The State Of The Head Grower

“Head growers today should have more and closer contact with sales and ownership, and more emphasis on customer contact and relationships.”–Dennis Crum, Director Of Growing Operations, Four Star Greenhouse; Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Head Grower Of The Year

All of the management positions in a greenhouse business contribute to the overall success of the operation. Perhaps none has a more direct hand in the ultimate quality of the company’s product, however, than the head grower. It’s a position that has evolved over time from skilled plantsman to grower, trainer, communicator, business manager and leader.

We asked the four finalists for Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Head Grower of the Year award — Dennis Crum, Four Star Greenhouse; Rob O’Hara, Rainbow Greenhouses; Ivan Tchakarov, Metrolina Greenhouses; and Corwin Graves, Rocket Farms — for their opinions on what the job is today, how growers can improve and how prospective head growers can prepare for the position.

GG: What is the job of the head grower today? How has it changed over the years?

Corwin Graves: In its simplest form, the head grower’s responsibility is to finish a crop or set of crops according to schedule and to a set of harvest specifications. Those might be generated internally, externally or both. The head grower ensures customer expectations are met in terms of overall crop quality and quantity, often within a narrow time frame.

Ivan Tchakarov: I think it’s a very broad prospect today. It includes not only growing but also crop modeling, production, scheduling and interaction with people. In my case I have 80 people reporting to me. So I don’t only grow plants. I interact with people and I teach and train. Most importantly, I give them freedom to decide. In a big place like ours, you cannot do it all. You rely on the people on your team to come up with the ideas and come up with the execution. It is more guiding, nourishing, advising and leading them in the right direction rather than telling them hour to hour and day to day how to do their job.

Graves: Apart from these core responsibilities, the head grower can be heavily involved in new product development, line extensions, employee development, operations management and strategic planning. As a head grower, I might be walking crops with section growers, facilitating cross-functional meetings around a specific topic, space and crop planning, and visiting with various suppliers and plant breeders.

GG: Are there special skill sets that help make a good head grower?

Dennis Crum: A good head grower has to have an openness to possibilities and an ability to be flexible and adaptable. He or she has to be a good listener and observant and proactive to situations as they develop. You need to be organized and a thorough and realistic thinker. A problem solver.

Graves: Attention to detail is obviously important. You need to be an advocate for responsible change and continuous improvement. You need to be a solid communicator and have a willingness to learn from and listen to others.

Tchakarov: I am extremely flexible. I am very willing to try new things. Each one of us has to have leadership skills. I have worked on a couple of continents and have learned to interact with different cultures and nationalities. That really helped me.

Rob O’Hara: You have to be able to get along with a lot of different personalities. You’re dealing with truck drivers, salespeople, administrative people, offshore labor from different countries. You have to be able to interact with all of those people because at the end of the day you have to be able to grow good quality and deliver good quality plants to your customer.

You can be the best grower in the world, but if you can’t communicate with people you’re not going to get anywhere. You’ll get pigeonholed as somebody who’s only good for holding a hose and watering plants because nobody can stand him. You have to be a people person as much as a plant person.

GG: How much should a head grower be involved with the overall business beyond just focusing on growing a great crop?

Graves: I believe strongly that the head grower should interact with all segments of the business and understand how their role and the decisions they make impact the overall organization. Horticultural companies produce plants, so it makes sense for the head grower to have a strong voice within the larger organization.

Crum: The head grower should be an integral part of the operating team. Head growers today should have more and closer contact with sales and ownership, and more emphasis on customer contact and relationships — more involvement with the company’s big picture needs and plans.

O’Hara: I think it’s imperative. It has to be a partnership. If a head grower isn’t heavily invested in the company in all areas, it’s not going to work. I have the best interest of the company in mind all the time.

Everything is so linked to how we can grow plants. You have to be involved in labor decisions and looking at labor requirements. If you don’t have enough people, things don’t get done. You have to be working with people who purchase the pots and the tags because it can affect how things are grown. If someone buys a pot that doesn’t have the right holes in the bottom, it can affect my crop.

