New Dutchman Tree Farms' greenhouse opening up new opportunities
Aug 03, 2023
LAKE CITY — This March, Dutchman Tree Farms began operating its new 80,000-square-foot greenhouse located in Lake City.
Now the farm will have the ability to grow trees faster by two years and adapt quickly to the ever-changing Christmas tree market.
“We will be able to turn our fields much faster,” Northern Pines Nursery Manager Scott Powell said.
“Our crop rotation will be better and we’ll be able to adapt to the market a little bit faster, especially from the nursery side. If there’s a change like a higher demand or smaller demand, we’ll be able to respond faster to meet the market needs.”
The project started in May 2022 and construction on the greenhouse started in August 2022. It is used for mostly Christmas tree production, with some tree species also being used for conservation and reforestation.
Powell said the facility can grow 3.6 million tree seedlings. It also has 25,000 square feet of cold storage and can hold 42 semi-loads of product.
Powell said the greenhouse itself can control its environment and adjust the lighting, temperature and air ventilation. It also has a watering system, pest management program and fertigation to apply fertilizer with the irrigation water.
The lighting control allows the extend the amount of daylight the tree seedlings are exposed to by around two hours. Powell said this makes the seedlings think it’s still supposed to be awake and growing.
The temperature inside the greenhouse is maintained in the low to mid-80s during the day and in the 60s in the evening. The ventilation helps keep temperatures from rising too high and the double layer of plastic on the roof of the greenhouse softens the UV ray intensity on the plant.
By being able to control the greenhouse environment, Powell said they’re able to shorten the length of the growing process from four years to two years. After those two years, he said the trees are moved outside to continue growing in the field for six to eight years.
“The goal is to shorten the life cycle of that plant growing inside of the greenhouse,” Powell said. “Typically for us, it’s 10 to 12 years from seed until Christmas tree harvest and so if we can shave a couple of years off that process, it helps us land a more viable plant in the future.”
The farm’s new facility also has equipment that allows it to make its own plugs to grow the trees in, sometime it had not been doing before. Powell said they were previously buying plugs from Oregon and Washington.
Now the farm can take care of itself and provide a local option to other nurseries in Michigan for their conifer plug production.
Powell said their equipment takes a flat paper and forms it into a cylinder. The paper is then heat sealed and a vacuum is used to suck the growing media (peat moss) into it.
Powell said the most widely used practice in the industry is growing the seedlings in a Styrofoam tray. With these trays, he said the tree’s roots end up in the bottom of the plug and doesn’t lend themselves to a good, fibrous root system.
The way Dutchman Tree Farms is growing its seedlings allows for the root system to develop throughout the entire plug cavity, which helps it obtain the water and nutrients it needs.
“That’s where the big difference lies in the development process,” he said. “It improves the development of those roots, which in turn, is an improvement on the tree in subsequent years.”
One of the benefits of the new Dutchman facility is the ability to adapt to customer demands. Powell said they are able to respond more quickly in an industry where supply and demand fluctuate rapidly.
This is especially beneficial when you consider it takes around a decade to grow a fully growth Christmas tree.
Powell said they’ll also be able to hit other markets they haven’t been able to in the past. This includes other states and big box stores. The farm is also opening up other avenues through its conservation efforts.
“It’s another market. It’s more than just cutting Christmas trees,” he said. “We’ve always done some conservation and reforestation work. This just gives us the opportunity to add that in and add that piece of the market into our composition.”
Operating the new greenhouse has been a learning curve Powell said. Having not grown indoors before, he said the staff has learned a lot already and is looking forward to what the future brings with its new greenhouse.
“The goal is always going to be to be at capacity, continue to learn how we can best grow plants for ourselves and our customers and to see what opportunities exist for expansion,” Powell said.
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