Lessons from the 2020 poinsettia season

21-02-2021    13:47   |    Greenhouse Canada

Small changes could reduce risks and improve profit margins. “If all the factors that took place last year are repeated in the next, and all the suggestions in this article are taken, then growing poinsettia could be profitable.” This was the final sentence of last year’s poinsettia recap article for the 2019 season.

In 2020, all of the factors were repeated, with a few additional improvements. But still, it seems there were some systemic traditions that we did not yet have the courage to change.

Ontario’s poinsettia season ended well this past year, even though almost 60 to 70 per cent of the charity fundraisers and church sales did not happen due to COVID-19. On the other hand, there was at least a five per cent reduction in poinsettia production due to some growers who stopped producing the crop entirely and others who reduced their production volumes. If production numbers from 2019 had stayed the same in 2020, we could have avoided slight shortages in some sizes.

The reason why some growers stopped growing poinsettia was the small profit margin relative to the risks of growing the crop, which makes it a very questionable crop. This is not a new realization, but to my knowledge, it has been this way for the past 43 years. So, why is one of the largest known flowering potted crops grown grudgingly?

The answer always comes back to low profit margins compared to risks taken.

In the 80s and 90s, we used to think that growing more per square foot would be the solution to the problem because heating costs would then take up the highest percentage of the total cost. We countered that by growing plants suspended in the air as well as smaller sized plants, but that led to overproduction and a drop in selling price. Desperate for ways to get rid of a crop we had invested in, it became a buyer’s market that took advantage of the oversupply.

Correction to the oversupply began in the 2000s when production was cut by at least 20 per cent. Production started to become somewhat in line with demand. In the years that followed, the mantra, “grow to only what is ordered” took hold.

In the meantime, labour costs started climbing drastically, and mechanization began to be taken more seriously. It was not just potting machines and rollers, but the entire greenhouse infrastructure, such as taking out benches and installing flood floors so machinery could handle moving product and robots could take the night shift and space pots. All these changes came with a cost that required a higher profit margin to survive, and they worked, only to be eaten up by rising shipping costs.

For the last 10 to 15 years, poinsettias have been sold on prices previously agreed upon with hardly any price cuts. But that price was not negotiated. Rather, it’s been forced on by the big buyers, with no understanding of how the product can be improved in quality and presentation and still be economical for the consumer, the buyer, and the grower.

Production technology is always progressing, but adopting it takes a little more time for some growers because of the mentality “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” This thinking only works until the whole process of growing the plants becomes so backwards that there is no way to compete at the level of the other growers who have been improving little by little all along. This goes for all other crops, too.

With that in mind, try to be open to new ideas. Small changes in production practices could reduce the risks and improve the profit margins on poinsettias. Here is a recap of the 2020 season, along with some suggestions to help improve your bottom line for 2021.

Production
If I thought last year’s weather conditions were optimal for flower initiation and bract colouring, this year’s were even better. With slightly cooler nights and bright sunshine for 10 to 12 days towards the end of October, it was a perfect environment for producing a perfect crop. 

Micro drenches of Bonzi can be used at any stage of production. It will not reduce the bracts to unsalable conditions. Proper applications of Bonzi will produce a much better-quality product.

Here some guidelines to consider when you are using Bonzi:

  • PGR applications should be uniform, especially if you are using a drip system, in which case, use lower rates with high volumes so the whole root ball is evenly wet. This is also important for non-PGR irrigation with drip systems.
  • Treatments are more effective when the plants are in the fast-growing stage. This goes for using any growth regulator. You should track the height of the plants right after pinching.
  • Avoid any Bonzi applications overhead, but if that is the only way you can apply it, then rinse with clear water using your sprayer and not the watering nozzles.
  • Timing is the best growth regulator. Having said that, you cannot delay planting to have shorter plants because the bracts will not colour properly in low light conditions.
  • If a later crop sale date is required, grow a later flowering variety in its own section. That way, you can control the temperature without affecting other cultivars. Some crops shipped later in the season, but were not programmed for it, showed signs of Botrytis on the bracts as well as cyathia drop.

If you are spraying Cycocel, be aware of your clear water EC. Cycocel normally has a high EC. When mixed with high EC water, this leads to phytotoxicity for the plants, and not just for poinsettias.

Overall, the best forms of Botrytis control are still lower humidity without drastic fluctuations in temperature.

The best crops are grown when all aspects of production are completed on time. Yes, I am saying it again and it will not be the last time: When growing crops, 15 per cent is knowledge, 15 per cent is knowing how to apply this knowledge and 70 per cent is completing everything on time.

Timing is a major part of growing green because fewer or no chemicals treatments are needed that way.   

Click here to read more.

 

Photo: Tanya Carvalho of Selecta North America holds up Christmas Wish Pink, while Maximillian Epp of Dummen Orange has Early Polly’s Pink. Courtesy of Greenhouse Canada


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