Tchakarov: Growing, scheduling, production, sales, labor — all those pieces need to become one. It makes a huge difference. All of my peers are up to speed on what the other departments are doing. I need to know what they’re doing in order to get my job done. We have weekly meetings with all the department heads. We are there to advise and to take the information and make it work for us.

GG: How much of your day is spent training and communicating with your team as opposed to spending time in your crop?

O’Hara: Sometimes you get people who come to work in the greenhouse and they say, “I love plants.” I always worry a little when I hear that. At the end of the day, we’re a plant factory. To an owner, every one of these plants on the floor is cash. You have to enjoy plants and enjoy growing them but you have to realize, the owner has invested in these plants and you’re managing his investment. It’s my job to make sure everyone recognizes what’s on the line. It’s a big responsibility. I hate losing money. Every plant that dies,  it’s like you’re just throwing away money.

Tchakarov: You do have to learn to work with people. It takes more than just knowing plants. Those are the people who are going to take your vision and execute it. It’s very important. I would say it’s 50-50 now. Before, if you knew how to grow plants you were fine. Now if you know how to grow the plants but you don’t communicate with the rest of the team, or if you don’t teach and coach, it just does not work.

Graves: Apart from technical growing skills, it’s critical that head growers understand how to relate to their employees in a positive and constructive way. Wherever possible, the head grower should challenge their employees, listen to their needs and concerns, and trust that they can make important crop-related decisions without direct oversight. Like other managers, they should spend a considerable amount of time on employee development and leadership. A confident, motivated and appreciated employee is one of the greatest assets that any company can possess.

GG: How do you keep up with your own training and education? How do you get better at your job?

O’Hara: In the old way of doing things, a grower would be in his crops and spend all day looking at his plants. Now, our industry has changed so much and there’s so much to learn, you have to spend a decent amount of time behind a computer researching and eMailing back and forth with other growers to stay on top of things. I think that’s equally important to being out in your crop. If you’re not reading up on this kind of stuff, you’re going to get behind.

Graves: Some of my most important training has come through visiting with other growers and seeing how they handle similar challenges. I would encourage other growers to get out as often as possible to trade shows and to other nurseries, particularly those that are willing to share ideas and answer questions.

Crum: There is so much you can do. Speak to various groups. Give presentations to customers and industry members to develop your speaking skills and comfort level. Write training manuals, care guides and articles. Attend trade talks and seminars. Get to know and learn from people more experienced and possibly smarter than you. Study cost accounting and business strategies. Travel with owners or sales people to meet and learn from others and their operations. Observe and listen to people in other areas of your company. Get the best understanding possible of what your company stands for and is trying to accomplish.

GG: What advice would you have to help someone develop as a great head grower?

Crum: Don’t be afraid to ask for help or say, “I don’t know.” Be a “we” person and not a self promoter. Measure your success through the success of the company and others. Strive to do your very best but accept failures and learn from them. Be open, honest, fair and consistent with your thoughts, actions and words.

O’Hara: You have to put in time. You can’t just walk into a greenhouse with a horticulture degree and say, “I am qualified to be a head grower.” I think you learn about 20 percent more every year. It’s probably five years before you’re capable of taking care of an area by yourself without any help. It may be 10 years before someone is fully qualified to be a head grower.

Tchakarov: You have to love your job. It is a very difficult position. You have to have the passion for growing and to figure out issues and challenges.

You cannot linger. With plants, you only have one shot. You cannot say, “Tomorrow is another day and I’ll figure it out next week.” With our market, everything has to be precisely timed and delivered on a specific day because of ads and requirements from the stores. You don’t have much time to react. You have to be proactive.

