Category Archives: Consultants

Lassen Canyon Nursery Produces the World’s Finest Strawberry Plants

Lassen Canyon new Solar Light

Founded in the 1950s, the Lassen Canyon Nursery grows a quarter billion strawberry plants in California, Mexico and China every year while also growing hay on 930 acres. With its headquarters in Redding, CA and multiple locations worldwide, this company is well-known for producing strawberry plants that are healthy and strong for their customers all over the world, including huge growers (such as Dole, Sweet Darling and Naturipe Farms) all the way to small do-it-yourselfers with modest backyard gardens.

Clip_2Pete Stone, 57, has been working for the nursery for the past 30 years. He started out in the office and today he is the company’s Tissue Culture Lab Manager and also in charge of its Caneberry Project. The caneberry is a family of delicate berries that grow on tough but thin woody canes and thrive in a cool, moist climate. Caneberries include raspberries, blackberries and boysenberries and the company is currently performing research in order to produce caneberry plants that will be healthy and thriving in any environment.

Lassen Canyon Nursery is a long-time customer of Agra Tech, Inc., commercial greenhouse manufacturers. Stone has a total of eight greenhouses that were purchased from Agra Tech and has plans to buy eight more in the very near future. He values Agra Tech’s knowledge and experience and often relies on them for new, innovative ways to be productive and efficient.

One of these ideas concerned rolling benches for Stone and his operation, he explained. “Jim Bergantz at Agra Tech and I started talking about rolling benches and we wanted them too, but previously we were using solid benches and they offered us zero flexibility. These rolling benches give us a large walkway that can be moved and they allow us to use every square inch of our greenhouse. They make a lot of sense and have already paid for themselves, because now we’re saving time and we’ve increased our volume as a result.”

Rolling Benches

Lassen Canyon Nursery uses two types of structures to grow strawberry plants and perform research and development—screen houses and greenhouses, Stone explained. “We use our screen houses that don’t have real walls—they’re made out of screens, because we want that chill on the berries. For that reason, they’re not completely enclosed. Then, we use our conventional greenhouses primarily for seeding the strawberries and taking them through their formative weeks. The two have very distinct functions and that’s why they look so different.”

raypound

Ray Poundagcon

Stone called upon Ag-Con, Inc. in San Jose, CA to construct the new greenhouses, an experience Stone said was seamless and drama-free. “Ray Pound and Lisa Schultz at Ag-Con make an amazing team and they made the construction easy for us. They built all eight of our greenhouses for us and they took roughly a week to do each one—complete and ready to use. I would suggest to anyone that they should use Ag-Con for the construction, because they’re totally professional and great to work with. They know how to get the right permits, which is a big part of the process and if they run into obstacles, they know how to take care of it, which is important.”

Starting in September, the strawberry plants go out to be grown in soil by Lassen Canyon’s thousands of customers. “Our goal is to ship the strawberry plants and have them in the soil within 72 hours,” Stone said. “Right before we ship them, we expose them to 240 hours at 45 degrees, so that we trick them and they store energy. That way, they are robust and ready for planting once they reach our customers’ farms. In 60-90 days, our customers will have beautiful, juicy strawberries that are consistently of the highest quality you’ll find anywhere.”

The future looks berry, berry good for Lassen Canyon Nursery, according to Stone. “We’re going to expand and get more greenhouses to accommodate our Caneberry Project as well as increase our volume overall. In everything we do, were looking for a better berry so that when they show up in grocery store produce departments, they look right and taste right. By working with Agra Tech and Ag-Con we’re able to excel and grow as we strive to find the perfect berry!”

Lassen North Slope inside

Lassen North Slope inside

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John Pound Builds Agra Tech, Inc., Into a leading Commercial Greenhouse Manufacturer

 

John ready to deliver a Solar Light 18 to Sonoma College – about 1976

John Pound, 65 has been running Agra Tech, Inc. for 41 years after founding this commercial greenhouse manufacturing company in Salinas, CA in 1973. Things have changed in many ways since John Pound began this successful company, but his passion hasn’t waned one iota. “People used to ask me how were you able to start a greenhouse business at 24,” Pound said. “But, today I’m the old man in this industry, so things have truly changed.”

Pound went to UC Davis and got a degree in Agriculture Economics and Business Management in 1971, after completing two years at junior college. Growing up in Walnut Creek, Calif., Pound’s father had a small retread car tire business for many years, so John already had a glimpse of what it was like to own and run your own business. But, at that time greenhouse manufacturing wasn’t even something Pound was even remotely considering. “After graduation I got a job at a mid-size farm in Salinas,” he said. “They hired me as their Agricultural Economist and one of the first projects I started working on was the proposed construction of two one-acre greenhouses. They wanted to grow tomatoes and English cucumbers, so I put all the numbers together for them, including the costs and what they’d make. They reviewed it and were obviously impressed, because they said let’s go with it.”

At that point, Pound made a decision that eventually led to the forming of Agra Tech, Inc. “I went to the boss and I told him I can save you a ton of money by constructing these greenhouses for you. Instead of hiring a contractor, just buy the materials and I’ll build it for you. They said, what do you know about building a greenhouse? And I told them when I was 15 I re-modeled my parent’s house, so I know how to build stuff, that’s no big deal and I can tell people what to do. So that’s how it started.”

Nine months later, both of the greenhouses were built, as Pound promised, and the crops were already planted and growing. Things started moving quickly after that and pretty soon other offers for building greenhouses were dropping in his lap. “The company that sold us those two greenhouses asked me would I build more greenhouses for them and I said yes,” Pound said. “Then another company approached us and said we’re starting a company making greenhouses, will you build for us too? Of course, I agreed.”

