Asking for a little advice

mojosavageNovember 24, 2009

Our family has a 125 acre farm that has always been used to graze cattle. Due to job loss and business loss, we find ourselves looking for other opportunities.

About a year ago I started researching the rooted cuttings/liners business and think it fits in well with our facilities and setup. We have a large barn, ample natural water, and of course lots of space. There is a large wholesale nursery that is next to our property that thrives so I know the potential is there.

The problem is we REALLY need to start and REALLY need to generate some cash flow.

I am looking for advice on the best projects to start now with the quickest return.

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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

You need advice appropriate to where you live, the community and their wants/needs. Long distance advice in such cases, doesn't work. You need specifics.

Locate the University Extension Service office in your County and ask to speak to an extension agent, possibly called Small Farms Agent, or something similar.

That said, the agent who can best help you may be regional (serving a number of counties in your state) rather than serve only your county.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 1:28AM
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Good advice. There is of course a need for suitable structures and equipment. So you will have a cash outlay right up front. I think the future of small farms lay in enterprises like this and transitioning over to niches. Hopefully you have some background in growing. The actual propagation isn't rocket science, but you need to have your finger on the culture, nutrition and plant diseases. There is also a tightening on propagation licensing since when I first got into growing.

The major breeders are also changing the way they license propagators by using rooting you should look into that too. R/C and liner production is a little different ball game than a wholesale nursery. No reason why you can't make a go of it, if you do your homework. Like Jean says, your county agent is the best place to start.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 1:58AM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

There's quite a lot of startup cost in what you're wanting to do also. You might be better off to take seasonal work through the christmas season and apply for a job at the wholesale nursery in the very early spring if you want to learn more.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 8:10AM
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Expanding into a shrinking market that has a big gap between start up costs and return on investment does not sound like a way to get fast cash flow.

Have you thought about leasing some land to the nursery? Perhaps they have enough land, but you never know.

You will be trying to compete with well established, well networked, and experienced growers. That makes them a lot more financially efficient and much harder to compete with.

It is a business that people outside of it have a belief that if you can grow it you can sell it. It is not so easy. Marketable nursery stock and field grown plants are two entirely different things.

I wish you luck, but it is difficult for me to believe that a new grower will be competitive in this market.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 7:09PM
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That's why I think going to the liner/rooted cutting has more potential than field grown stock or a nursery operation. The lead time to a marketable product isn't in years, but weeks and months.

But you are absolutely correct in researching your market potential before even considering it. If it isn't already there, don't waste your time.

And to have any success at all, you can't just 'ease' into any wholesaling operation. It's a sink or swim proposition because it's all about inventory. You don't get orders for onesy-twosy you get orders for hundreds or thousands. And if you can't put out when the orders come in, they don't come back.

I know a family who is running a similar business to what the poster is considering and making a go of it. They not only sell to brokers, but will supply smaller mom and dad growers who often have difficulties in meeting mins from other sources. But, they work their hineys off and they have a lot invested in capital equipment and need to use migrants to meet their employee needs. It's not for the faint of heart or inexperienced and it took them years to get to where they are now.

There is room for more people in the floriculture industry but it's all about niche, niche, niche. And like being a movie star you sometimes have a window for a period of years and then it's gone when your niche gets profitable and everyone wants a piece of the action.

I had my day in the sun, and am thankfully easing into retirement, because the little businesses I sold to folded in the competition, or the farmer who needed my starts have died, or the box stores who moved into town aren't satisfied with retail sales and have begun to move into sourcing the tax exempt market. I timed it just right, knew my niche before I started up......maxed it out and like every other grower morphed into new niches until I am all niched out. LOL.

I just smile at the 'backyard nursery' posts. Good luck, and have fun.........but it's an entirely different matter if you intend to live off it. You cannot even have the aroma of a hobby gardener if you want to be taken seriously.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 2:40AM
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Excellent advice all around. I approached the huge wholesale nursery next door and talked with them about what they buy, what they don't buy and what they would buy from us. A a lot of their sales are to landscapers (mature shrubs and B&B trees) but they do buy a lot of liner stock. We can be competitive with the places they buy from because this is a family affair (5 members = free labor) and of course free delivery as their office is literally 200 yards down the road.

I think as long as we can raise commercial grade product and have them somewhat presold, we can make a go of it.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 9:40PM
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Sherwood Botsford(3a)

My opinion: It's not going to happen fast. I started growing trees as a hobby to provide for my retirement and keep me active. After 6 years last year we covered operating costs, and sunk the rest into more infrastructure. I've been putting about 10 K per year into it.

Fortunately I haven't borrowed any money.

The wholesale market isn't quite as sink or swim as previous posters made out. Find things that have a market locally, that can be produced from cuttings. Practice making the cuttings work. Learn how to do batches of 100, 1000.

Be prepared to grow 1000 pussy willows -- and to throw 950 of them away. This is the price of being ready for that first PW order.

Once you learn how to grow something on demand, go visit every landscaper, every reclamation company, every village and city forestry department. Leave a sample. Tell them that you have lots of X and that with Y months notice you can have lots up to Z.

If you go for it full time, you can make money in 4 years.

Face it: The stuff that is easy is done on a factory scale. Your biggest advantage is short delivery time, and small freight charges compared to the guys that order from Lower Horse Biscuit, North Carolina. (The freight on a #1 pot across a thousand miles works out to about 50 cents per pot. -- that can make or break you.)

Learn. Keep learning. Become a resource for people. This develops trust. Do EVERYTHING with integrity, even if it loses you money. It's only a short term loss.

Learn how to write your own web pages.

Meanwhile: Get a job, even if only temp work.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sample of home grown web pages.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2009 at 11:22AM
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"Face it: The stuff that is easy is done on a factory scale. Your biggest advantage is short delivery time, and small freight charges compared to the guys that order from Lower Horse Biscuit, North Carolina. (The freight on a #1 pot across a thousand miles works out to about 50 cents per pot. -- that can make or break you.)"

Lower Horse Biscuit, North Carolina? Isn't that right next to Tennessee?

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 7:44PM
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I would be interested in how this works out for you this year. I had a small propagaation business several years ago. It was going well, paying for itself and moving toward my 5 year plan. An unexpected divorce forced me to sell the greenhouse and move into the corporate world. I am reaching retirement soon and have set Plan B into action. Much smaller scale, local sales mostly with a web site. I shipped bare root plants before and actually was surprised at who ordered these.

mojosavage, email me - I'd like to keep up with what you do. Where In TN are you? I'm in middle Tn near Nashville. My eamil is on my GardenWeb page maybe we can be of help to each other.

Here is a link that might be useful: my blog spot

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 11:42AM
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