Innovation Is Growers’ Salvation, Crum Says

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Dennis Crum is Greenhouse Grower's 2013 Head Grower Of The Year.As the old saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

We all should have learned by now that doing things the same way as we’ve always done them does not work. If change is not addressed, we will fall further behind in the new business environment in which we now exist.

We as growers should always be looking at new technologies and techniques to improve our products, reduce costs and increase profitability. Here at Four Star, owner Tom Smith continually challenges us to review all of our processes and to trial various methods to improve our current programs. He encourages not only improvement to existing programs, but also the development of new ones.

Two Types Of Innovation

My daughters both have played sports for a number of years.  At one of the clubs they’ve played in, there is a number of motivational sayings printed on the gym walls that I’ve borrowed and use on occasion. Two that apply to innovation are “only the mediocre are always at their best” and “good is not good enough if better is expected.”

In my mind, there are two distinct types of innovation. The first includes the large and often expensive new pieces of equipment or other types of technology that can be purchased today. These may include such things as environmental computers, business software, watering booms or transplanting machines. Proper selection and successful use of such purchases can often make a significant and visible impact on a company. Purchases like these need to be researched both thoroughly and carefully. The cost of innovative new technology should only be the beginning of the process. Points to also consider when making such purchases are the expected gain in productivity and profitability, affect on quality and consistency, expected payback on investment with operating expenses included and expected lifespan of the investment.

The other forms of innovation that should be continually reviewed are improvements to current actions and processes. Creation of new programs and processes should also always be considered and trialed. Modifications to existing programs and processes or implementation of new programs may be slight enough to be barely noticed; however, these subtle changes could greatly impact your operation’s bottom line.

Continuously Innovate Your Processes

Make a point of walking through all areas of your operation, observe the various operations in action and ask yourself and those teammates performing the task why things are done that way. Listen to others’ thoughts on improvements and spend time focused on possible adjustments. Set in action a system to trial and evaluate program modifications.

As growers we should commit to the same evaluation of our crops on a regular basis. When walking the crops, don’t just look at the plants. Think about what may still be possible to produce even better crops, more efficiently and consistently. Have a similar system in place to trial and evaluate any possible changes. There is no such thing as an unimportant improvement, and no excuse for ignoring the possibility to improve.

Innovation should not be a frightening term or practice. It should be embraced and recognized as necessary for our survival.

Dennis Crum is the director of growing at Four Star Greenhouse in Carleton, Mich. You can reach him at dcrum@pwfourstar.com.

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