The Even-Higher-Tech-Future Of The Top 100 Grower


As part of Greenhouse Grower’s 30th anniversary celebration, we’ve been taking a look at the current state of various segments of our industry in 2013. But there’s also value in looking ahead at — and preparing for — the next 10, 20 or 30 years. “The Even-Higher-Tech Future Of The Top 100 Grower” was the theme for Greenhouse Grower’s annual Top 100 Growers Breakfast, held during OFA Short Course. The Top 100 program was sponsored by BASF.

The breakfast featured a panel discussion with experts in web technology, robotics and production: Gary Falkenstein, president and CEO of ePlantSource, Charles Grinnell, COO of Harvest Automation and Paul Pilon, owner of Perennial Solutions Consulting. Each shared his vision of the future and identified readily available technologies and opportunites that growers should be exploring for their business today.

Where are the Top 100 Growers on the technology curve?

Falkenstein: On the technology side, if you look at information systems and software solutions, I think we’re behind. Things change quickly. If you are using technology that’s two or three years old, you are behind the curve.

Grinnell: The industry does seem to be behind where it could be. I have been working with a dozen growers and looking at how they do business. What I have seen is the general collection and use of data on the farms is not widespread. There are huge opportunities to be more efficient in how people are using their resources, just by doing some pretty simple stuff that’s done in lots of other industries — keeping track of production data, for instance. There are software packages and ERP systems that can help with that. Between smart phones and other new technologies, there’s lots of opportunity.

Pilon: I agree. The Top 100 has a grasp of current technology, but there are inefficiencies in some of the production areas of our business. Automation has come a long way, but there are many other ways we can reduce the number of touches to maintain profitability. Using software for scouting applications, purchasing plant materials or ordering chemicals — there are ways we can step things up.

So now we’re talking about growers buying live goods online. Isn’t that a different process than buying books or shoes or plane tickets?

Falkenstein: More people are using  the Internet to source information and purchase goods. We think it’s a normal progression to do the same with live goods. We all like to think the greenhouse business is unique, but when you boil it down, we’re in the transaction business. Amazon has set the expectation that you will get exactly what you order. That will be a big change for our industry. We have to be reliable with inventory like anyone else. The Web can help us be more efficient here.

Where are some other opportunities to use the Web in the supply chain?

Falkenstein: In the future we might have grower-to-grower information sharing to balance out inventories. One grower in a rainy region might have product while another might be sold out. How can they work together? How do you connect better with your buyer? How can you give them better information about the progress of your crop? We can use the Internet to do that.

What about the production side? Where are we missing opportunities?

Pilon: I think it’s people. There is a shortage of growers who have the education or experience we need to take the business to the next level. For production managers and general managers, there’s a lot of talent in other industries we could utilize. I’ve seen successful greenhouse managers that have come from the auto industry. We are plant manufacturers.

What’s the future of crop protection?

Pilon: There’s a continuing interest in biologicals. At the consumer level there is a tremendous message there for us, certainly with independent garden centers. But how powerful would it be for Home Depot to educate the consumer on the sachets they might find on a hanging basket and how Earth-friendly we are?  

As far as where biologicals fit and how they will coexist with traditional chemistries, I believe in the future we will see more softer chemistries that are compatible with biocontrols. We’ve already seen a shift to more targeted chemistries. We’re going to use a blend. Until buyers will accept a little bit of imperfection in our product, we are still going to have to use chemistries to clean things up.

What tools are out there now that growers are not taking advantage of?

Pilon: There are some good apps for phones. Biobest has a good app for matching the right biological control to a specific problem. The University of New Hampshire and OHP both have PGR calculator applications. But I really have seen no apps on the chemical side a grower can use on the spot  to make a decision. Apps could be a good area.

Where are the opportunities for growers with robotics?

Grinnell: We looked at the hort industry because we felt the existing state of the art in robotics could be commercially viable. Moving plants isn’t the only thing we can do, but it was a good place to start.
Once the plant is in the robot’s hands, we can automate the application of herbicides or insectides or fertilizers. From the survey work we have done, people are using a lot more chemicals than we need to. So it’s not just labor — there is a cost and environmental savings there.

How does a grower justify the investment in any next-level technology?

Grinnell: Robotics hasn’t been in this industry until now, mainly because of cost. We thought about cost right from the beginning. We compared it to how much growers would save on human labor — that dictates what technology you can use. Someone was asking this morning about GPS. Adding that would drive the cost up and make it unaffordable.

We targeted 24 months of use as a payback. Most people we have talked with in the industry feel like a 24-month payback is reasonable.

