When I visit greenhouses across North America and we discuss challenges with growing perennials, the conversation inevitably steers to the difficulty of finding good labor.
At our production farm, Darwin Colombia, located in South America, we grow perennial unrooted cuttings, harvest the cuttings, and then ship them to our customers. We are constantly striving to find ways we can improve quality and consistency, improve efficiencies to keep costs low, and (most recently) enhance the form in which our product ships to our customers.
One new way we are shipping perennials this year is via a new transplant technology called AutoStix. Developed by Visser Horti Systems, the technology helps automate the process of sticking cuttings. You can read all about this technology on the Visser website, but I wanted to share with you why it is so critical at Darwin Colombia and the perennial industry.
We have a dedicated crew of women who spend 100% of their time focusing on the harvest of unrooted cuttings and the insertion of these cuttings in the AutoStix clips. When we spoke during my visit, I learned that this crew takes a lot of pride in being a part of the AutoStix team. It is a status symbol and very prestigious to qualify for one of these positions.
Our farm staff performs the labor of harvesting uniform unrooted cuttings and putting them into a special biodegradable strip that's perfect for a grower customer running their production with an AutoStix machine. The beauty of AutoStix is that it forces consistent, reliably uniform cuttings every time. A bad cutting or a cutting with an inconsistent stem length has nowhere to hide when you hold up a finished strip for inspection! The benefit to the grower is by having a more uniform input, rooting can be more consistent and unnecessary shrink is eliminated.
We sent perennials for evaluation from our farm to growers in North America in both commercial and trial quantities in 2018. With the help and continual feedback of our customers, we have refined and built the AutoStix program to include 600+ unique varieties for full commercial scale production in 2019. One crop we have seen great success with is Lavender (pictured above), both tried and true varieties like 'Munstead' and also newer varieties that are increasing in use, like 'Anouk' and SuperBlue.
We built a whole new cold room and packing facility recently, too; one made to handle both regular unrooted cuttings and also AutoStix! You can see a sneak peak of the building below. But the story behind the building pictured is for another blog post.
What other ways can we help save on labor with perennials? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!