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US (MD): Grower goes vertical to increase production, revenue

Flowers by Bauer’s in Jarrettsville, Md., has been growing fresh cut snapdragons since 1996. The company produces the snaps year-round in perlite using a recycled nutrient solution. The flowers are sold through the company’s own retail outlet and to retail florists in the surrounding Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Del., areas.

Matt Bauer, who is a partner in the company, said the snaps go from a 20-week crop during the winter to a 10-week crop during the summer.

“With the quicker crop time during the summer, half the greenhouse goes out of production so we add sunflowers during that time,” Bauer said. “The sunflowers are sold to the same customer base as the snaps. As the days start to get shorter in the fall, the sunflowers come out and are replaced with snaps for winter production.

Expanding production space

Bauer said selling directly to retail florists has allowed the company to achieve a higher price point, but has limited its revenue.

“We are limited on how much we can raise the price on the snaps,” Bauer said. “We wanted to get more money out of the production space we currently have, so that is why we decided to go to a vertical production system.”

Bauer said additional production space could be built on to the existing structure, but it would not make a major impact on the company’s income.

“Where we are operating the greenhouse now we are limited as to how much we could expand,” he said. “Another reason we chose to go vertical was the little investment we had to make compared to the income we could generate from that space. We are only adding troughs and the infrastructure to install them. Everything else we needed to grow the additional crops is already there.”

Since the greenhouse has a gutter height of 12 feet, Bauer has been able to install a three-tier vertical system.
“We have five bays with 6-foot wide by 100-foot long rolling benches that have support hoops,” he said. “There are hoops that go over the benches every 10 feet. We ran a metal suspension tube on each side of the benches. We installed troughs on top of the suspension bars. I can also suspend cables from the greenhouse trusses so that another layer of troughs can be added.

Bauer said when he first proposed the three-tier vertical production system to the University of Maryland researchers he is working with, they were concerned with the impact the additional overhead crops would have on the snapdragons.

“Adding the other crops above the snaps lowers the light levels, but only adds about a week to the snaps’ production schedule,” he said. “We aren’t using any supplemental lights. The double layer poly the greenhouse is covered with provides diffused light. The quality of the snaps hasn’t suffered with the additional crops. And the income we are generating with the added production offsets the additional crop time.”

Click here to read the complete article, written by David Kuack at the corporate blog of Hort Americas,
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