Making Informed Decisions

April 4, 2016

Categories: Starting a New Farm

Just because your Great Aunt‘s cousin‘s friend says it -doesn‘t make it a ’fact‘. Taking the time to make informed decisions will save you a lot of angst, time and money. When we were considering growing peony for the cut flower market we received all kinds of ’facts‘ and opinions.

Our Alaska Peonies are available in July, and often into August.   The friend of the cousin of your Great Aunt said ’no one gets married in the summer months‘. Actually, according to The Wedding Report, 39.5% of weddings take place in the 3rd quarter, making the summer months the most popular months for weddings. Only the single month of June is busier than the summer months. And just for funnies, did you know the average wedding cost in the USA is $23,000. Certainly they can afford our beautiful Alaska peonies.

In the late 90s I received a phone call from a commercial photographer from New York. They wanted peony stems for a Body Works commercial. I didn‘t sell stems. At that time I owned a small retail garden center. I had peonies in my 16 display gardens. These gardens were for the benefit of my garden center customers to see how the plants performed in the gardens versus just a 3 gallon pot on the shelf. To this date I have no idea how they found Alaska peonies. I do remember Judith Wilmarth in Anchorage commonly referred to as the ’peony lady‘ gave them my name. Judith was the first person to sell stems in Alaska to Carrs. She sold potted peony to Alaska Mill and Feed and other retail outlets.

After several phone calls begging for the stems I came up with an exorbitant price of $4 per stem. They very excitedly said, can you send them today? I had no boxes, no coolers, no knowledge either about harvesting and shipping peony stems. Today I really don‘t remember what stage the blooms were when I shipped them. They may have all been totally open. I know they certainly hadn‘t been cooled the at least 24 hours we require now and I certainly know there was no hydration that went on or any ice packs etc. They paid for the peonies so I guess it worked. I cringe today when I think back on this experience.

Today, my informed decision to run a sustainable farm, which includes a profit margin, based on costs of growing the peony including labor, field maintenance, equipment and depreciation, coolers, the inevitable plant losses each year, insurance and so forth, is not far from the shoot from the hip $4 charged to the NY photographers. What I thought was an exorbitant price in actuality might have even been less than required to make a profit growing peony for the commercial cut flower market. The different is now my costs are based on 10 years‘ experience.

New peony farmers might think they can cut these costs but unless they have figured out how to cut freight costs of obtaining necessary growing supplies, how to make sure they never have any losses in the chain from growing to shipping, how to work 28 hours a day yourself and your wife and kids to avoid labor costs, how to secure a market without advertising-well you get the picture. Farms not informed, may make decisions guaranteed to fail without the actual facts and costs of growing peonies in Alaska.

Knowing which varieties to grow in your fields should also be based on facts.

Our next blog will be about varieties.