Karol Pawlak (president of Fleuroselect) shares his vision about the challenges in the ornamental plant industry and the developments in breeding.
Flowers Food for thought Vision
Monday, 24 January 2022
Jacco Strating

‘Fully automated plant nurseries in the future’

Since 2019, Karol Pawlak (68) is president of Fleuroselect, the international organisation for the ornamental plants industry. GreenTech spoke with him about the challenges in the industry, the developments in breeding, and we look ahead to the FlowerTrials in June.

Karol Pawlak is also the founder of Vitroflora in Poland, a family company active in the propagation of ornamentals. Vitroflora produces millions of plants with different techniques (cuttings, seedlings, tissue culture plants). The company has its own lab, hosting a gene bank of genetic material for breeders and industry leaders, and producing Naktuinbouw certificated elite material for several companies. Production is located in Poland, Portugal, and the Netherlands.

“In the past, horticulture mainly consisted of small family businesses. Now it's one of the most globalised industries in the world." - Karol Pawlak (president of Fleuroselect)

Quality is the biggest strength

Pawlak has been observing the horticulture industry for over 50 years now. “The world has changed but the horticultural businesses have changed even more”, he says. “In the past, horticulture mainly consisted of small family businesses. Now it's one of the most globalised industries in the world. Today's keywords are specialization and professionalism. Breeding is carried out in large, specialized companies and the propagation material is produced around the equator or in countries with lower labour costs. The biggest strength of the ornamental industry is its quality.”

The global market is also the greatest challenge for the industry, Pawlak thinks. “Breeders of good varieties can discount their expenses faster and producers can produce plants cheaper on a larger scale. Suppliers can also benefit from this scale.” Besides that, there is an enormous progress in breeding, seed technology and production of planting material, according to Pawlak. “Scientists have developed completely new methods for breeding. Traditional breeding is using different climate zones, which allows the production of several crops in one year. More sophisticated breeding is using genetic engineering or even gene editing with a method such as CRISPR-CAS. Breeding is therefore developing at a very high pace. But I think it is also important that new varieties get a good testing phase, so the life cycle of good varieties can be longer in the future.”

Automation and robotisation

Horticulture is also a field with a large share of labour costs. “We try to reduce these costs in two ways. Part of the production is transferred to countries with milder climates and lower labour costs. The second way is automation and even robotisation of our production, internal transport, sorting, packaging, and many other processes. There are already nurseries in which many robots are working. In the future, some of the ornamental plant production will even be fully automated.”

“An important sustainable development within our industry, is recycling of compost, packaging, and pots." - Karol Pawlak (president of Fleuroselect)

A theme that is just as important is sustainability. Growers live close to nature and therefore environment protection and sustainable development are so important for the industry, Pawlak says. “We are in a way ‘oxygen producers’. During intensive horticultural production, plants absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide. In particular situations, we even have to fertilize plants with CO2. Another element is saving energy. We do that, amongst others, with energy saving greenhouses, LED, and energy screens. And finally, an important sustainable development within our industry, is recycling of compost, packaging, and pots. These are just examples of the rapid sustainable developments we are currently experiencing.”

Meet and do business

Pawlak says that the industry, in order to grow and develop, needs stable politics and a stable economy in the next years. “It is obvious that an energy crisis, international lockdowns and custom barriers do not contribute in a positive way.” Fleuroselect, the organisation of which Pawlak is president, can’t help the industry with those challenges. “We are not a lobbying organisation. However, we can contribute considerably to other, for our members important, challenges. Networking is the starting point and we are offering multiple occasions to do that. Every year, we are organising a yearly member convention which is highly appreciated by our members. In addition to that, we set up two industry events, our Home Garden Conference and Breeders & Distributors Conference. We are currently trying to overcome the covid restrictions through online events. And the FlowerTrials, which has integrated into Fleuroselect in 2020, offers the entire industry the opportunity to meet, discuss and do business.” In addition to that, Fleuroselect gives the best of her members’ new breeding a kick-start on their commercial journey with dedicated promotion at trade fairs, via the trade press, social media, and newsletters. “And finally, we are regularly setting up a market survey to analyse the sales at young plants level and activities to raise awareness against illegal propagation.”

Fleuroselect has a Board of Directors consisting of experienced horticulture managers. Pawlak is one of them. “All of us are working as a team. We have had to adapt our plans to the pandemic situation on multiple occasions. We had to skip our Convention in Shanghai, postpone our 50th anniversary Convention in Amsterdam, and nearly all other events have been transferred to online. I am sure that in 2022 we will be back on track and will have a wonderful 50th anniversary celebration in Amsterdam. The program prepared by the team is very interesting and I am sure our members will enjoy it.”

FlowerTrials

As already mentioned, the FlowerTrials are an important event for the industry. “For many years we have been a service provider for FlowerTrials. Now, after merging, we are fully responsible for the entire event. FlowerTrials really is a one-of-a-kind cooperation at breeder level and offers its exhibitors and visitors a unique experience. The global pot and bedding plant industry is meeting here in week 24. It is one of the key events of the worldwide horticultural calendar and I am very proud to have it on board.”



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