June 17, 2009

Putting People First

As Roy den Hollander describes how Garden State Growers has automated itself in recent years, you can hear a strong sense of compassion for his employees in his voice. At a time when minimum wages, health care and workers’ compensation costs are on most people’s minds, den Hollander is talking about adding conveyors as a means of rewarding his hardest-working employees. Equipment and automation are obviously a great way to shrink your labor force and reduce costs. Garden State, located in Pittstown, N.J., has been able to do both. But as den Hollander ponders automation’s value, he also considers the operation’s automation investment an investment in the loyalest people serving it. Before outdoor conveyors were added at Garden State, den Hollander describes employees lugging 2-gallon perennial containers two at a time into a field hundreds of feet away from the greenhouse. Imagine having to do that task a few hundred […]

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May 27, 2009

USDA Energy Grant Deadline Approaching

Growers interested in applying for a USDA energy grant this year must have their applications to the appropriate USDA Rural Development State Office by July 31. Growers are urged to submit their energy project’s application at the earliest opportunity because eligible high-scoring projects may qualify to be funded before July 31. Priority consideration is being given to projects requesting less than $20,000. The maximum USDA grant amounts are the same as previous years: $250,000 for energy-efficiency improvement projects and $500,000 for renewable energy projects. Grant requests cannot exceed 25 percent of the project’s eligible costs. The limit for loan guarantees has been raised to $25 million. Loan requests of $600,000 or less are eligible to receive a loan guarantee of up to 85 percent. The Federal Register announcement is available here.

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May 27, 2009

Secretary, Not Secretary Of State

Our friends Bill and Tammy Kemper were sharing dinner with us in one of the many fine restaurants in beautiful downtown Athens, and Bill was mentioning how things were going at work. He manages to juggle the requirements of maintaining a large medical center, from procurement to installation of new computer systems, while working with the entire staff.   On perhaps our third glass of wine, Bill talked about the frustrations of trying to interact with the dozens of doctors and staff, each of whom had an opinion and to whom he had to listen. Bill is a take-charge kind of fellow, but when all was said and done, he laughingly said, “I thought I was the Secretary of State but I was really only the secretary.”   That’s a statement we all should laugh about, and one that should remind us to never take our chieftain roles too seriously. I […]

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May 27, 2009

Passion: The Main Ingredient

Real-world triumphs and success stories are always the most inspiring. I read a great one in the March issue of US Airways Magazine. It was an excerpt from “Rubies In The Orchard,” a marketing strategy book written by Lynda Resnick, the “PomQueen” who defied conventional wisdom when she created a market for POM Wonderful pomegranate juice. She and her husband, Stewart, own Paramount Farms and Paramount Citrus and are the largest farmers of tree crops in the United States, with the nation’s largest orchards and processing plants for citrus, almonds and pistachios. They also have a link to our industry as owners of Teleflora, the world’s largest floral service company. After purchasing Teleflora in 1979, it was Lynda’s vision in 1980 to pair fresh cut floral arrangements with keepsake containers as “Flowers in a Gift.”  This woman has had a fascinating 40-year career in marketing running her own full-service advertising […]

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May 27, 2009

To Lease Or Buy

Truck and engine manufacturers have introduced numerous innovations in new truck models responding to ever-changing environmental regulations and the need to reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. With the price of diesel fuel at record levels, they’re working to provide new technologies that maximize driver productivity and fuel economy.   Olen Hunter, director of sales for PACCAR Leasing (PacLease), says the complexities of choosing and servicing these new truck technologies and balancing them with the company’s transportation needs can be challenging.    “Truck leasing can be a crucial strategy in accomplishing your company’s transportation needs, particularly if you want to take advantage of emerging technology, which is rapidly advancing in trucks in shorter and shorter cycles,” he says.     But before making the decision about whether to lease or buy a new piece of equipment, Hunter says there are five questions you should ask yourself. We […]

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May 27, 2009

Be Prepared For Change

As I’ve told you before, I’m a Danish storyteller. Here is a story about my father:  My father was born in Sweden in 1900. He moved with his family to Bornholm, Denmark in 1908 because his father was a stonemason, and there was a quarry on that island.   In 1916, he immigrated to the United States and lived in Brooklyn, N.Y. with relatives. He worked on machines that made cigars. He became an engineer and took care of the machines in several production facilities.   Things went well, and he was able to marry and have two children before the stock market crash hit in 1929. My parents had a third child in 1931, and then the family had to deal with the Great Depression. There were tough times, but he and my mother held our family together.   I was born in 1941, just before the bombing of […]