And work on management skills and working with people. Your team is the one that will deliver. It will not be you. GG

Leave a Reply

More From State of the Industry...
State of the industry 2016

February 23, 2016

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State Of The Industry Whitepaper

A year of growth in 2015 also had its share of challenges, and as a result, growers and suppliers were a bit more guarded going into 2016. After a few years of extreme weather and drought, a massive ongoing labor shortage, a shaky economy, and increased government regulation, Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State Of The Industry Survey shows growers and retailers are moving forward with cautious optimism. Despite their many concerns, growers are ready to tackle another spring season in 2016, and many have reported that investments they have made within the past year are helping to drive their operations into the future. Further, rising consumer confidence indicates good things for 2016, growers said. Greenhouse Grower‘s 2016 State Of The Industry Whitepaper includes all the results of the survey, including comparisons of 2015 sales to past years, details on how 2016 production volume and prices will compare to 2015, crops that […]

Read More

February 18, 2016

Poinsettia Survey Shows Strong Sales For Greenhouse Growers In 2015

The year 2015 might have been one that many were glad to see in the rear view mirror, but for poinsettia growers, it was a good sales year — perhaps the strongest in quite a while. Compared to 2014, which was also widely deemed a success among growers for its seasonal cold at just the right time, good weather for shipping, and a good holiday spirit, the 2015 season was solid for a number of reasons. The weather, a rebounding economy, and increased demand all contributed to what growers said was a “very strong” sales season. “It was a strong year beginning to end due to great weather and quality product as the market demanded,” said Dan Chaney of Ivy Acres, in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Poinsettia Survey.     “Sales were strong. Demand was better than the previous two years,” said Larry Windham of Windham Greenhouses Inc. “Very good. The […]

Read More
Pot Mum Combos (Syngenta Flowers)

February 8, 2016

Syngenta Has A New Buyer, Will Not Divest Flower Seeds Business

Syngenta has announced that it will likely approve an offer from ChemChina to acquire the company, which means it no longer plans to divest its flower seed business.

Read More
Latest Stories
State of the industry 2016

February 23, 2016

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State Of The Industry…

A year of growth in 2015 also had its share of challenges, and as a result, growers and suppliers were a bit more guarded going into 2016. After a few years of extreme weather and drought, a massive ongoing labor shortage, a shaky economy, and increased government regulation, Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State Of The Industry Survey shows growers and retailers are moving forward with cautious optimism. Despite their many concerns, growers are ready to tackle another spring season in 2016, and many have reported that investments they have made within the past year are helping to drive their operations into the future. Further, rising consumer confidence indicates good things for 2016, growers said. Greenhouse Grower‘s 2016 State Of The Industry Whitepaper includes all the results of the survey, including comparisons of 2015 sales to past years, details on how 2016 production volume and prices will compare to 2015, crops that […]

Read More

February 18, 2016

Poinsettia Survey Shows Strong Sales For Greenhouse Gro…

The year 2015 might have been one that many were glad to see in the rear view mirror, but for poinsettia growers, it was a good sales year — perhaps the strongest in quite a while. Compared to 2014, which was also widely deemed a success among growers for its seasonal cold at just the right time, good weather for shipping, and a good holiday spirit, the 2015 season was solid for a number of reasons. The weather, a rebounding economy, and increased demand all contributed to what growers said was a “very strong” sales season. “It was a strong year beginning to end due to great weather and quality product as the market demanded,” said Dan Chaney of Ivy Acres, in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Poinsettia Survey.     “Sales were strong. Demand was better than the previous two years,” said Larry Windham of Windham Greenhouses Inc. “Very good. The […]

Read More
Pot Mum Combos (Syngenta Flowers)

February 8, 2016

Syngenta Has A New Buyer, Will Not Divest Flower Seeds …

Syngenta has announced that it will likely approve an offer from ChemChina to acquire the company, which means it no longer plans to divest its flower seed business.

Read More
State of the industry 2016

January 21, 2016

Green Industry Is Set For Continued Growth In 2016

Economist Charlie Hall says the outlook for the green industry is promising despite the havoc wreaked on plant sales by the downturn in housing.

Read More
How will growers' production in 2016 compare to 2015

January 18, 2016

2016 State Of The Greenhouse Industry Numbers At A Glan…

Greenhouse Grower‘s 2016 State Of The Industry Survey shows some promising trends for the new year. Here’s a look at the greenhouse market for 2016, in graphics.     For a more in-depth analysis of where the industry stands, read Greenhouse Grower‘s 2016 State Of The Industry article, “Growers And Suppliers Move Forward With Cautious Optimism In 2016.”

