From Grower to Garden: The Complexities of the Nursery Supply Chain

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Today is ‘Take Your Plant for a Walk Day’ (yes, apparently that is a real thing), and in honor of houseplants everywhere I thought I would look at the supply chain of an industry that has long fascinated me – the nursery industry. What exactly goes in to getting all those lovely shrubs, trees and flowers from the grower to the garden? Let me start by saying that I personally do not have a garden. Why? Because while I love plants, they do not love me. No matter how enthusiastically the very knowledgeable staff tell me that this plant or that one can survive anything, the sad truth is none has survived my very, very black thumb, despite years of trying. That of course does not stop me from visiting my local nursery to see what they have in stock. From seeds to shoots to seedlings and fully-grown shrubs, trees and flowers – the complexities of getting these plants to the end consumer are many. The Nursery and Garden Industry of Australia (NGIA) has very nicely put together two videos about the supply chain issues production nurseries face. I’ve taken the liberty of sharing them here for easy viewing. The first outlines the issues, while the second, which is comprised of a series of clips, talks about potential solutions. Neither is very long and both are worth watching even if only for the fun tractor graphics at the beginning.

One of the main issues presented is a lack of standards. In pots, trays, transportation systems and even among the different plant species themselves. AmericanHort, which is a consolidation of the American Nursery and Landscape Association and the Association of Horticultural Professionals, has put together the American Standard for Nursery Stock, which establishes common techniques for things like measuring plants, determining container size and proper classification of species. Another large problem NGIA points out is lack of organization and ineffective planning, which leads to wasted time and wasted product. If your demand planning isn’t on point you may end up with a surplus of plants you’re unable to move. Then you’re left with the choice of letting them go to waste, or trying to keep them for another season, which presumably has a higher cost associated with it than many other industries. Plants can’t just be packed away on a dusty shelf like non-perishable goods. In most cases, they require daily care and maintenance to keep them alive – a cost that may not be feasible for many nurseries or other retailers. Something not included in the videos but that I suspect is a major supply chain issue for the entire nursery industry is unanticipated risk. Things like droughts, disease and flooding can all wreak havoc on plant crops, particularly if they’re grown outside instead of in greenhouses. A recent article by Greenhouse Management suggests that growers should focus on drought-tolerant plants not only to help protect their own crop, but to appeal to consumers who are faced with the same poor growing conditions. Then there’s risks like an invasion of foreign species (aka weeds) threatening your crop, or bugs snacking on your seedlings. I can easily see how the ability to quickly run ‘what-if’ scenarios could be hugely beneficial in determining if you can still meet consumer needs in the event you lose 30% of a specific crop to any of the mentioned supply chain risks. I’m not sure how many people actually participate in take your plant for a walk day, but I for one am hoping to see a mass of lilies, orchids, violets and spider plants being paraded down the street in the arms of their proud owners. If I could keep a plant alive long enough to blossom I’d want to show it off too.  

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