says. “We use it once per crop cycle and always at the beginning of the cycle. [With] certain crops, like our succulents, we have petri dishes with the product in it and the workers will dip the bottom in and then place it into the tray. Other cuttings that come in unrooted, we stick them on the line and at the end of the day, or perhaps the very next morning, we’ll do a drench with Obtego.” He adds that the product is also more affordable than some of the other similar products available to growers.
“It’s all about the timing,” Meyer says. “We see roots in two weeks now coming down to the side of the plugs. The disease pressure is to a minimum. It’s everything we need.”
Handling chilli thrips
According to Meyer, one of the SePRO products Riverview uses and has had the most success with is Rycar. This product, according to SePRO’s website, works via “contact or ingestion to stop insects from feeding within two hours after application before starvation sets in during the next 48 hours.” At Riverview, it has been used for chilli thrips control, the main pest issue at the site. According to Meyer, chilli thrips are the most common issue for Riverview due to the business being near various vegetable farms in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.
“It gives us a different mode of action than we’ve had before,” Meyer says. “And we rotate in between crops and have come to have a very small insect population.”
To apply it, Meyer says the growing team at Riverview mixes the products, loads it into their sprayers, and sets up three-person teams — all wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) — that spray the entire farm all at once. He says the procedure is done once a week with an insect growth regulator mixed in from time-to-time. That, Meyer says, has helped take the chilli thrips population down to a controllable level.
“Since I’ve been here and started using more of SePRO’s products, we have brought the pest population down to a very, very manageable level,” he says. “We used to have issues with mealybugs, which we don’t anymore, spider mites, which we don’t anymore and not as much [chilli] thrips anymore.”
To handle Riverview’s mealybug and spider-mite problem, Meyer says that spraying once a week in a similar fashion as spraying for chilli thrips did the trick.
When dealing with pests in the Florida heat, Meyer says, it’s important to get them under control and deal with any issues right away, particularly in the hottest parts of the summer. In the winter, he is sometimes able to skip a spraying during certain weeks, and he sometimes uses Hachi-Hachi SC, an insecticide, to provide broad spectrum coverage with the added benefit of mildew suppression.
“It gets really big if you let it get out of control,” he says. “You have to stay on top of it all the time just because of the weather.”
Greenhouse Management: What makes WestRock an expert on tags and labels?
Kristi Huffman: Our start as The John Henry Company brings a long history of horticulture expertise. We love to say that our legacy is 108 years young, and we now couple that legacy with the new footprint and scale of WestRock. Being a part of a true leader in the global print and packaging industry has been fantastic — it’s made our horticulture group that much stronger. Plant tags have always been a key part of our business, however, labeling is also a core competency of WestRock, and we continuously supply more and more labels to the industry. In North America, we have five tag facilities producing tags, and nine label facilities producing labels.
GM: What’s the latest with tags and labels in the industry?
KH: Tags and labels are becoming a critical piece in the supply chain. Whether it be an affixed tag or a label, these products are now holding all information in one, including NIST, barcode, price point and plant care so it can be used in all facets, from the greenhouse to the end consumer.
With that being said, the labor involved with application is increasing, so many companies are looking to automate their facilities to reduce labor costs and also to provide precision labeling of pots. WestRock’s new series of RockLine™ Label applicators, provide exactly this, an automated labeling system that provides precision labeling, increased production speeds and outstanding retail presentation.
GM: What are WestRock’s efforts in the industry around sustainability?
KH: The marketplace and greenhouse conditions make fully sustainable products a challenge. However, WestRock is a large fiber-based company, heavily researching ways to reduce or eliminate plastic usage along with reducing carbon footprint. We’ve introduced a new Half Pallet Merchandiser that provides a sustainable alternative to one-way wood and metal shippers. These displays are cost-effective, labor reducing, corrugated displays that offer superb retail presentation with a water-resistant coating that last up to four weeks.
GM: Where do you see tags and labels going in the future?
KH: As mentioned, tags and labels are continuously holding more and more information for use throughout the supply chain. The consumer experience will continue to expand to provide a broader digital experience and interaction with the product, associated products and the overall brand.
According to Nexus/RBI systems engineer Jacob Carson, the companies can help growers in every aspect of their greenhouse build and guide them through the multi-week process of adding new greenhouse space. That support includes not only planning for the now, but also how a business might expand and what other crops it might start growing.