Read More
Top Concerns sidebar

January 18, 2016

Growers And Suppliers Move Forward With Cautious Optimi…

A year of growth in 2015 also had its share of challenges, and as a result, growers and suppliers are a bit more guarded going into 2016. After a few years of extreme weather and drought, a massive ongoing labor shortage, a shaky economy, and increased government regulation, Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State Of The Industry Survey shows growers and retailers are moving forward with cautious optimism. Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State Of The Industry Survey included separate questions for growers and for suppliers. Of our 358 respondents, 103 were suppliers, 111 were grower-retailers, 109 were wholesale growers, and 35 were young plant growers. Among growers, 57% indicated their operations were small (less than 100,000 square feet), 21% were medium-sized (100,000 to 399,999 square feet), and 22% said they were large growers (400,000 square feet or larger). Sixty-eight percent of the grower respondents said their sales grew in 2015 over 2014, down […]

Read More
State of the industry 2016

January 14, 2016

Craig Regelbrugge Says 2016 Will Be A Year Of Waiting F…

The 2016 presidential election will make for slow progress on critical regulatory issues like health care, pollinator health, and immigration reform.

Read More

December 29, 2015

The Home Depot Says No To Neonics

The Home Depot plans to phase out neonicotinoids by 2018, according to a recent statement on the company’s website. The large home improvement retailer stated that its live goods suppliers have reduced the number of plants that they treat with neonicotinoids, and now more than 80% of all flowering plants sold at The Home Depot are not treated with neonicotinoids. The retailer said it will continue this decrease unless: Treatment is required by state or federal regulation, or Undisputed science proves that the use of neonicotinoids on live goods does not have a lethal or sub-lethal effect on pollinators Aside from these exceptions, the retailer has implemented a complete phase-out of neonicotinoid use on live goods by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, The Home Depot has required all of its live goods suppliers to label plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids. “The Home Depot is deeply engaged in understanding the […]

Read More
Pollinator-Conference-NC State

December 9, 2015

Pollinator Gardens Are On The Rise, Provide Opportuniti…

Thanks to the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, enacted in June 2015 by the National Pollinator Garden Network, scores of new pollinator gardens to be planted over the next year and beyond will provide growers with ample opportunities to produce, promote and sell plants that are ideal for pollinator forage and health. And with research underway within the industry, we’ll soon have more knowledge about which plants are the most beneficial and attractive to pollinators. At Bayer’s Bee Care Center, the level of consumer engagement and interest in planting pollinator gardens is very high, Bayer’s Sarah Myers says. Bayer now has 73 local and industry partners and counting in its “Feed A Bee Campaign,” launched in March. Educating consumers about what they can plant to attract bees, and the impact they can have with even the smallest amount of space, is highly important, Myers says. It’s worth explaining to them that […]

Read More
foodscaping at epcot - Foodscaping Goes Big At Disney

December 9, 2015

Foodscaping Challenges Conventional Ideas About Landsca…

Conventional ideas about what a landscape should look like are being challenged left and right, from young homeowners like Sarah Baker of Baker’s Acres, who are standing up for their right not to mow their lawns, to Brie Arthur’s passion to start a movement to incorporate food with flowers throughout suburban and urban landscapes nationwide. As younger generations step up as consumers and industry leaders, these changes are likely to continue, and the horticulture industry, which has the most to gain, would be remiss not to embrace and influence them. Well known for her personal foodscape, which she has promoted across social media, and her annual tomato-tasting fundraising event benefiting the nearby J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, N.C., Brie Arthur has also been working with schools and her local Homeowner Association (HOA) to challenge the traditional idea of the landscape to one that incorporates the growing of food with mainstream, […]

Read More

November 20, 2015

Lessons Learned From The California Drought

For those of us who live in the areas of the country that experienced harsh winters and significant rain over the past three seasons, water has become a nuisance in some cases, rather than a blessing. I can’t count the number of times I have wished to be able to send the snow or the rain to the West Coast, tied up with a big red bow. But think about how we’d feel if we didn’t have the snow and the rain, and we were experiencing the same dry conditions that the residents of California, Oregon and Washington have. With fresh water supplies dwindling in regions of the world, and the resistance of residents in states like Michigan to share water from the Great Lakes, it’s likely that the next civil or world war could be fought over our most precious resource. California’s epic drought should cause everyone to look […]

