“This system allows us to grow many baskets in a small area with very little labor”

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“We are currently in the middle of spring production and our early spring sales are going well. We are busy with planting for Mother’s Day and the May/June sales. Our hanging basket systems are all full to capacity – we couldn’t grow the amount of baskets we do without them,” says Philip Pannekoek, Business Owner at Panamara Acres (Chilliwack, Canada) when talking about the Metazet hanging basket system.

Family picture

Mainly hanging baskets
Panamara Acres is a 26,000 sq ft (2400 sq mt) gutter-connected greenhouse, including a planting and shipping warehouse with loading docks. It also has roughly 10,000 sq ft (900 sq m) of polytunnels which are mainly used to finish crops at cooler temperatures. Pannekoek and his wife Jody started Panamara Acres in 2009, and a year later they started producing. The company started out with a focus on growing hanging baskets for independent Garden Centers, but they now also grow planters and a whole selection of bedding plants on the greenhouse floor. “We started it as a side business while I was working as Head Grower at DeVry Greenhouses, a large bedding plant greenhouse in Chilliwack. In our first two years of operation, we contract grew hanging baskets for DeVry while I continued my job as Head Grower. In 2012 I left DeVry, and that was the first year that we started producing our own product for our own markets – which are mostly independent garden centers and occasionally larger growers.”

One of the first investments
Hanging basket systems were one of the first things that the company invested in. In 2010 the company installed four systems and an additional two in 2017. Currently, 70% of Panamara Acres’s baskets are on these systems. (The remaining 30% are hung over pathways and its warehouse using a scissor lift, and they are watered with drippers). The automated hanging basket systems are from Metazet, a Dutch company, and made in North America. Panamara Acres was one of the first businesses to install them in North America.

This video shows the hanging basket system at Panamara Acres.

According to Metazet’s Dennis van Gaalen, General Manager of Metazet Canada these systems have multiple advantages including creating additional growing space, easing work, lowering labor costs, and providing safer conditions for crops and people. Metazet highlights that the systems can be used as an extra cultivation layer above each other and that they allow growers to water plants automatically. Moreover, they state that the systems can be customized to existing and new greenhouses. Pannekoek adds: “One of the main benefits of these systems is that a section of the track lowers to working heights. So, we don’t need ladders or lifts to access the baskets, making it much safer and easier for our employees.” Further, it’s worth mentioning that the systems are suitable for both smaller and larger companies. Recently, 65 bays of 450 meters of the systems have been installed at a Dutch nursery, providing space for a total of 65,000 hanging plants.

Advantage of hanging basket systems at Panamara Acres
So why did Panamara Acres choose this system? Pannekoek: “We initially chose this hanging basket system for labor savings, since the first couple years we were in business I still had a full-time job. We needed something that would be easy and fast for hanging and shipping baskets, as we did it early in the morning or in the evening. These systems’ main benefit is that we can quickly ship a system empty and re-hang it with baskets again, giving us the ability to finish more baskets for the spring market. In each system, we can hang about 800 baskets. (The amount of plants depends on the length of the system.) With three people we can ship a system empty and rehang it full again within 3 hours. It is also very convenient for watering the baskets, as this is done automatically by a computer eye as the system moves the baskets around. However, we learned in our early years that we must be very proactive with watering in this way, as it can take 1.5 hours for the system to complete its cycle. On a hot day plants can dry out quickly and you can’t just turn a tap on to water all the baskets at the same time- we need to wait for the system to water.”

He continues: “Because the spring season is quite short, we need to maximize the number of crops we can grow. If we wanted to do the same amount of turns that we do now (with these systems) we would need another 5 employees, to manage the shipping and rehanging. Instead, we currently have 1 local full-time employee and 2 seasonal workers from Guatemala. The systems allow us to grow and sell many baskets in a small area with very little labor. The systems are a big investment. I would say the way we grow and maximize their usage, the payback is around 3-4 years. It might be quicker now because of the increase in labor costs.”

Expansion plans?
“We have no plans to increase our basket production, so I don’t see us installing any more systems unless we add on more greenhouses. At this point we have no plans for that either. With the size of our operation, my wife and I can take care of all the production planning, growing, sales, management, and bookkeeping. Moreover, we can make a good living being this size. If we were to expand, it would need to be a fairly big expansion so we could afford higher paid employees to help with management as it would be too much on our own. It would only make sense if we really increased our sales and profits. One of my mentors always mentioned that in this industry, you either need to be under an acre in size or five acres, as the in-between size usually isn’t very efficient. While we currently don’t have plans to expand our wholesale business, we would love to sell our product retail one day if one or more of our five daughters would be interested in joining us!”

For more information:
Philip Pannekoek
Panamara Acres Ltd.
10905 McSween Road
Chilliwack, British Columbia
Email: [email protected]

Dennis van Gaalen
Email: [email protected]

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