Communicate For Better Grower-Manager Relationships

2011 Grower Of The Year Nominees

During his 21-year stretch at Battlefield Farms, Marc Verdel, a two-time Greenhouse Grower Head Grower of the Year nominee, has learned a few things. Here are his thoughts on experience, communication and working closely with the boss.

Experience, Peers Help Decisions

I can say now that a lot of my decisions are based on experience. In the past, I would consult more with my peers. I still do that of course, but the beauty of my position at Battlefield Farms is that management has given me a lot of freedom to do what I need to do. I use my resources, whether that’s people in the business or outside consultants. If there is something that I’m not sure of or don’t feel good about, I will get a second opinion or consult with other growers at Battlefield — and we have people with a good amount of experience — or my peers at other greenhouses.

There is a saying I have been using for a lot of years: It’s not necessarily what you know, it’s who you know. As long as you remember that you don’t know everything and are constantly learning and you have no problem asking for help or an opinion from someone else, things work out.

At Battlefield Farms, we are part of the Van Wingerden family of operations. The families are all very open, so none of the owners have a problem with helping each other, even though in some cases we compete. If a grower at one of the operations has a serious problem, I will help them out. Obviously, you have to know there is a problem first, so good communication is key.

Be Open With Management

When working with Operations Manager Anthony van Hoven, we both give our opinion. I say, “This is what I think. We should do it this way,” and he does the same. Ultimately, as the boss, he’s going to have to make the final decision if we disagree. When it comes to growing, however, I better have a good reason for what I want to do. Before I go into a discussion, I do my homework. Although this is not usually a problem, I want to have a case I can actually win.

When Anthony got out of college, he started working as a production manager. At the time, I was already the head grower. In those two roles, you work together on a daily basis. So after several years, you start reading each other’s minds. If you are both relatively flexible, it makes working together really easy.
My best advice to growers when working with management is to be open. The one thing about growing is that you can’t hide anything. It’s all out in the greenhouse, and you can see it. I can sit there and wait until the crop needs to be shipped before management sees the problem, but they will find out anyway. If the wrong chemical is applied or no fertilizer has been put on the crop for some odd reason, the crop will tell the story. If you know something is wrong, you might as well spill the beans right then and there. Then, work together on a solution.

Hire Based On Ability

I have never been in the position of having to hire someone as a head grower. I guess I take some of that for granted, but I’ve noticed that head growers do not necessarily have the same job description everywhere. There is some difference of opinion over what the job actually involves. When managers are looking to hire head growers, however, I think they would expect the person to manage well.

When it comes to managing the growers that I have, I expect them to take care of the crop from start to finish and ask questions when necessary. If you are in what I consider a growing position, it means you have X amount of acreage that you manage, and you have to be able to handle that.

I have worked here for 21 years, so I don’t really know that much about other businesses, but I have been really fortunate. I’ve grown into this position, and management trusts the decisions that I make. I have made plenty of wrong ones, but as long as I don’t make the same mistake twice, everything keeps going.

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