Meet a propagator.
Brad Skinner—Highsun Express Plugs
I am in the business of propagating young starter plants, also known as plugs, for sale on to growers who then grow the plants to maturity. The production chain is becoming more specialised, with businesses either propagating or growing but not both. Propagators fulfil an important role in handling the seedling production process, which has its own challenges and unique requirements. By specialising in managing the plants at this stage of growth, the propagator takes those tasks off the hands of the growers, allowing them to concentrate on their own crop production operations.
Propagators source new plants and varieties from various sources which most growers would not usually know about or be able to access. In most cases, propagators also trial new products before they are released to the market. This helps to keep a consistent flow of quality products moving through the supply chain and ensures the growers are using tested and reliable growing material.
I began my career with studies at Gatton Agricultural College and started working with crops such as lettuce. I then moved on to cut roses, bedding plants and other seed-raised crops. I have found that I have gained a great many skills through experience in growing a wide range of crops and have learned a lot through plenty of reading. Formal training speeds up the learning process, and hands-on experience allows you to learn by your mistakes.
I am very content with my job and with the challenges of finding new products. It takes me around the world visiting breeders and trade shows. Running a small business is very challenging and requires you to stay up-to-date on all the rules and regulations. I work with several younger growers who appear to want to make this industry their ongoing career. They certainly become immersed in the daily challenges, including weekend work, so there is a certain commitment to the job, which they are embracing.
The number-one challenge to this industry is to thoroughly understand the physiology of a plant, from the seed to sending the seedling out the door. A lasting solution to a problem will not happen by being told what to do; each professional propagator must understand the why and how about the needs of the plants and how they grow.
My advice to those entering the business is to be prepared to start at the bottom and to ask questions. While TAFE or university are important to start with and to gain a job, the true learning starts when you get in amongst the plants. For example, you start to learn when you first pick up the hose and make a decision about how to use the water that comes from it. Knowing when to water, when to leave it and when to fertilise is the difference between a thriving, healthy seedling and a poor or second-grade one. This and many other decisions in the daily life of a plant propagator make the job complex and challenging, but also very interesting and worthwhile.