What other industries should we be watching for technology?

Grinnell:  We couldn’t have brought our robots to market even five years ago without some key things developed elsewhere. The cost and power of processors and computer chips has been driven by smart phones. Battery technology is driven by electric vehicles and other applications.  

Something we’re looking at now that will have applicability for the Top 100 Growers are cameras. Developments in cameras are driven by cell phones but more importantly by the automotive industry. Advanced automobiles use cameras to keep you in your lane or look for obstacles. Our engineering teams are looking into cameras to help the robots “see.” Other people develop technology, costs come down and we are able to take advantage of that.GG

Leave a Reply

One comment on “The Even-Higher-Tech-Future Of The Top 100 Grower

More From State of the Industry...
Vinca 'Valiant Lilac' (2015 Texas A&M University Field Trials)

November 25, 2015

2015 Texas A&M University (Overton, Texas) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton, Texas.

Read More
Capsicum 'Basket of Fire' (2015 University of Georgia Field Trials)

November 25, 2015

2015 University Of Georgia (Athens, Ga.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga.

Read More

November 25, 2015

Everything You Need To Know About the New England GROWS Conference

Held In Boston December 2-4, New England GROWS includes a comprehensive conference program, a trade show, and with six special programs that teach new skills and provide opportunities to network with colleagues.

Read More
Latest Stories

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

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

October 21, 2015

First-Ever National Pollinator Protection Conference Co…

At the first National Conference on Protecting Pollinators in Ornamental Landscapes, in Hendersonville, N.C., October 12-14, 2015, attendees heard all sides of the pollinator health issue, from preliminary research findings on the effects of pesticides on bees, to the importance of urban gardens to pollinators, to the reasons why any changes to the availability of certain pesticides on the market need to be based on sound science. Co-organized by Michigan State University Extension and North Carolina State Extension, and sponsored by Bayer CropScience, Valent, Syngenta, Biobest, the American Floral Endowment and the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association, the conference drew several attendees from several different areas of the horticulture industry, including Extension agents, growers, plant protection companies and more. The conference kicked off with opening keynote speaker David Goulson of the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. It followed with a day and a half packed with sessions […]

Read More

October 6, 2015

NASA Scientists To Discuss Indoor Agriculture Innovatio…

The University of Arizona’s Controlled Environmental Agriculture Center (CEAC) will host Dr. Jacklyn Green, CEO and founder of Agate Biosciences, and Dr. Roger Kern, president and founder of Agate Biosciences: Science & Systems Engineering, on October 30, as part of its seminar series. Both Green and Kern are former NASA scientists and engineers, and they will discuss their continuing efforts to develop technology and seek innovations to address issues concerning urban indoor agriculture, with a potential for application on Mars. Through the creation of Agate Biosciences LLC, Kern and Green have turned their attention to earth-bound issues of food production, to provide advanced technologies for plant nutrition, biosecurity and the undertaking of scientifically based research in greenhouse design and controls systems, and in plant health under controlled environment agriculture. A recent NASA news release reports that the Mars Rover 2020 mission is planned to deliver an extensive array of instruments designed to explore the habitability […]

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
Florensis Kenya has developed a scouting app, which provides near real-time data from the field and makes crop protection interventions even more effective, says Robbert Hamer

September 8, 2015

Global Suppliers Of Unrooted Cuttings Raise Standards T…

Consolidation isn’t a new thing among breeders and this year, it has changed things up yet again. For most cuttings producers, consolidation also means more competition, and raises the standards for high-quality plants and reliable supply. “As the number of independent production locations goes down, it becomes more obvious that breeders will try to take production into their own hands,” says Beekenkamp’s Martijn Kuiper. But for independent producers, consolidation means both new opportunities and new challenges. “There is a demand to work with independent companies, but also a threat that certain breeders are getting blocked by being part of the consolidation,” says Andreas Kientzler of Kientzler North America and Innovaplant de Costa Rica. Ball FloraPlant President Allan Davidson says, “Consolidation means there are fewer decisionmakers, though this has both positive and negative implications. Consolidation and larger businesses also mean that in many cases, shipment sizes have grown.” Reading The Rankings […]

