Speedling Incorporated

Growing innovative nursery products since 1968
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

After more than 40 years in business, Speedling Incorporated is deeply rooted in the horticulture industry. From major vegetable crops to ornamental plants, inverted pyramid trays to innovative sub-irrigation systems and a pioneering presence in plug and energy crop production, Speedling brings renowned expertise in plant propagation and production.

Based in Sun City, Florida, Speedling now has eight locations from Florida to Georgia and Texas to California, with a combined 3.7 million square feet of greenhouse space coast to coast.

“Speedling was founded in 1968 by George Todd and Bud Leisey,” tells Greg Davis, now president and CEO of the Florida-rooted operation. “They were introduced to the industry in the 1940s, when their fathers grew cauliflower in upstate New York.”

Turning the industry upside down

Together, Leisey and Todd created Speedling on the foundation of innovative horticulture. In 1965, the pair revolutionized the transplant industry with their original Todd Trays, utilizing inverted pyramid technology.

“The shape of the trays reduced production costs for farmers by improving survivability and speed to harvest,” tells Davis. “The open bottom design allowed for air pruning of the tap root, creating strong secondary roots. The overall structure of the roots permitted greater capacity to forage for nutrients and easy extractions with limited damage during transfer.”

Before the inverted pyramid trays, transplant shock was a major issue for farmers. “The process of transplanting was tedious and costly,” explains Davis. “Speedling’s trays created a process that reinforced the roots, creating stronger secondary roots that excelled at foraging for nutrients. This made the plants less susceptible to transplant shock, created healthier plants overall and led to higher and earlier yields.”

According to Davis, the ease of transfer, coupled with the efficient shape of the reusable trays, allowed for more utilization of greenhouse space, reduced production costs, reduced risk in the field, increased yields and decreased water usage. “This invention not only encouraged the growth of commercial nurseries, but also facilitated the use of better, higher priced hybrid seeds.”

Since 1965, when Leisey and Todd first launched the revolutionary tray, the Speedling’s tray has made a global impact, making its way to Australia, Europe, Israel, South Africa and other parts of the world. And the system is still flourishing worldwide, fulfilling a dream started by Speedling’s founders.

Speedling Inc.

A history of innovation

By 1988, Leisey and Todd were well at work on their next vision to change the agricultural world – the Speedling II sub-irrigation system. The system, now in effect at Speedling’s locations in Bushnell, Florida, as well as Nipomo, California, was state-of-the-art in the late 1980s and set the new industry standard.

The sub-irrigation system reduces disease, water usage and labor, as well as chemical application costs. “With fewer people involved in the production process and less moisture on the foliage it further reduces the possibility for disease,” explains Davis. “Sub-irrigation also promotes more uniform plant growth by distributing water evenly among the plants.”

The system continues to provide savings and quality to Florida and California farmers and consumers alike by providing affordable, fresh produce and vegetables.

In-house manufacturing and prime location

Today, the Speedling EPS manufacturing and horticultural products divisions stand in Sun City and are the source of the company’s growing containers. “The container molding facility has been in operation since 1975,” tells Davis. “In addition to trays we manufacture insulated containers molded with high-density expandable polystyrene and corrugated boxes. We also offer a variety of different plastic inserts for older trays. In addition, we perform custom molding and offer a variety of shipping boxes for sale.”

As Speedling’s first nursery operation, Sun City has undergone many renovations and improvements over the years. Located within a mile of Tampa Bay, the Sun City nursery benefits from high light levels combined with cooling bay breezes.

“Our climatic benefit and close proximity to Tampa’s international airport enhances our nursery capabilities,” explains Davis. “Our large size allows Speedling to use a variety of seeders to meet specific customer needs. All seeded trays go through a germination chamber, each with its own cooling, heating, fog, humidity and light control to accommodate specific requirements of each crop.”

Speedling has long been a leader in horticultural technology, growing more than 1 billion vegetable and ornamental transplants annually. Among the wide variety of edibles growing in Speedling’s greenhouses are: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, tomatoes, lettuces, leeks, peppers, watermelons and more.

Furthermore, ornamental varieties include: geraniums, perennials, pansies and poinsettias. Essentially all transplants are grown on contract.

The operation is a massive one, with sights on continued growth. “We have plans to build out our sites in Bushnell, Florida, and Alamo, Texas,” reveals Davis. “We are already planning the Bushnell build-out and we expect to break ground in summer 2015. Alamo planning will begin after Bushnell is complete, and then we will look at Sun City.”

Even before rapid expansion, Speedling has been committed to advancing agricultural technology; which Todd spent his lifetime dedicated to. “Although Todd started in the fields, his planter tray success placed him at the forefront of Speedling, as a visionary with the goal of feeding the world,” tells Davis. “Some of the same customers he acquired continue as Speedling customers today because of its superior customer service and quality.”

Speedling Incorporated’s biggest contributions to agriculture in Florida and beyond – the Speedling Planter Flats and the Speedling II sub-irrigation system – have advanced technology and improved growing operations worldwide, forever turning the industry upside down.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Crowe Horwath LLP
Elkhorn Packaging Co., LLC