Plant Materials Center Update: November 3, 2022

Here are 5 things that you should know about the PMC for November 3, 2022:

Sales

Sales continue on a record-setting pace. As of 10/31/22 the PMC has booked $1,462,587 in sales for the upcoming season. That surpasses last year when sales were at $1,173,638 on 10/31/21, or a 24.6% increase. Sales have exceeded the PMC Plants revenue budget of $1,411,300 for the whole fiscal year. Sales to date are composed of 239 separate orders with 49 of them, or 21%, being direct sales to Conservation Districts. The total number of plants sold to date is 1,542,194.

One thing that has increased along with sales this year is the website activity on the PMC website. It has received 2,847 visits in the past month, 1,189 in the past week alone. If anyone reading this is not one of those 2,847 visitors, you should be. Jacquie has been working on it and adding to it to create an intuitive, informative, attractive — and most importantly, functional —website.

Another La Nina Winter in Store

The meteorologists have predicted that this winter will be the third La Nina winter in a row, which is unprecedented. A La Nina winter is the result of below average water temperatures in the southeast Pacific Ocean. The effects of a La Nina event varies geographically, but it can cause the northwestern US to experience below average temperatures and above average precipitation. In general, that is not particularly welcome in the bare root nursery business. That is the time of year that the seedlings are harvested, meaning that the crew will be out there working in colder and wetter conditions. The colder temperatures can also lead to ground that is too frozen to lift plants. With over 1.5 million plants sold thus far, and more to come, the PMC cannot afford to lose too much harvest time for any reason.

La Nina winters do bring one advantage to bare root nurseries. The cooler temperatures in the fall aid in dormancy induction. Accumulated time below 40° F helps plants go dormant. That is important because plants that are not fully dormant are also not as cold hardy. They can be prone to being damaged by a sudden drop in temperature, whereas a fully dormant plant would not. The magic number the PMC tracks is 300 hours below 40. After that the stock is considered dormant and able to withstand most cold snaps. As of 11/2/22 the PMC has accumulated 62 hours below 40° F this fall so far.  That is similar to the previous 2 years, which were also La Nina winters. In both of those years’ time below 40 accumulated sufficiently to induce most stock into deep dormancy before any significant cold events occurred. In some El Nino and neutral winters, the PMC saw very few hours below 40 until Thanksgiving and in some of those years sudden cold snaps resulted in plant loss.

The one sure thing about the weather, whether it is a La Nina, El Nino or neutral winter, there is not much the PMC can do about it other than prepare which is exactly what is happening.

Preparations for Bare Root Harvest Begins

The PMC is less than a month away from the beginning of bare root harvest and preparations have begun. Most of the packaging supplies like seedling bags, plastic bags for live stakes, shipping boxes and pallets have been received. The seasonal employees from last years’ harvest have been contacted to see who is returning and it appears that 18 of the 20 people we had last year are returning. That happened last year also which gives the PMC an experienced crew that can jump in the first day as if it was a seamless continuation of the previous year. One more person is still needed for the lifting crew and one person who can rotate from the inside crew to outside as well. In addition, we might try to add 2 new positions to the processing line since the requirement to provide 6’ personal spacing has been lifted. On October 31 most emergency proclamations related to COVID were lifted on the state level as well.  The PMC will continue to require that those who feel sick to stay home, maintain the sanitation procedures that have been put in place, encourage masks and COVID boosters.

As it stands now the plans are to begin lifting and processing bare root stock on December 1st. The demand for stock in December is high. The PMC will hit it hard and try to fill requests for plants as quickly as possible. As mentioned above, the PMC has sold over 1.5 million plants so far and that number is rising, possibly up to 2 million! There will not be any time to waste.

Live Stake Harvest Continues

The fall live stake harvest continues. The PMC has seen unprecedented demand this fall for live stakes and the crew has been increased from 8 to 10 to try to keep up. Most of the stakes being requested are 6’ in length which takes longer to process than the standard 3’ length. They are averaging almost 3,000 per day which is barely keeping up with the amount going out each day. 39,000 6’ live stakes have been shipped or picked up so far. This pace should continue until bare root harvest begins. That is going to cause the budget for seasonal labor to increase from this time last year but it will be more than offset by an increase in revenue.

Seed Collection Winding Down

Seed collection for the PMC is winding down. The last species for us are Pea Fruit Rose (Rosa pisocarpa), Snowberry (Symphiocarpos albus), and Pacific Crabapple (Malus fusca).  Assistant Manager John Knox has headed up the collections and it has been a pretty good year overall. A few species were down in seed production from last year but that happens every year to various species. The private seed collectors that the PMC uses have also seen seed production for some species decline slightly this year. Every year is different and it can be difficult to answer what causes that.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions. You can find older posts about the Plant Materials Center at https://hub.wadistricts.org/topics/wacd/pmc/

Jim Brown
Director of Nursery Operations