Thirst for innovation drives Pohlmans Nursery
IN NOVEMBER 1976 Pohlmans Nursery supplied its first crop of 4000 tomato seedlings to a family in Coominya.
More than 40 years later it is the largest independently owned nursery in Queensland and produces more than 30 million plants a year.
Many other nurseries have gone out of business in the past ten years but Pohlmans have not just hung tight, they continue to thrive by staying ahead of their competitors.
Pohlmans general manager Robert Pohlman said a big part of their success over the past four decades has been their dedication to innovation.
"Innovation is the big key,” Mr Pohlman said.
His parents, John and Val, laid the foundations for the nursery all those years ago and it was his father who set the standard for constantly seeking out new methods and technology.
On a trip to Holland in 1979, he discovered and refined the rolling aluminium table system.
The Dutch only used the system inside glasshouses but John redesigned it so that an entire glasshouse of plants could be moved outside for sun-hardening and moved back inside at night.
It is still used in the nursery today.
That standard is something that has carried on to the next generations.
"So when it came to him building a nursery, he travelled the world,” he said.
"He says 'go look for new plants and look for new technology'. You have to be cutting edge. All the time we think what can we put in to make us more efficient.”
It has been that constant hunger for what's around the corner that has kept Pohlmans on top.
"What has happened since 2008, with the last big drought, is a lot of nurseries went out,” he said.
"We've always hung in, tried to stay innovative especially with new plant varieties.
"We do a lot of our own trials, we might bring them in from Europe but we've still got to trial them to make sure they handle this climate, if they'll flower properly and form for our customer.”
Rob follows in his father's footsteps, globe trotting to stay on top of the latest growing trends.
"For innovation we travel the world,” he said.
"I've just come back from America then I'll be in China, then back in America in eight weeks then in China after that then I'm in Europe.
"So we're always looking (for what's next).”
The nursery as it stands in 2017 is one of the Lockyer Valley's most successful businesses.
Their main customer base sits primarily between Cairns and Newcastle with Pohlmans supplying more than 1000 customers including major chains such as Woolworths, Bunnings, Aldi and Coles.
Their plants even add to a touch of colour to theme parks like Dream World and Movie World.
They employ more than 180 people, injecting more $12 million into the local economy in the process.
The nursery offers tours and trips to garden clubs, TAFE college, schools and others to give them a taste of the massive wholesale production that often goes unseen.
"Most people think you put a few seeds in a pot, but there are so many different parts,” he said.
"Most people will only ever see the retail side.”
One of Rob's point of pride behind the scenes is the innovative greenhouses that have proven to be well ahead of their time.
"It's called a Cravo,” he said.
"The first house we put in 19 years ago, you see more farmers put in now.”
Staff can check in on the house from anywhere around the globe via their iPhones. "We can look anywhere in the world and see what the house is doing,” he said.
"The house will open, close, shut because it's too windy, if there's too much UV it'll shut the shade curtain, if there chance of rain it will shut the roof, if it's too humid it will crack the roof.”
Farmers have picked up the technology for growing fruit and vegetables.
"For commercial farmers it's brilliant technology, it's just that we bought it in for pot production 19 years ago,” he said.
Saving water wherever possible when growing plants was also a major priority.
"We've been able to cut our water by 70% by putting in this boom irrigation, instead of overhead water and wasting a lot,” he said.
Rob embodies the passion his family and staff have for the industry, not just to carry the nursery sustainably into the future but to be part of something they truly love.
"Even though my business is growing, if I can put more efficient process in place and keep the same staff but I can actually grow my turnover by putting more robots and packing efficiencies in place,” he said.
"Most of my management committee have been with me ten and 20 years, the biggest key there, is a lot of the people who work for me it's not just a job, it's a passion for what they do,” he said.
"They have a passion in horticulture, they love plants, they love the new technology we put in and they especially love the new varieties.”