Propogation and new plant varieties at Lyndale Nurseries
New Zealand’s largest propagation nursery Lyndale Liners, is now exporting the intellectual property around plants rather than the individual plants themselves.
Malcolm Woolmore started work at Lyndale when he was 13. He wanted a new sail for his yacht and his parents told him to go down the road and get a job. So his career grew out of sailing. Later after university, and working as a town planner, he went back to Lyndale where he was offered a job managing it. Thirty years ago he became a partner in the nursery and has owned it entirely since 2001.
A liner in the nursery business refers to a young plant. After germinating in a greenhouse, all young plants were traditionally grown on in the open ground. First a string line was set out, then a hole dug for the plant along the line. Now all liners are grown on in small pots.
Lyndale Liners is the largest propagation nursery of its type in New Zealand, producing three million ornamental trees and shrubs each year.
All plants are grown from either tissue culture or cuttings. The nursery contracts out tissue culture production to specialist tissue culture labs.
The nursery has 25 staff and employing such a large number brings with it a certain degree of responsibility for their livelihoods. The business has become a big family, and it’s not all about making money. Malcolm says “I enjoy working with plants and enjoy working with plant people. My wife Trina is a garden designer and has brilliant plant knowledge. She takes the photos, and will focus on the setting of the plant, which tells a whole message. What we are selling with many of these new plants is a promise and we need first class photographic material. And that adds a lot of value. We are learning how to use our Facebook page, and her photos for it are a really good example of a job I dumped on her.”
Kiwi Flora is a separate company that developed out of the business. They work closely with breeders to develop and protect and export only the best new plant varieties.
Malcolm says, “Our exporting business has changed hugely. We used to export around 15% of our production, but now we export virtually no plants. We used to export young camellia plants to the UK, but our profit margin was getting lower and lower. This was one of the reasons it became harder to export out of NZ. Instead we have harnessed the fantastic interest people overseas have for New Zealand plants and license growers overseas to use the intellectual property around particular plants, and they pay us for the right to grow the plants.”
“There’s huge private to semi-professional interest in breeding plants, and a huge range of temperate plant material can be grown here. We have a massive amount of plant material that was imported to NZ before the rules changed around importing in 1998, and this material is being used to breed new varieties.”
“We represent breeders such as Dr. Keith Hammett, a scientist and plant breeder who breeds dahlias, dianthus and clivias. We collaborate with him, and use a network of nurseries overseas to commercialise his innovations. We set them up with the material they need, and they send us cheques.”
“As well as representing breeders, we also dabble in plant breeding. I don’t have a speciality, but we have produced two cabbage trees and some Uncinia which are now grown in Ireland and the USA. The Uncinia was found in the nursery by Belinda White, one of our staff members at the time. In nature variations occur all the time and we have an incentive scheme at work that if staff find something they get a finder’s fee. This particular one has quite a reasonable point of difference and we figured out how to propagate it and now it has been made available around the world. We currently have sales close to 500,000 of this Uncinia a year. In NZ and Australia it is called Belinda’s Find, and in other countries it is called Ever Red.
All these plants are protected by patent. In NZ, the system used is called Plant Variety Rights, or PVR for short. In the US, plants are patented just like any other product but in other parts of the world, a different patent system especially for plants is used.
Plant breeders have a 25-year right to the income from their patented plants. We can expect to get a return over the 25-year period, but it takes quite a lot of infrastructure to set that up. There are often hurdles to overcome before a plant can be sold. For instance, in the case of Keith Hammett’s products, you can’t sell a dahlia in the US market until you get rid of transmittable viruses. Part of what we do is to ensure the material we have available is virus-free.
We get that work done in Germany, and then the plant is sent off to Israel or somewhere with mass production systems to produce a little cutting for a matter of cents, then it is sent on to America to grow.
One of the ways we have expanded our business is by making potting mix. We supply other nurseries and that business has been growing faster than our nursery business.
Lyndale is using more and more biological preparations in its nursery. For example compost teas are sprayed onto plants to inoculate them with beneficial fungi and to enhance growth and plant health. This programme has also reduced the number of chemical sprays used and has reduced production costs.
Kiwi Flora co-director Morten Damstead says “At Kiwi Flora we deal with unique plant varieties which set themselves apart from the norm. That means we get away from perceived customer values and we create a market for the growers growing them overseas, so that they can get a better margin.”
“We are operating mainly in the North American and European markets, with licensees also in Australia and Japan. In Europe it’s predominantly the western European countries.”
“I am Danish, and Malcolm and I have been partners in Kiwi Flora for five years. I married Kim, a Kiwi in Scotland, and we have been living here for 18 years. I’m a trained plant grower, and have previously sold plants in Europe and the UK.”