Monday, August 22, 2011

Seedlings grow a business and an industry

Image from Highsun Express.

SOME leading-edge innovation has been ensuring the Redlands' horticultural traditions do not become just memories of the older generations and words in the pages of history.
The sector certainly has been shrinking as urban development has grown on the fertile red soil but growers who have adapted have not simply survived the challenges but prospered.

IN the new order, the Skinner family has stood out among the quiet achievers. Brad Skinner is the head of Highsun Express, which has been supplying wholesale nurseries with flower seedlings for the past quarter of a century.
He represents the third generation of the family business but it's a far cry from the small crop operation that his grandfather, the late Charles Skinner, set up on the Ormiston site after moving from Biloela in Central Queensland.
Charles' two sons, Bob (Brad's dad) and Geoff, stayed with the small crops for many years after Charles died.

AS the urban development increased, the family's land holding reduced but the concentration led to a new focus on flowers and the development of a new niche in the supply chain.
Brad says Highsun picked up from a US trend for specialist propagators to supply the flower seedlings to wholesalers who traditionally had done their own seed-to-seedling operations.
"For the wholesalers, it means basically outsourcing the hard stuff," Brad says. "We were the first to go commercial and develop this sort of business in Australia."

THE system targets "long growing-time, high-failure and difficult-to-grow crops".
In the industry, the single seedlings are known as "plugs", and Highsun has certainly been plugging hard, now producing between 30 million and 40 million seedlings a year.
Highsun opened a second nursery at Cabarlah, near Toowoomba, in 2004.
The company has a workforce of about 70, including about 15 at Carbarlah.
The company has advertised for casual workers; the busiest season of peak production runs until late November.
The ad has emphasised the fast-paced environment and the need for a keen eye for detail but said experience was not necessary as successful applicants would receive training.

FROM time to time, Brad gets to see how his 'babies' have grown into television stars as the plants have featured on the gardening shows.
Last year the nursery joined a spring promotion for the Big Red geranium, after its release by European seed giant Syngenta. This spring, the feature product is Garvinea, a gerbera from Dutch group, Florist.
Highsun also supplies cutflowers, annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs but solely to wholesalers and does not make direct sales to the public.

Thanks for joining me to meet the people in the marvellous community of classified advertising; this column has appeared in The Redland Times.

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