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Growing business in Silver Springs

BRIAN DUGGAN
bduggan@nevadaappeal.com
Brian Duggan/Nevada Appeal
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After builders started erecting them in October, a collection of plastic covered hanger-like structures now stand out like a sore thumb amid the snow-covered desert landscape near Silver Springs.

Or is it a green thumb?

Bonnie Plants, a company that grows vegetable and herb starter pots that are sold in nurseries for local gardeners, is planning to open its first Nevada operation on Feb. 15 with products reaching area retailers in March, station manager Andrew Clinkenbeard said last week.

Clinkenbeard said the Northern Nevada Development Authority helped the company find the land to build the facility after Bonnie Plants approached the authority last fall about a potential move to Northern Nevada with the help of Lyon County Manager Dennis Stark.

“The biggest draw for us was the centralized location because about 70 percent of our business is done in Reno and Carson,” Clinkenbeard said. “And we service all the way out into Elko and do some northeastern California.”

He said the company will also begin serving areas such as Yerington and Gardnerville as it expands.

“A lot of people have a hard time believe you can grow plants here because the season is so short compared to other place, but the products that we produce, most of them have a 45 to 80 day maturity period,” Clinkenbeard said. “This economic climate is also very advantageous to our type of business because they can save money.”

The company, he add, even has plants growing in the White House vegetable garden.

Bonnie Plants was established in 1918 by Livingston and Bonnie Paulk as a plant farm in Bullock County, Alabama. The Alabama Farmers Cooperative Inc., today made up of about 3,000 farmers, eventually purchased the company in 1975.

Today, the company has 62 greenhouse production facilities around the country, shipping about 720,000 plants to the Northern Nevada region annually. With the new facility, that output is expected to grow to about 1.2 million.

The company reported about $172 million in earnings in 2008, according to the latest earnings report from Alabama Farmers Cooperative Inc. Clinkenbeard said the company did about $194 million in business in 2009.

“We’re going to be one of the very few locally grown plants,” he said. “We get into local markets and we try to help out the local economy.”

He said the company will hire about 20 employees, but most of the jobs will be seasonal throughout the seven-month growing season, lasting from late February through August.

In 2009, the company grew 110 varieties of vegetables and herbs. This year, it will grow 288, Clinkenbeard said. The products are not organically certified because they are sprayed with a fungicide.

As for how they plan on growing things such as tomatoes and basil in a desert environment, the greenhouses maintain a temperature between 70 degrees and 115 degrees and are outfitted with large exhaust fans that can cycle the air inside every four seconds, “so we can move a substantial amount of air out of there to vacate the heat in the hot parts of the summer and we can close it down and seal it up and keep it warm in the cool parts,” Clinkenbeard said.

The facility will use about 7.5 acre feet of water each year from an area well, which amounts to about 2.4 million gallons.

The company has greenhouses in other extreme environments that range from Arizona to a planned operation in Alaska.

After all, the only thing a greenhouse needs to operate effectively, Clinkenbeard said, is sun and water.