Consider contract growing this year

Contract growing affords opportunities and benefits for both the nursery and the municipality – species, quantity, quality and diversity – one stop shopping.

Contract growing is a practice whereby municipalities work with nurseries to create a long-term relationship for growing a desired species of tree to very exact standards. As the name implies, a contract is put in place between municipalities and individual nurseries to ensure, in advance, a certain quality, quantity and type of tree will be grown specifically for the municipality.

Contracts vary between nurseries and each will have different requirements and stipulations. For example, some nurseries may have a minimum quantity that needs to be ordered, while others will have no minimum. Also, these contracts require a down payment because they are future orders; the down payments may vary by nursery as well.

Despite the variance in contracts, all aim to do the same thing: provide municipalities a cost effective way to order a set amount of trees, of a specified quality and species, and prescribe to a set list of standards. These contracts not only provide benefits to municipalities (cost saving, diversity, quantity and quality), they also provide benefits to nurseries. Entering into contracts with municipalities provides nurseries with advanced and reliable income. They also provide targeted work which helps improve the planning processes. Such a mutually beneficial opportunity should not be overlooked. Jeff Wolter, Johnson Nurseries and member of the WI Urban Forestry Council, remarks, “Municipalities should know their growers.”  He goes on to say, “Municipalities need to have a working relationship with a nursery, and they should know one another’s expectations.  This will allow for higher communication and understanding.”

As with all decisions and considerations, there are barriers to contemplate. One of the major barriers for municipalities is funding a contract growing project. Many municipalities are wary of funding a project several months  in advance of receiving the product. There are several solutions to this problem. A few programs have adjusted the wording in proposals to shape the idea as a “service agreement.”  Another solution is checking the contract parameters with the nursery. Some nurseries offer a refund if the trees are not provided due to unforeseen complications: pests, climate, faulty irrigation, etc. It is also important to remember the advance payment in contract growing is a down payment.  It is not the full cost of the project, only a partial payment.

A barrier to smaller municipalities is that nurseries usually require a minimum quantity to be ordered. Wolter said, “Nurseries require minimum orders to maintain efficiencies that come with growing a larger quantity.” Smaller municipalities may only need 25 to 30 trees, but the minimum may be greater. One solution to this is finding other municipalities close by and combining orders.

“Four or five municipalities can get on a growing agreement and the order can be delivered to one site, cutting down on delivery cost” said Wolters.

A barrier that prevents nurseries from becoming involved is the risk they can be exposed to with crop failure. The most common, and logical, solution to this barrier is that nurseries should not agree to grow a species they have no experience with or is known to be risky.

Contract growing is a mutually beneficial agreement between municipalities and nurseries to produce quality trees, which will improve our urban forests by increasing green infrastructure and the benefits it provides. Check with your local nurseries to see if contract growing is a service they offer. Also, come to the WAA/DNR annual conference to hear presentations about ‘the ups and downs of tree availability’ and many other hot topics.


For more information contact Ellen Clark (, Urban Forestry Communication Specialist, at 608-267-2774.

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