After looking at the business model more carefully and continually learning on the job, Pound was able to start building greenhouses. “Since I was an Agricultural Economist, I knew exactly what it costs to build a greenhouse, including how long it takes to put up a truss; to put on the glazing and put in doors, vents and all the hours it took to do it all. So, when I looked at what I could earn, I said wow–this sure beats hourly wages!”

Pound seized the opportunity, got his contractor’s license, business license and hit the ground running in 1973. “We were having success building greenhouses (the company’s name back then was Agra Techniques), but after a while I thought, I can make these things,” he explained. “So, we found a good fabricator and started making greenhouses, as well as selling them to other people and then building them ourselves.”

During those first 6-8 years, Agra Tech also got involved in other types of building projects, including retail shade structures, remodels and repairs to pay the bills. “It was very tough at the beginning, because it took time to find vendors, and establish relationships to get it to happen. The greenhouse growers were a tight-knit group and they weren’t exactly embracing a young, inexperienced guy initially. But after a while we started to build a name in this industry and things got a lot easier. And that’s pretty much how it all started.”

Part II: Agratech Grows in the 80s and 90s as the Commercial Greenhouse Industry Blossoms

Article by Ed Attanasio

Dr. Howard Resh: Hydroponics and Greenhouse Growing Expert, Consultant and Teacher

Dr Resh Hydroponic consultant

Hydroponic Consultant

Hydroponic Consultant

Dr. Howard Resh is a greenhouse expert, teacher, consultant, author and hydroponics pioneer and when he consults greenhouse growers all over the planet, he often directs them to purchase greenhouses made by Agra Tech, Inc. in Pittsburg, CA and one of the world’s leading commercial greenhouse manufacturers in the world.

How do you help fledgling and/or established greenhouse growers to set them up for success?  

Consulting greenhouse growers that either have issues with their greenhouses and want help resolving those issues; or they may want to get into the business—starting slowly and then jumping into with both feet, depending on their particular situation. I can help them in every aspect of greenhouse farming, including what they should grow and in what quantities; the type and size of the greenhouse; the hydroponic system they should use, which all depends on the crops they’re going to grow, as well as the location. Then, I can help them to determine all of the other components they may need, such as heating and cooling systems, etc. Once we get a layout for the greenhouse, designing all of the irrigation systems and hydroponic systems for it–that’s normally when the construction of the greenhouse can begin. Once the greenhouse is up, the training of the crops takes place, where we perform the nutrient formulations to ensure the healthy growth of the plants that they select to grow.

So, you’re a turnkey type of consultant that takes your greenhouse clients from the initial idea all the way to taking those first crops to market, correct?

Yes, exactly. And the job doesn’t end after the greenhouse is operational. I have many customers that we work with throughout the year, to help them when they encounter issues or need to tap into our knowledge about this industry and how to succeed in it. In many cases, the nutrient solutions need to be changed once they get into growing their crops. We can direct them where to get them tested and analyzed, then we can re-adjust the nutrient formulation according to what the lab tells us based on their element levels. We may also have to assist them with pest management, depending on where they are. We advise greenhouse growers from all over the world, including Nigeria, Bermuda, Hawaii, Senegal, Mexico and throughout the U.S.

And you can help them to figure out what crops to grow?

Yes, I start by showing them the main crops that they should consider, but then I tell them to go out and do their own market research. Go to the marketplace and find out what the volume is and what the prices are, then they can determine how much of each crop they want to grow. Once we’ve determined the crops and the volume, we’re able to select the type of greenhouse and the hydroponics that are required in order to achieve those numbers. The best way to go to market is for a greenhouse grower to grow local products and sell them through small, local outlets, instead of selling to the big wholesalers, because they won’t deal with the smaller growers, because they surely can’t compete price-wise. Farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scenarios are good matches for these small greenhouse growers, so I always advise my clients to find a small market niche and stick with it. I have clients who are engineers or own their own construction companies, IT companies, for example, and they’ve chosen not to be in those businesses anymore for whatever reasons. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and now eggplants have become a big thing; and then you’ve got your herbs and certain types of lettuces—so those are the main types of things that are ideal to grow in greenhouses.

So, setting up a productive greenhouse isn’t a do-it-yourself type of the thing?

No, because most people will need help from someone like me to set it up properly for one. If they choose the wrong structure or pick the incorrect growing system, they can encounter a wide range of problems that can cost them a lot of money and time. It’s very important to get if off the ground right from the beginning and that’s what I try to help them with. It’s also vital that they learn how to take proper care of the plants. Many new greenhouse growers run into nutrition problems down the road, because they don’t know the right formulations and they can’t figure out how their crops aren’t growing well. In other cases, they may buy the wrong greenhouse for their environment or pay too much for it, for example.

For many of your clients, you recommend Agra Tech greenhouses?

Agra Tech makes greenhouses that are very strong and well-constructed. We have an Agra Tech greenhouse here in Anguilla and we’ve had it for 15 years and it has survived 3-4 hurricanes and it’s still working. It’s performed very well under some tough weather conditions. The people at Agra Tech have some affordable solutions for growers of any sizes and I often direct my clients toward purchasing and using Agra Tech greenhouses.

If you’re thinking of entering the commercial greenhouse industry, you can best contact Dr. Howard Resh at Hmresh@aol.com, or visit his website at www.HowardResh.com.