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Contract Growing - Material Peace of Mind

Unlike widgets in a factory where production volume can easily be altered to reflect market ups and downs, trees need time to grow – ours somewhere between 18 months and 4 years! So planning way in advance is crucial to success.

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Unlike widgets in a factory where production volume can easily be altered to reflect market ups and downs, trees need time to grow – ours somewhere between 18 months and 4 years! So planning way in advance is critical and trying to predict what the market will be doing in 4 years time is not dissimilar to crystal ball gazing.

So what trees will be more popular than others? And in what sizes? Is it a straight 50/50 split when it comes to evergreen and deciduous? Are evergreens growing in popularity? Or are natives making a new resurgence? What about new lines? Do we have enough of the main lines to satisfy existing demand? These are questions the nursery manager needs to answer before committing to materials. Then it is a waiting game, where pot ups into bigger sizes are collectively based on market feel and demand for certain lines in certain sizes. It’s tricky forward thinking but necessary for most businesses where production time and space constitutes a large chunk of overhead and where supply can’t be increased or decreased at the touch of a button.

So what is the production nursery looking for? Ideally it is a mix of forward ordering and speculative growing and therefore a balance between secure cash flow and risk, albeit low depending on how well you plan and know your market. They also want time to concentrate on growing product from size A to size B. And of course they want recognition and a sense of achievement, seen through great product and loyal repeat custom.

Contract growing is a service offered by a number of production nurseries that allow landscapers, developers and designers to reserve plant material some time before it is required, sometimes years in advance. Usually with a deposit to secure the deal, and pricing locked in over the course of the job, material is grown and nurtured to required specifications and supplied when it is required. You could say that contract growing takes a lot of the hassle out of plant supply whether that be for large commercial projects or a couple of trees for a small residential garden.

While some landscapers do forward order regularly, I am still intrigued why a good percentage of people remain addicted to the stress that comes with locating material at the last minute. With budgets set at the beginning of the project, do we all just hope that enough money is left over after buildings and structures are in place to install the soft landscaping we want? Why not lock plants in early and then relax in the knowledge that all is taken care of. What could be easier? Here are some good reasons to consider buying at the start of the job.

Let professionals do what they do best
In business we leverage for all sorts of reasons, in all sorts of areas, to get the best from our product and best efficiencies from internal and external resources. From a project management point of view, contract growing allows everyone involved to focus on what they do best. The designers and engineers design the job, the project manager coordinates the job and suppliers are hired for their expertise to fulfil a particular construction or installation need. It makes perfect sense for the project manager to allow professionals the room to deliver on what they do best. At Speciality Trees our team knows how to grow a strong tree. So in a contract growing arrangement our focus is and remains on sourcing, nurturing and growing material to landscape specification and within time parameters pre determined from the outset.

True to type
For the landscaper, knowing you have the plants to complete the project is ready-made piece of mind. While landscaping plans are completed many months ahead of construction, often the plant supply contract is not awarded until just before installation. This lack of notice often equates to mismatches in species and sizes available at the time they’re required. If you require material collected from provenance seed, sourcing stock at the last minute can leave you in an impossible situation.

This leads to the topic of substitutes – that arduous activity that has the landscaper chasing down species that exhibit the same characteristics of the plant that cannot be located or supplied in the required numbers. Locking material down in advance ensures what is supplied is true to type, and in the size and form specified off the original design plan. It can also allow the grower to acclimatise material to specific conditions if required. As advanced trees are nurtured under real conditions over an extended period of time, the risk of underperforming is not probable but for smaller landscaping lines, exposure to frost for example, may be beneficial before planting. Knowing what species is required and in what size for a certain location is extremely useful and puts the plant material and the nursery in the best position to satisfy the end need. Some production nurseries may be able to transfer product to regional areas where the climate is more akin to the final planting destination. This is a huge benefit associated with forward planning.

And there are usually cost benefits associated with contract growing. Locking in price 12 months before supply is a very attractive feature of a contract growing arrangement and allows that portion of the landscape project to run to budget.

Material consistency
Sourcing material from one or as few suppliers as possible is also a good idea as it minimises installation co-ordination, saving time and effort chasing additional material or managing competing delivery schedules. As a production nursery specialising in growing premium material, total supply means supply of all stock to the same exacting standards. It makes sense: ordering from the one supplier ensures material consistency. This is an important point to understand, as the end result is often measured on the standard of landscaping and the quality of plant materials used to blend structure and functionality with aesthetic appeal.

So what kind of information is required to secure material beforehand? It is always wise to discuss the project with a reputable nursery experienced in contract growing. In order for them to provide a project estimate, they will require a species list, the quantities and container sizes required, and associated time frames for full or split deliveries. If trees from a particular provenance are required, then it is best to inform the nurseryman at this point so the appropriate seed can be sourced.

So why isn’t contract growing more widely utilised by everyone? It is the solution to getting what you need when you need it, eliminating the hassle of last minute phone calls to find ready material, all but abolishing the need to substitute – that is, finding a similar species in lieu of material not being available. It is particularly useful with project planning and requires the end landscaping requirements to be mapped out well in advance. Working closely to strict budgets, price can be locked in so all that needs to be arranged is a forward delivery time. Gosh, a hassle free, totally documented process that allows professionals to do what they do best, really what could be more attractive? Managed well, it allows the landscaper to relax in the knowledge that all will be delivered on time and to specification.

05/04/2010 Trees in focus

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