Horticulture Industry is Largest Sector of NJ Agriculture

By Lauren Wanko

The hot sun shines on the hundreds of flowers, trees and scrubs at Barlow’s — a family operated retail garden center and grower. After a long winter, shoppers are loading up their carts.

“It’s just summertime. It’s a nice time to have your flowers out,” said customer Trisha Brown.

“April, May and June are our busiest times of the year. And the other nine months out of the year we do the best we can to get to April,” said Barlow’s President Stephen Barlow.

The state Department of Agriculture indicates New Jersey’s horticulture industry is the largest sector of New Jersey agriculture. There were 1,195 certified nurseries in New Jersey in 2012 with about 18,000 acres. The industry is dependent on good weather and customers with a disposable income.

“So when they don’t have a disposable income, they’re not going be as likely to spend money at a garden center. We are very fortunate that we sell product that makes people happy so instead of paying bills they may take that $25 and go buy some plants,” Barlow said.

“You go back to the economic downturn of back in the mid 2000s, you kind of start to wonder are people really interested in this product? But now that things are coming back it seems from an economic standpoint yes they are interested in it,” said Rob Swanekamp of Kube-Pak Growers.

Kube-Pak — a wholesale grower and provider — loads a couple thousand flats of flowers onto carts for delivery. It can take anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks until their flowers are retail ready.

“Which means it’s of size and the full color. And some products we’ll start working on a spring season in early December,” Swanekamp said.

Swanekamp purchases the seed. His staff cares for the flowers as they grow in the greenhouse, sprawled across 20 acres. The second generation grower notices a shift in consumer demand.

“Bigger is better in terms of what most people are looking for these days,” Swanekamp said. How does that benefit him as a business owner? “It’s quite beneficial because we can grow higher value products in the same square footage that we used to grow what you could say lower value products,” he said.

“We like to call it instant patio gardens or instant container gardens,” Barlow said.

The state Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association recently kicked off the Plant Something campaign in an effort to promote the benefits of gardening and buying local.

It’s something Manasquan resident Trisha Brown doesn’t need to be reminded of.

“I’m here all the time. Unfortunately my husband doesn’t like that too much,” she said.

But business owners do. They’re counting on Trisha and lots of other customers to plant throughout the season.