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Growing through ingenuity and innovation

PRT was founded in 1988 in response to a privatization initiative by the government of British Columbia. The company, then known as Pacific Regeneration Technologies Inc., was born from the efforts of Charlie Johnson, Ev Van Eerden and a diverse group of employees who together purchased six forest seedling nurseries from the government.

To date, PRT has planted more than three billion forest seedlings, operates a network of nurseries in Canada and the United States and employs about 500 people.

Starting from scratch

The company started from scratch. It had a business plan but no offices and no money. What PRT did have, according to Charlie Johnson, was more valuable: “The most important asset we bought was the employees’ expertise and dedication.”

And indeed the company’s first decade would bear this out. In only 10 years, PRT expanded from 6 to 10 nurseries, doubled production to 90 million seedlings and tripled sales to $22 million.

Building the PRT team

One of the biggest challenges initially was our decentralized structure. Most businesses start out in one location and then gradually expand, but PRT started with six completely different groups of people in six far-flung locations. Over time, however, the company turned this potential problem into a competitive advantage. We now have a network of nurseries in Canada and the United States that offer the benefits of a local operation along with the experience and resources of a large forest nursery company.

We soon recognized that, as part of our overall dedication to customer service, we needed to work even more closely with our customers. By helping foresters to select appropriate stock types for planting and to analyze post-planting growth, we have made significant contributions to plantation establishment in Canada. Through improved growing techniques, for example, our nurseries contributed to the development of a summer planting program on Vancouver Island and to the production of early sow crops for summer delivery in BC’s Interior region.

Adapting to change

In 1987, the forest companies were required to take responsibility for replanting newly logged Crown land. The companies, therefore, began to demand higher quality trees and container-grown seedlings, as these were easier to plant and performed better in the field.

This presented a new problem: most of our then six nurseries were primarily bareroot operations. To remain competitive, we initiated an aggressive program to increase our container seedling capacity. In the first four years of the program, we added 325,000 square feet of greenhouse space through expansion and conversion of existing facilities. We also leased space and started to consider acquiring other nursery sites with established greenhouse capacity.

Going public

In 1997, we were approached with the idea of taking the company public as an income trust on the Toronto Stock Exchange. If the venture was successful, it would substantially strengthen PRT’s financial position. And indeed it was: on July 12, 1997 PRT’s initial public offering sold out, raising $56 million.

In 2012, PRT shareholders approved the purchase of all outstanding common shares by Mill Road Capital of Greenwich, CT. In 2018, PRT was acquired by TriWest Capital Partners of Calgary, AB.

Achieving a three-billion seedling milestone

In 2013 PRT celebrated its 25th anniversary and having grown 3 billion forest seedlings in North America. Reaching this milestone took vision, leadership and hard work. It also required ingenuity. From big innovations to tiny improvements, our employees found better ways to manage risks and to capture opportunities for customers. In 2018 we will celebrate our 30th anniversary and very likely our 4 billionth forest seedling grown.

Among our many notable achievements are the following:

  • We switched to white shipping cartons that keep seedlings cooler than our original brown cartons by as much as five to six degrees. Our white Cool Box is now the industry standard in western Canada.
  • We developed the Nutri-plug® Plus seedling. By injecting specifically formulated controlled-release fertilizer into the seedling’s root system, we reduce the cost of fertilization at the time of planting and improve initial growth rates.
  • We pioneered commercial-scale open-compound growing processes for a wider range of container seedlings to reduce costs and grow hardier seedlings.
  • We introduced automated transplanting and harvesting equipment to lower costs and improve efficiency at our nurseries.
  • We further diversified our operations by providing woody biomass plant cuttings and project management services for the bioenergy industry. 

In 2012, we changed our name to PRT Growing Services to better reflect our diversified growth strategy.

While our company has undergone significant changes since 1988, one thing has remained the same - the commitment of our employees to use ingenuity and innovation to bring high-performing crops to life.