After nearly 75 years of supplying trees and shrubs for the horticulture industry, the L.E. Cooke Co. is closing its bare root nursery division.
Company president Ron Ludekens and CEO and general manager David H. Cox recently published a blog post covering the details behind the decision to cease operations. The 2018 spring shipping season will be the last for the Visalia, Calif.-based grower. The L.E. Cooke Supply Company that makes Miracle Garden Tie and imports the MAX Tapeners for distribution will continue on as a separate business, but the only growing operation to continue will be a small nursery for grafted liner production to the nursery trade.
The closure will have a large impact on the market, which Ludekens and Cox anticipated. In an effort to minimize the impact, they began having discussions with several existing nurseries during the summer of 2016 informing them of the plans and providing them with sales numbers of the products we had sold so they could ramp up their planting and budding plans to compensate.
L.E. Cooke Co. has worked with Dave Wilson Nursery (Hickman, Calif.) concerning the trees, Weeks Berry Farm (Keizer, Ore.) for the berries and vegetables and Far Western Nurseries (Visalia, Calif.) for the high-volume grape vines. They were provided with the varieties and numbers the L.E. Cooke Co. sold, but what they chose to add in both volume and additional varieties in limited time was left up to them.
The L.E. Cooke Co. has retained its skilled workforce through this final growing season and has a full quality product line, like normal, ready to ship for early 2018. Ludekens and Cox report that bookings have been solid for the 2017-18 season. Because of the planned shutdown, nurseries may have interest in picking up extra trees this season in anticipation of shortages created for the near future. A current availability list is on the company’s website.
Ludekens and Cox’s letter states several reasons for the closure, including the challenges of producing a large, diverse blend of varieties, selling them to a declining independent nursery market, and regulatory issues like the state of California’s water use limitations in the wake of the post-recession drought.
The nursery has introduced 150 varieties through the years, with several more in the pipeline. L.E. Cooke Co. is trying to license them to other growers before the budwood orchards are removed and the trees are lost forever.