Read More
Christina Salwitz 2014_featured

August 12, 2015

Christina Salwitz Says Women Bring A Unique Perspective…

Garden writer Christina Salwitz is a powerhouse in the industry. She is an expert container designer, works at an independent garden center and runs her own blog. Salwitz is active on social media, and she fights for the industry’s ability to stay autonomous from the big box stores. Most importantly, Salwitz stands out in a field of garden industry people as a design and color specialist who can bring something brilliant and unique to the end consumer. Her garden design business, established in 1998, started with landscaping, then evolved into container design because of increased demand for her unique and color-filled designs. Salwitz continues to work at an independent garden center in order to connect directly with the consumer. She also evolved and expanded her business by blogging, authoring books such as “Fine Foliage” with co-author Karen Chapman, and concentrating on horticultural photography. Demand grew for her work, and by March 2014 her designs were […]

Read More

August 7, 2015

Cannabis Producer Solstice Provides Insight To Greenhou…

To gain some real-world insight about what it takes to produce and sell cannabis, and some of the challenges and roadblocks involved, Greenhouse Grower reached out to Solstice, a producer and processor of cannabis for medical and adult use in Washington state. Alex Cooley, the co-founder and vice president of Solstice, gave us an exclusive interview, and answered the following questions to give greenhouse growers a glimpse into different aspects involved in cannabis production. Visit the Solstice website or follow Solstice on Twitter @SolsticeGrown for more information. Greenhouse Grower (GG): First, let’s get to know you. Could you tell us some background about Solstice and how it got started? Alex Cooley: We started Solstice in 2011 to help legitimize the medical cannabis marketplace by providing consistent, lab-tested cannabis of high quality and creating the state’s first cultivation brand. It was started by myself and two other partners, Will Denman and […]

Read More

July 29, 2015

2015 Spring Crops Report: Rain Soaks Spring Sales

Rain, rain and more rain. That was the story this spring for the large majority of growers across the U.S. And where it wasn’t too wet, it was too dry. Drought conditions cut sales in the West and Southwest. But it wasn’t all bad. Eighty-nine percent of respondents to Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Crops Survey declared the season a success, despite its challenges. They said beautiful weather in April and excited consumers who were ready to spend got the season going early, but then cool temps and rainy weekends throughout May and June caused confusion over when and how much to plant. Of the 189 respondents to Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Recap Survey, 53 percent identified themselves as grower-retailers, 34 percent were wholesale growers and 13 percent said they were young plant growers. Most responses came from the Midwest (27 percent), Northeast (18 percent) and Southeast (16 percent), but also […]

Read More

July 17, 2015

Young Plant Survey: Do You Grow Plugs And Liners?

If your operation produces plugs or liners for wholesale growers, please take a few minutes to participate in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Young Plant Grower Survey. We know you are very busy and we value your time and input. This survey should only take a few minutes. Greenhouse Grower’s Young Plant Grower Survey has played a key role in building our Top 20 Young Plant Growers list over the years. The information helps us zero in on trends taking shape and the challenges you’re facing as young plant growers. If you have any questions about this survey or you are not the right contact for this at your operation, please email me at, or please forward the survey link to the appropriate person. We would like to wrap up this survey by July 24, so please take it soon! Thank you in advance for your participation. We value your opinion! » […]

Read More

July 15, 2015

Cultivate’15 Town Hall Meeting: Not Your Grandma&…

Young and innovative industry minds threw down ideas about future of gardening in the new millennium at the Cultivate’15 Town Hall Meeting. Traditionally one of the most innovative, captivating, controversial, edge-of-your-seat, interesting discussions at the whole show, this year’s Town Hall Meeting was no exception. The set up for this discussion addressed the radical change within the world of horticulture over the past decade, due to economics, demographics, technology, retail competition and the redefinition of gardening. The premise: Change cannot be ignored, and our old strategies won’t win us the game anymore. This session acted as a “callback” to the drawing board to determine what gardening actually means to consumers, how the horticulture industry needs to respond to meet the demands of the new millennium and the consequences that may result if we don’t. The esteemed panel included some of the brightest young and innovative minds in horticulture: Brienne Arthur of […]

Read More
BeeSmart logo

July 7, 2015

Grow Wise, Bee Smart Website Launches As Industry Resou…

The new Grow Wise, Bee Smart website,,  was recently launched as a key component of the horticulture industry’s Bee and Pollinator Stewardship Initiative, which was created to provide leadership and guidance to the industry on pollinator health. The site serves as the communications hub for the latest research and developments related to the role horticulture plays in supporting pollinator health. Grow Wise, Bee Smart currently features information on the importance of bees and pollinators, threats to their health and steps everyone can take to improve habitat and forage. Links to the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and Pollinator Partnership further guide retail and landscape firms and their customers on how to plant and register new gardens and habitats for pollinators. As the Grow Wise, Bee Smart stewardship program for plant production is launched, and as funded and directed research yields results and guidance, the site will feature timely new information and insights. Progress […]

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