Lessening Labor Pains At Four Star Greenhouse

Slideshow: Four Star Greenhouse

Jeff Back wants his production line supervisors walking the lines, encouraging employees and making sure cuttings are stuck at the correct depths. Back when Four Star Greenhouse used hand scanners to track inventory, some supervisors were preoccupied scanning trays as they were loaded on carts and spending less time working directly with employees.

But ever since Four Star invested in stationary bar code scanners that track inventory and employee efficiency, supervisors are freed up to ensure quality cuttings are produced and employees are working at a more efficient pace.

“There are a couple different reasons why we went with stationary scanners,” says Back, who serves Four Star as general manager. “First, we wanted to free up some labor. We had been using one of our supervisors to do the hand scanning as the product came off the belt. As carts were loaded, supervisors would scan trays on the carts to capture the actual product ID and the employee number.”

Four Star, located in Carleton, Mich., still tracks product ID and employee numbers as trays are scanned. But trays are now scanned on a conveyor belt immediately after they’re moved off the production line. The information pulled from the scan is then projected live on nearby screens that hover from the ceiling.

“We’re able to accurately record the output of each employee as [product] comes off the line,” Back says. “Then, as an enhancement with the fixed scanner, we can display actual employee rates. When we were hand scanning before, trays might not be scanned until 20 minutes later.”

Now, employees keep a watchful eye on their productivity as their trays leave the production line. Nobody, after all, wants their supervisor and colleagues knowing they’re bringing up the rear in regard to productivity. So employees work at an even quicker pace to make sure they’re sticking cuttings at the base expectation Four Star sets.

“On the screen, one thing that’s really cool is if employees are under the base (expectation) per hour, their numbers will show up red. It’s a very quick indicator of what employees are producing.”

Screens are also useful for supervisors, who can simply look up to see who might need a hand. “Maybe there’s something that an employee doesn’t understand,” Back says. “Supervisors can encourage them to scan faster and do better work.”

Employees are also extra motivated because they earn bonuses based on their productivity in addition to their standard hourly wages. Each genus has a different productivity rate, and there’s a different base expectation set for each genus Four Star employees stick.

“The display screen also shows the bonuses for each genus we do,” Back says. “We set up our bonuses based on the different genera of plants. They can see what the base is for what they’re sticking, how many they’ve stuck per hour and how many they’ve stuck for the total time they’ve spent working with that genus.”

Small delicate cuttings can be troublesome, and the bonus for every tray produced over the base is 50 cents per tray. Four Star pays 25 cents per tray for other genera, so employees can pad their paychecks with a little extra cash each pay period. “Some people get as much in bonus as in pay,” Back says.

Quality is just as important as ever, though. Employees can’t simply race through their assignments, sticking as many cuttings as they can get their hands on to earn bonuses. That kind of performance defeats the purpose of quality, as does a piece-rate system, which opposes the standards lean flow consultants like FlowVision set.

“FlowVision is really against piece-rate (bonuses) due to the lack of quality,” Back says. “Quality control needs to be in place. We’re very efficient and we also have quality control on the back side, making sure a crew leader inspects trays once they’re set.”

Four Star employs 240 people during peak season, and Week 9 is now the busiest week of the growing season for the company. Weeks 3 and 4 used to be Four Star’s busiest.

This year, Four Star ranks 19th on our Top 25 Young Plant Growers list with 48 million young plants produced to sell. The operation is producing 7 million more young plants to sell than it did in 2008.

More production means more labor, but those stationary scanners alleviate a burden the operation might otherwise have.

“With the stationary scanning, we’re able to get the crew leaders out walking the lines–which is where we want them–and checking the quality of work being done. We want them encouraging people, making sure everything is at the same depth.”

Leave a Reply

More From Labor...
The-Capitol

June 14, 2016

Fate Of H-2B Program A Hot Topic On Capitol Hill This Week

Following a Senate hearing on the economic impact of the H-2B Program, the House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to take up its own version of a funding bill this week.

Read More

May 3, 2016

Migrant Farm Workers Moving Around Less Than In The Past, According To New Study

The number of farm workers who migrate and work on multiple farms during the growing season dropped from 55% in 1998 to 20% in 2009.

Read More

January 3, 2016

60,000 New Ag Jobs Leave Employers Scrambling For Talent

A new report indicates that while new jobs in the agriculture industry may be plentiful, there are not enough new ag graduates to fill the positions.

Read More
Latest Stories
The-Capitol

June 14, 2016

Fate Of H-2B Program A Hot Topic On Capitol Hill This W…

Following a Senate hearing on the economic impact of the H-2B Program, the House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to take up its own version of a funding bill this week.

Read More

May 3, 2016

Migrant Farm Workers Moving Around Less Than In The Pas…

The number of farm workers who migrate and work on multiple farms during the growing season dropped from 55% in 1998 to 20% in 2009.

Read More

January 3, 2016

60,000 New Ag Jobs Leave Employers Scrambling For Talen…

A new report indicates that while new jobs in the agriculture industry may be plentiful, there are not enough new ag graduates to fill the positions.

Read More

December 22, 2015

Newly Signed 2016 Spending Bill Includes H-2B Relief Pr…

Late last week, President Obama signed into law an omnibus spending bill for the fiscal year 2016 that includes important H-2B relief provisions.

Read More
AmericanHort logo

November 17, 2015

Urgent: Your Voice Is Needed On Two Important H-2B Bill…

Two bills concerning the H-2B program were recently introduced in the House and Senate (H.R.3918 and S.2225). Both bills address key issues that employers continue to face with the H-2B program. Please urge your members of Congress to support these bills.