“In the greenhouse industry, we do see a lot of benefits to this approach,” Carson says.
Greenhouse Management: Why is it important for growers to keep learning about greenhouse structures and updates to the technology?
Jacob Carson: Growing facilities have moved beyond just the structure. The biggest point of focus now is environmental controls and systems integration — how everything works together within the structure. As our companies have worked together to become a single-solution resource for our customers, we have learned how we can better adapt our structures. Seamless integration allows for better control and more consistent yields.
GM: How does the acquisition of Thermo Energy Solutions change what Rough Brothers Nexus/RBI can offers its customers?
JC: With Thermo Energy, we are really able to upgrade the scale of the facility [that] we are able to provide. All three companies are part of the Growing Solutions division of our parent company, Gibraltar Industries. The idea being that we’re not handing our customers a singular product, but a soup-to-nuts solution. It’s a robust cache of resources. We’re coming in on the ground floor, working on the architectural plan and that includes irrigation, the lights, the install, going through the permits, the general contracting and build out of the whole growing facility.
GM: As for long-range vegetable greenhouses, what are you seeing develop with that style of greenhouse?
JC: With leafy greens, we’re seeing two preferred methods of growing: deep-water culture and NFT. For a deep-water culture growing facility, we design a greenhouse with ponds that have a concrete substructure inside of them, and roof vents to be able to draft over, with horizontal fans over long ponds and bays. The difference in the design for NFT is that it is a more automated leafy greens system that requires very little labor for growing and harvesting. For long-range greenhouses, a truly integrated and automated greenhouse ensures operational consistency. We’re excited to be able to provide a facility design that includes everything a grower needs — not just the greenhouse.
Greenhouse Management: What sets the First Light Perennial line apart from others?
Jim Devereux: Green Fuse was the first perennial plant company, first breeder tech to actively breed for both daylight neutrality and no vernalization requirements. All perennials naturally have either one or both needs to be chilled, which means they need to go through a winter before they’re able to initiate a flower. Or, they require a set number of day length hours to bloom. In our expansive perennial line, we remove both of those necessities from perennial production.
For example, you can grow a zone hardy perennial and there’s no restrictions for lighting or for cooling. This has been a class changer because traditionally, growers would bring in the cutting in July, August, September or October grow the plant to size; put it into cold storage or a cold greenhouse to give it the required number of chilling hours and place it into a warm climate under lights to grow it in time to sell in May. With our breeding program, you can bring in the cutting week three or four, root it, transplant it and it’ll come into flower just based on temperature.
GM: How does this process help growers?
JD: The grower of the First Light Perennials will save on an average between 12 and 20 weeks of production time. Not only do they save all that time, they save all that labor; they save all the input. Also, no matter how good of a grower you are, you’re always going to kill stuff if you overwinter it. It’s just the name of the game, and with that said, you also greatly minimize your loss. Plus, we don’t charge a premium for it. Our Leucanthemum costs about the same as anyone else’s Leucanthemum, which we’re really known for because we have so many different sizes and flower formations and all of them maintain that no day length requirements and no cooling requirements.
GM: What additions can breeders expect in the upcoming year?
JD: For this coming year, we have two items that have never been seen before in the floriculture industry. One is a hydrangea. It’s a Zone 5 hardy hydrangea so it’s a true perennial, but all hydrangeas have always required about 22 weeks of cooling before they flower. So no matter what, if you get a hydrangea from an unrooted cutting, your total production time is about 45 weeks to grow it. This also means that when you sell a hydrangea, you sell it for a lot of money to offset production time. Our hydrangea from an unrooted cutting, however, will bloom with zero cooling, and doesn’t require any set daylight. And, from a cutting to a flower is 13 to 15 weeks. So, we’re saving that grower about 30 weeks of production time on that crop.
Rudbeckia Dakota Gold is another First light product. It’s traditionally an annual and has always been done by seed. But because they will never initiate until the longest day of the year — June 22 — you never see them for sale until September or October when your consumer traffic is very low. With that, you never know how the weather will be depending on where you are. So you grow those crops crossing your fingers. But our new Dakota series is completely daylight neutral with no cooling requirements and is the first ever zone hardy Rudbeckia Dakota Gold.