Sonoma County Nursery Wholesalers Face Pandemic, Drought Challenges
Neve Bros., one of North Bay’s largest cut flower wholesalers, has experienced a roller coaster of supply chain challenges in running his Petaluma business during the pandemic from his 120-acre farm.
When the coronavirus struck in March 2020, there was an immediate drop in supply as an estimated 80% of the country’s cut flowers are imported, most from Colombia. But the demand remained the same as customers wanted to send them for celebrations they couldn’t attend, said Chris Neve, who manages sales for his family business.
The result: More local business for the Neves.
Sales levels returned to closer to normal in 2021, but last summer a nationwide shortage of roses emerged just as in-person weddings were back on track. It also happened amid a continued decline in large cut flower wholesalers in the state to supply grocers and florists.
Optimistic for the new year
Neve said he was optimistic about the New Year – although the specter of inflation is another concern noting that her family business has increased its greenhouse space where it mainly focuses on growing roses.
âEvery year we try to build a little more. We believe that if your quality is good and you sell a good product, the business will always end up on its own, âhe said.
Neve’s experience is similar to others in the local wholesale nursery industry. They grow and sell products such as ornamentals, bedding plants, cut flowers, and even Christmas trees to regional retailers and landscapers. Many businesses have been around for decades and have been able to survive on a loyal customer base.
In 2020, the market value of these products was $ 46.5 million in Sonoma County, down $ 6.5 million from 2019, according to the county’s agriculture department.
That figure from last year is over 6% of the overall dollar value of all crops in Sonoma County. California leads the country in nursery and floriculture production with around $ 5.5 billion for both crops in 2019, with San Diego County leading the way with 28% of the state total.
The local value for 2021 will not be available until later in 2022.
The overall decline from 2019 to 2020 in the county was mainly the result of lower sales of various commercial nursery products, including grapevines, Commissioner Andrew Smith said.
Local industry has profited from the pandemic with more people working from home and as a result deciding to focus more on home activities, such as gardening and landscaping. There were 306,986 bedding plants sold to retailers in 2020 – a 26% increase in production – which was worth $ 7.7 million.
âThese kind of production nurseries that supply a lot of bedding plants, perennials and annuals to garden centers and retail outletsâ¦ they’ve done a lot of sales,â Smith said.
These sales figures have returned to more normal figures over the past year as vaccination rates have increased and people have decided to spend money on other activities, such as travel, Arifah said. Jenkins, wholesale buyer at Emerisa Nursery in Santa Rosa.
â2021 started off the same way with the idea with people working from home,â Jenkins said. âThen the trips picked up a bit. “
However, there is still interest in some products, especially home gardens, Jenkins said.
The other big trend, besides the increase in the number of housebound customers, has been the increased demand for plants that require less water to maintain, as California is in the throes of another state of drought despite recent rains.
Popular native California plants
âIt’s something we’ve pretty much pushed down to Mediterranean style plantings anyway, which are good for drought tolerant (conditions),â she said. Additionally, native California plants have made a comeback among Bay Area buyers, along with drought tolerant succulents and grasses.
The designers also come up with new ecological landscapes.
âThere has been an increase in a few other small businesses that locally manufacture living roofs,â she added.
These can be seen locally at Amy’s Drive-Thru in Rohnert Park, which features perennials on the restaurant’s rooftop as well as nearby solar panels and a water tower to collect runoff.
The Gaddis Nursery in Santa Rosa is another prominent player that has seen the trend towards more environmentally friendly gardening and planting.
Drought affected sales last year, and the nursery expects income in 2022 to be more like 2019, said James Gaddis, co-owner of his family’s nursery.
âWhen people think drought tolerant, they think of the cactus, but there is a lot of variety to have a beautiful landscaped yard,â he said.
Top sellers include bedding plants such as primroses and petunias, as well as newcomers such as New Guinea impatiens.
âI am personally very happy with this year and the quality we are going to produce this year,â said Gaddis.
The local industry also benefits from the large number of wineries in the area wishing to welcome tourists, which is another source of sales for businesses such as Sweet Lane Wholesale Nursery. The Santa Rosa Nursery has found a niche in tall plants and trees that are already housed in tubs.
The company promotes itself as the largest supplier of colorful Japanese maples to the Bay Area.
âOur market is really one for upscale homeowners and wineries,â said Ed Grossi, owner of Sweet Lane. âThey tend to get through tough times a little better. “
Sweet Lane has been in business for 21 years making it one of the newcomers to the area. Most of the wholesalers still in business have established a loyal customer base built over decades, which is critical to being sustainable in the long run, he said.
âIt takes a long time. You can’t just go in and out. It has taken us years to develop our customer base. We are still building it, âGrossi said.
âThe fact that we’re one of the newer ones and have been here for over 20 years is pretty amazing. “
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