Read More

October 27, 2015

How Dallas Johnson Greenhouses Is Simplifying Shipping

Two years ago, Dallas Johnson Greenhouses, a 61-acre operation in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and No. 21 of Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers, was struggling to get its orders out. With its range of potted annuals, there were so many skus that it was impossible to get enough carts into the shipping greenhouse, and the crew couldn’t get orders processed fast enough. As a result, the operation was consistently pulling orders until midnight every night during the busy shipping season, says President and CEO Todd Johnson. So Johnson got together with Arie Van Wingerden at Cherry Creek Systems to discuss his problem, and what they came up with has changed everything, Johnson says. Inside one of Dallas Johnson Greenhouses’ existing structures, the team installed a shipping system made with Echo-Veyors, the popular cable conveyor system designed by Cherry Creek Systems. The system was placed right in the front of the greenhouse, […]

Read More

October 20, 2015

How To Attract The Best Greenhouse Job Candidates

Hire five-star employees for your greenhouse with seven techniques guaranteed to attract the type of talent that strengthens your operation.

Read More

September 23, 2015

Cultivate’15 Session Reveals How To Attract Young…

A dynamic discussion during Cultivate’15 between growers, horticulture professors and both current students and recent graduates, provided some insight on how grower operations can attract the next generation of growers, and what’s important to make them stay once you hire them. The session, “Attracting the Next Generation of Industry Professionals,” featured a panel including Dr. Peg McMahon of The Ohio State University’s Horticulture and Crop Science Department, Dr. Marvin Miller of Ball Horticultural Co., Dr. Brian Jackson from North Carolina State University’s Department of Horticulture, Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm, Douglas Schuster of Kingwood Center and Courtney Crawford of Millcreek Gardens. The preface for the session is something many industry professionals have lamented for years now — enrollment in college horticulture programs is dropping, and university programs are losing funds or disappearing. Much of this may be attributed to the perception among potential students and their parents that horticulture means […]

Read More

September 14, 2015

Smith Gardens Is Developing Growers With A New Initiati…

Finding enough qualified growers has long been a problem in the industry, but it’s one that Smith Gardens is working to solve, at least locally. The operation, which ranks No. 22 on Greenhouse Grower‘s Top 100 Growers list, is the largest in the Pacific Northwest, and spans more than 50 acres of greenhouses and 50 acres of field growing over four locations in Washington, Oregon and California. As a 112-year-old family business that recognizes the need to invest in its future, Smith Gardens has made its Cultivating The Future initiative a corporate priority to attract young people to careers in the horticulture industry. Don Spence, the production manager at Smith Gardens’ Aurora, Ore., location, started working with local schools years ago. The operation expanded its program to local community colleges, and this year Smith Gardens worked with the American Floral Endowment to set up an internship program, and hosted an […]

Read More
Laura Drotleff

September 14, 2015

Develop New Growers In Your Own Backyard [Opinion]

One of the greatest parts of my job is having the opportunity to honor ingenuity in breeding, marketing and innovative growing in this industry at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening Of Excellence, a premier event held during Cultivate in July. The work leading up to the event is just as rewarding, from attending California Spring Trials to see all of the beautiful new varieties released to the marketplace to inspire consumers and solve problems for growers, to selecting the best of the best varieties for Medal Of Excellence In Breeding Awards. I humbly learn about and choose the Marketing and Industry Achievement Awards through industry nominations, and serve as a member of the selection panel for the Grower Of The Year Awards, on which we review nominations from people across the industry about creative, hardworking, dedicated operations and individuals who not only love their work but also live it. The Evening Of […]

Read More
Girl on Smartphone

July 15, 2015

Keynote Curt Steinhorst Says Generational Divide A Prod…

Curt Steinhorst of The Center for Generational Kinetics kicked off Cultivate'15 with a dynamic keynote address filled with humor on how to bridge the generational gaps in the workforce and use it to your competitive advantage.

Read More
Vegetables with knife

May 14, 2015

Keeping Your Fruits And Vegetables Safe: Best Practices…

Part three of the food safety series focuses on worker hygiene, visitor policies and other biosecurity measures to safeguard the greenhouse.

Read More
american-hort-logo

April 8, 2015

AmericanHort And State Associations Advocate For Workfo…

AmericanHort, along with roughly two dozen other state association partners, joined nearly 140 organizations in a letter to the House of Representatives responding to the Legal Workforce Act (H.R.1147), which is being voted on without provisions that would ensure legal workforce options for agricultural and seasonal employers. H.R.1147 would mandate that all U.S. employers use the federal E-Verify program.

Read More
The-Capitol

March 18, 2015

H-2B Situation Goes From Bad To Even Worse

On March 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it will no longer accept or process H-2B labor certifications or requests for H-2B prevailing wage determinations in light of a March 4 decision. Shortly after the DOL announcement, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Citizenship and Immigration Services followed suit, announcing it will at least temporarily cease approving visa petitions. These announcements essentially shut down the H-2B program for any company that has not completed the DHS H-2B visa petitioning process.

Read More
american-hort-logo

March 4, 2015

H-2B Cap Hit, Adding to Visa Program Woes

The H-2B visa cap for the first half of fiscal 2015 was hit late in January. As a result, some growers may not have access to the H-2B workers they need during the months ahead. The visa cap and resulting labor shortages will have impacts throughout the horticulture industry.

Read More

December 9, 2014

Immigration — Obama Acts Without Congress

On November 20, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration policy, which are already proving to be politically divisive, and many Republican legislators say this unilaterally "poisons the well" for reform. In AmericanHort's view, that dire prediction need not be the case.

Read More
USDA Logo

November 17, 2014

USDA Names First Liaison For Veterans Interested In Agr…

The new Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison position will coordinate ongoing USDA support for active duty military and veterans.

Read More

September 26, 2014

GROW Perspective: Government Compliance Issues On The H…

Lack of focus on human resources can sink your ship

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]