01 September 2013
More than 9,000 people from across the world participated in this year’s OFA Short Course, the annual national horticulture convention and marketplace in Columbus, the United States. The expanded, 7-acre sold-out trade show featured nearly 700 companies, and more than 140 educational sessions, tours, workshops, and networking opportunities. Jennifer Zurko has the details.
The mood was good, the people were happy and there were many exciting, new products to see.
While maneuvering through the aisle traffic at this year’s OFA Short Course in Columbus, Ohio, we stopped to not only see what was new, but to see how the show was going for the attendees and exhibitors.
The single word we heard most often was, “Great!” And why were they saying that? There was plenty of traffic (a press release from OFA said there were more than 9,000 attendees, with XXXX of them from outside of North America) and there was a good vibe on the trade show floor, which leads us to surmise that spring wasn’t as bad as it could have been for most growers we talked to.
Expanding the retail presence
During the press luncheon, we were filled in on a few more details of OFA’s plan to expand its offerings for garden center retailers at the 2014 Short Course. The additional 50,000 sq. ft. of dedicated space for the retail channel will be located in Battelle Hall, which is upstairs from the Connector Area of the Convention Center. In fact, the space is the original venue for the Short Course before the Convention Center expanded a number of years ago.
It will not be your traditional pipe-and-drape exhibitor layout, either. Rather, it will be laid out in an island format, with each island being four exhibitor spaces, similar to a more European style of trade show. (The current exhibitor hall will remain in the aisle format.) Why the Euro style? According to OFA’s CEO Michael Geary, it’ll help vendors be more innovative in how they display their products, allowing them to set up their wares more like how a retailer would display products to the end consumer.
And why is OFA expanding the retail presence at Short Course? As Michael told us, our industry makes great products and it is OFA’s job to help retailers sell more of it. So along with the expanded retail presence on the trade show floor, they will also have an expanded educational line up.
Below are a few trends and products highlights we saw at this year’s Short Course.
Heat tolerant Heucherellas
The fear of another outbreak of Impatiens Downy Mildew had many breeders and suppliers offering alternatives to Impatiens walleriana. Last year, the disease was so rampant in the States, especially on the east coast from Florida to New York, that many growers cut back production on impatiens this year—some even by more than half or all of their production. So we saw a lot of new varieties for the shade, like the Southern collection of Heucherellas from Emerald Coast Growers. All four varieties are very heat and humidity tolerant in the shade: Gunsmoke, Solar Eclipse, Sunrise Falls and Sweet Tea.
Big in Begonias
German breeding company Benary dedicated their entire booth to their Begonia lines—Big and Nonstop—as shade alternatives. They also unveiled new point-of-purchase materials and pots for the Big Begonia series.
Always looking for incremental improvements, seeder manufacturers have brought out some subtle, but interesting features. Blackmore Company added a second air curtain to their cylinder seeder and tweaked their placement to improve how the machine singulates and sows marigold seeds. David Steiner says growers should get 97% to 98% correct single sows at 300-plus trays per hour with marigolds. They also tweaked the dibbler to help push seeds into the proper cells and tweaked the plumbing on their seed recovery system to make seed changes quicker. After all, David says, the key to sowing seed fast isn’t fast sowing, but fast changes between varieties. Customers can get kits for upgrading their air curtain and seed recovery systems.
High precision seeding
Visser has added a special tip to their drum seeder to handle marigold seeds; it works with other hard-to-handle seeds, too, with an adjustment of the vacuum. They claim 99% correct seed placement with their unit.
Robots & technology
The hit of the show might have been Harvey, the Harvest Automation robot, which was following Rebekah Lando and her sister, Rachel, around the trade show floor like a loveable puppy. Cute, yes, but the HV-100 is a serious tool that can space 200 3-gal. pots per hour with little human involvement. Designed by a team of scientific geniuses near Boston, Harvey uses 20 sensors (but no GPS) and some very sophisticated MIT “behavior-based programming” to keep track of what it’s doing and what’s going on around it. Harvey’s battery lasts four to five hours. He costs $30,000 USD, and several nurseries have already bought some.
Digital technology on transplanters
Also in the AgriNomix booth, we saw some of the newest digital technology being offered as options on their transplanters. “Production Assurance” uses an Internet connection within the machine to link to the AgriNomix headquarters in Ohio. If the machine’s computer senses a fault or problem (like the “check engine” light in your car), it will send an email notification to AgriNomix, where technicians can determine if it’s a minor or major issue. A webcam mounted inside the transplanter allows technicians to watch the machine in action to further diagnose any issues. The technicians can even take over “virtual control” of the machine by accessing the control panel remotely. All this can reduce downtime and allow greenhouse staff to focus on growing, not machine repairs, says Robert Lando.
AgriNomix can also incorporation iPads into some machines to provide real-time output data for operators, such as goal and output per hour, run time and even down time.