The busy spring season is always a flurry of activity and a mad dash to get everyone their growing supplies in time for the beginning of the growing season. Every year we and others in our industry make preparations to avoid stock outs and long turnaround times, and every year we all seem to take one step forward and two steps back. What is in demand from one year to the next is largely the same, though the ebbs and flows are such that we’re never really able to stay ahead of the curve.
Last year, the industry was upended with a global pandemic that sent demand through the roof. Seeds were sold out across the country, and our lead times extended to 14 days at one point. Not our finest hour, but everyone else was in the same boat and none of us could see it coming.
We spent the off season bringing in substantially more inventory than we did in 2020, expecting supply chains to be squeezed and demand to remain high. It looks like that forecast was the right one, but even our aggressive buying is proving to not have been quite aggressive enough. Read on to learn what current shortages we’re facing, and what we expect in the coming days and weeks.
Current Inventory Concerns (updated 2.25.2021)
- Fertilizer – Specifically that from JR Peters, otherwise known as Jack’s. Their water soluble 20-20-20 is the most popular fertilizer we sell and comes in 25# bags. This is a production shortage similar to vermiculite, so could be a battle all year to keep up.
1020 Trays – Our most popular item will unfortunately be out of stock for about a week due to production bottlenecks and high early volume. Additionally, there is a massive backlog at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles that threatens many other items availability for spring.
- Vermiculite – Vermiculite (and to a lesser degree, perlite) is a challenge even during normal times due to the fact that production is a challenge. We anticipate extreme shortage of the material this year, with total unavailability for the first half of the year a real possibility.
Plastic Inserts – Right now we are squeezed on Inserts, which are thin plastic celled containers with perforations. They are often used in seed starting and nest inside heavier duty plastic trays. Our vendor is having trouble keeping up with demand, but going forward we hope that specific bottleneck begins to release. I can’t say the same for other places and other products.
- Plastic Film – There is a worldwide shortage of plastic resin needed to make plastic sheeting. That will almost certainly lead to a supply crunch later in the year (side note, I’m also part-owner and roaster at a local coffee shop and we have minor plastic items that are unavailable because of this same shortage).
- Greenhouses – Greenhouses especially are already in a severe crunch. Steel is hard to come by and our primary greenhouse vendor is 3-4 months behind. Another vendor that specializes in aluminum frames is 4 months behind. Small hobby greenhouses are in short supply. We’ve brought in some low cost caterpillar and low tunnel structures, but not very many and they will likely sell out. We do have stock of some of our more affordable structures, what we call cold frames, but that is mostly being sold to local customers out of our Sacramento office. No telling how long that inventory will last, and then it will be 2-3 months lead time.
- Fans, Shutters, items with electric motors – We expect anything that has electrical components such as fans and shutter motors, to be in short supply later this year.
Overall, several product categories will face either long lead times or just plain be unavailable as the year wears on. This all stems from the supply chain disruption of last year, and while it should improve into the second half of the year, by then spring will be under way and some growers will be left unable to get what they need. Even once supply normalizes, we anticipate demand being at or above pandemic levels for at least the next few years and likely for many more. That is great news in the long-term! However the spring of 2021 promises to be one of the most difficult in recent memory to navigate for small growers and gardeners.