When Fowler Plant Company was founded, it only grew and transplanted tobacco plants. Soon after, however, local customers wanted the company to offer more than tobacco. “People started asking [founder Bruce Fowler] to grow different plants,” Owner Ashley Fowler says. “And the business grew from there.” Fowler opened a greenhouse in 1996 and shifted the business’ focus.
Most of Fowler’s business now is selling produce transplants to growers in the area that rely on Fowler’s plants for their businesses. What Fowler feels sets them apart from the competition is their hands-on approach to growing. It’s a job Fowler takes seriously.
“When customers contract plants with me, they expect a good, quality plant,” he says. “For 30 or 40 days, I have that customer’s livelihood in my hands. That’s a lot of responsibility.”
“Take the pepper farmer example,” he continues. “He hands me $120,000 worth of seed that’s been bought and paid for. You mess that up, you put yourself out of business and him in financial burden.”
That sense of responsibility to his customers is why his relationship with Atlas Manufacturing has been a boon for Fowler Plant Company. Atlas and Fowler Plant Company have had a working partnership for about 15 years. They currently have other brands of houses on-site, but Atlas has become their main structures provider because Fowler believes they build strong greenhouses that are designed with the customer in mind. It helps, too, that Atlas’ Alapaha, Ga. headquarters is only an hour away from Fowler Plant Company’s base in Moultrie, Ga.
The automation systems Atlas installed cover components from temperature to curtains to watering. But these systems also solve a larger issue: The skilled labor pool in Moultrie isn’t large enough to supply the workers needed to perform the tasks that Atlas’ systems can handle.
Prior to the current systems, everything in their facilities had to be manually operated. Now, Fowler can monitor and control his environmental and water systems from his office desk. He also says the systems have allowed Fowler Plant Company to cut their fuel consumption by 30 percent in the winter.
“It helps me free up a lot of man hours,” Fowler says. “Finding someone willing to stick with it and do the kind of work we do — seven days a week, the hours we work — is hard.”
Since the systems were installed, Fowler says his company’s plants have become more uniform across the board in terms of size. This is important for his business, as it allows his customers to more effectively plan their production schedules and determine when they should plant his transplants in their own operations.
At the moment, he is considering expanding his business and building more greenhouses. When it comes time to officially start construction, Fowler has already decided that Atlas is the only greenhouse and automation systems manufacturer he wants to work with in the future.
“There would be no question about it,” Fowler says. — Chris Manning