Read More
Kate Santos Operations Director Dummen Orange

November 18, 2015

Kate Santos Presents New Opportunities For The Horticul…

Dr. Kate Santos is a scientist, an artist, an advocate, a traveler, a dreamer, a visionary and a go-getter. Well-known for her work managing Dümmen Orange as Operations Director, Santos has taken on a new role as co-founder of Luxflora, an organization for women in horticulture.

Read More
MPS Sustainable Quality Logo

November 17, 2015

International Seminar Finds Broad-Based Need For Indust…

Achieving durability and maximum transparency is the responsibility of the entire floriculture supply chain, was the main conclusion of the seminar “Shaping the Future of Floriculture,” which took place on Monday 9 November on the S.S. Rotterdam in The Netherlands. With just under 300 participants, the seminar, organized by Union Fleurs, VGB and MPS, received plenty of attention.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry

November 11, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State of The In…

The State of the Industry report, which uses input from both growers and suppliers, is designed to help you understand this year's crop and sales trends, as well as the issues that keep you up at night.

Read More

November 11, 2015

Drought Has Triggered A New Normal For The California L…

California is now entering its fifth year of the worst drought in 500 years, with no end in sight. Weather experts predict the current drought will continue into 2016, despite optimistic projections of increased rain patterns this winter caused by a strong El Niño ocean current. Residents have fully bought in to the emergency, and embraced Governor Jerry Brown’s April 1 mandate to reduce water usage by 25 percent. Even after an above-average hot summer, the state has exceeded its goal, with a per-month average of 28 percent water reduction. Some of the ways homeowners are being encouraged to reduce their outdoor water use are concerning, but the good news is, drought-tolerant landscaping and awareness of water-wise gardening is on the rise. Cash For Grass Rebates Have Landowners Trading In Their Lawns When Governor Brown’s water reduction mandate was announced in April, consumer reaction was reflected in the sales at […]

Read More

November 3, 2015

Two Floral Industry Leaders Die

Katharyn Elizabeth “Betsy” Demaree, 77, of Syndicate Sales, Inc. passed away on October 26, and Yoshimi "Shimi" Shibata, 100, formerly president of Mt. Eden Floral Company, passed away on October 31.

Read More
Charlie Hall

October 26, 2015

Charlie Hall Says Landscaping Services Are Trending Up,…

Everyone listens to Dr. Charlie Hall, professor and Ellison Chair in International Horticulture, in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University. And at his Cultivate’15 session, “The Future Value of the Landscape Services Sector,” attendees hung on his every word. According to First Research, the output of the U.S. landscaping industry is forecasted to grow at a compounded rate of 4 percent through 2016, indicating steady growth in the long term. In the landscape sector, regional firms are rapidly scaling up to achieve the economies of scale necessary to compete with the very large firms. Here are some of the points Hall made at the session where he projected his near-term forecast for the landscape sector: With 1.1 million housing starts now, the net demand is 1.5 million, and economists project there will be 1.2 million by the end of the year. That means, construction is behind in […]

Read More
cannabis

October 23, 2015

Consider Your Options With Greenhouse Cannabis Producti…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cannabis. But wait, there’s more! All jokes aside, Cannabis is certainly a crop that comes fraught with controversy. Over the past few months, while we have been learning and reporting about the federal legality issues, financial risks and considerations and even the work and expense that goes into the application process to obtain a license to produce this crop, we have tried to remain as objective as possible. We’re not advocating that you produce Cannabis, nor are we opposing your choice to consider this crop as a future direction for your operation. Our goal in publishing eNewsletters and the print report found in the pages of the October issue of Greenhouse Grower, is simply to inform you of what production of this crop would include, from the challenges and risks to the opportunities. And no matter how you feel about the issue, as a business […]

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