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May 8, 2009

Greenhouse Fire Costly For Allegheny County

A fire at Allegheny County’s (Pa.) main greenhouse late last week destroyed flowers destined for Greater Pittsburgh, county parks and area airports. It also resulted in a total estimated loss of $250,000 between the structure and plants. The replacement value of the flowers destroyed is estimated between $20,000 and $30,000, and it is likely there will be far fewer flowers decorating county parks and facilities around Allegheny County this summer. “You never want to see a greenhouse burn down, but this is the worst time,” says Andrew Baechle, Allegheny County Parks director. “This is when the absolute most damage could be done. It’s a real shame.” The county county fire marshal’s office has not determined an exact cause of the fire but investigators do not believe it was arson. For more information on the fire, read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

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April 29, 2009

Online Only: Two Way Street

One thing most people know about Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm is that he doesn’t have a problem speaking his mind. His weekly “Rants,” sent out by eMail, touch on just about anything that he finds worthy of his two cents. They are generally well-received (sometimes not) and often conjure up discussions and feedback from those who read it. Lloyd Traven has a good grasp on what customers expect of him. But what about retailers? They aren’t off the hook. Here are a few things he expects back: 1. “Get back to me when you say you’ll get back to me.” 2. “Look at your vendor as somebody that’s very interested in your success. I cannot do anything but fail as long as they look at me as an adversary. We’re not trying to steal their money. We’re trying to make money for them.” 3. “I expect loyalty. When […]

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April 27, 2009

USDA Releases Floriculture Crops Summary

According to the Floriculture Crops 2008 Summary presented by the USDA and National Agricultural Statistics Services, the 2008 wholesale value of floriculture crops is down 2 percent from the revised 2007 valuation. The total crop value at wholesale for the 15-state program for all growers with $10,000 or more in sales is estimated at $4.22 billion for 2008, compared with $4.32 billion for 2007. California continues to be the leading state with crops valued at $1.02 billion, but it is down 2 percent from the 2007 value. Florida, the next largest producer, is down 5 percent from the previous year to $922 million in wholesale value. California and Florida account for 46 percent of the 15-state total value. For 2008, the top 5 states are California, Florida, Michigan, Texas and North Carolina, which account for $2.8 billion, or 66 percent, of the 15-state total value. The number of floriculture producers […]

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April 27, 2009

ANLA Testifies On Federal Crop Insurance

Steve Bennett of Riverbend Nurseries in Tennessee represented the American Nursery and Landscape Association at a House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management hearing, offering his concerns about the effectiveness and operational efficiency of the federal crop insurance program. Bennett told the committee about the challenges he and other nurseries faced following an Easter weekend freeze in 2007. He noted the importance of federal crop insurance yet explained that more could be done to support growers. “At present, the federal crop insurance program falls short of adequately addressing the extreme diversity and unique situations presented by a free-market segment of agriculture that grows thousands of varieties–in every state,” Bennett says. “Despite these challenges, federal crop insurance programs remain a valuable component of the nursery industry’s risk management practices.” In addition, Bennett complimented the committee on its past successes involving the program, including: – Using a grower’s wholesale price […]

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April 24, 2009

Don’t Forget The People Who Made It Happen

My wife Barbara and I recently attended the funeral for my former secretary’s husband, Jim Allen. Sandy worked with me for more than 25 years. She was one of the most important assets I had during my time at Michigan State University (MSU). Barbara and Sandy managed the two businesses I had. They organized conferences for 2,000 people and followed through on the details of the many trips I took to speak all over the country and the world. It didn’t take me long to realize my most valuable asset was not money but the people I had who worked with me. During my tenure at MSU, I had 10 individuals who I held responsible for all the different areas I had to cover. The areas included teaching, research, Extension, the Horticultural Demonstration Gardens, all of the teaching and research greenhouses at MSU, Bedding Plants, Inc. (BPI), the Bedding Plant […]

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