Growing New Growers [Opinion]

Robin Siktberg

One of my favorite evenings of the year is Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, in which we present our Medal of Excellence and Grower of the Year Awards.
The evening is special because it gives us a chance to step back and take a look at some really outstanding achievements in plant breeding and to recognize people who have made horticulture their life’s work.

At no time is the energy in the room more palpable than when the award for Head Grower of the Year is announced. Growers nominated for this award usually have devoted staff who are excited and hopeful their boss will win. This year, Four Star Greenhouses had several dozen employees in attendance, all wearing t-shirts that said “I ❤ Me Some Crum Cake,” in support of their head grower, Dennis Crum. They erupted in applause when he was announced as the winner, and their joy was infectious.

Any good boss in any industry will inspire respect and devotion from staff. But in talking to owners and growers, it seems it is becoming increasingly difficult to find head growers who have the experience to run a greenhouse at the highest level. Plant knowledge isn’t enough. Today, you need someone who understands the technology, has a commitment to the bottom line, and is willing to take 24/7 responsibility — often for a salary that may not match the level of the job.

In most industries, when a certain skill level is in high demand, salaries rise and more people enter those professions. With greenhouses, operations are already squeezing every penny of cost out of every plant and consumers, as a whole, aren’t willing to pay more for our products, this isn’t really happening in floriculture.

So how do we find future growers? One way is to team with universities to offer internships that really expose students to horticulture as a career. Many large growers are already doing this, but the more greenhouses that offer these types of opportunities, the better off we are. Suppliers can participate, as well, by offering stipends for students looking for opportunities.

Look outside the country. Many international students are eager to come to the U.S.

Identify promising candidates from within your staff and make sure they get the training they need to be successful. Look for those who are passionate about horticulture — they will be more likely to be invested in the industry.

Each of the finalists for the 2013 Head Grower of the Year award thanked mentors who took the time to teach them what they needed to know.

Who will be nominated for Greenhouse Grower’s Grower of the Year Awards 30 years from now? It’s up to us to find them now.

Leave a Reply

More From Editorial...
Triathlon BA container shot

September 2, 2015

OHP Launches Triathlon BA, Offers Marengo SC In Smaller Size

Triathlon BA biofungicide/bactericide is now available to authorized OHP distributors for shipment to states where product registration has been approved. State registration information is available here. A next generation preventive biological fungicide, bactercide Triathlon BA is labeled for use in both organic and conventional production on a wide variety of fungal and bacterial diseases on ornamentals, fruits, vegetables and herbs and spices. With the active ingredient Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, Triathlon BA provides preventive control of many foliar and soil-borne diseases such as botrytis, powdery mildew, downy mildew, rusts, leaf spots, alternaria, pythium, phytophthora, rhizoctonia, fusarium and bacterial spot. Triathlon BA, an aqueous suspension formulation, prevents establishment of disease-causing fungi and bacteria on the plant tissues. Depending on the target disease, users can foliar-apply or soil drench Triathlon BA. Repeat applications may be made at three- to 28-day intervals. Under environmental conditions that are conducive to disease development, users may apply at three- to […]

Read More

September 2, 2015

Delegation Is Key To A Successful Greenhouse Operation

In a packed room at Cultivate’15, speaker Bernie Erven presented key steps growers need to take to improve their delegation skills, the benefits of delegating and the dangers of not learning how to delegate. This is a skill, he says, that everyone needs to learn. “For all of you who are part of a family business, you are choosing not to do things the easy way,” Erven laughed, as he presented a list of ways to know whether or not you’re an effective delegator. The owner of Erven HR Services, LLC, Erven has been working with and observing family businesses for many years. In his presentation, he said, he didn’t share anything that he hasn’t seen first-hand. You might not be a good delegator if you: Tend to be a perfectionist Work more hours than anyone else Lack time to explain clearly and concisely Are often interrupted Enjoy what you used to […]

Read More
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

September 1, 2015

Perennial Plant Association’s 33rd Annual Symposium Explores Perennials, Past And Present

The Perennial Plant Association's 33rd Annual Symposium, held July 27 to August 1 in Baltimore, Md., delved into the rich history of perennial suppliers and landscape architects in the Baltimore area and their influence on the perennial market today and its bright future.

Read More
Latest Stories

July 30, 2015

Spread Your Risk Beyond Spring Sales [Opinion]

Growers who participated in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Crops Recap Survey said they have had enough of the uncertainty that the weather brings. They said it’s time to build up sales in other seasons like fall so we’re not so dependent on spring. As a couple of wholesale growers, both from the Southeast, very eloquently stated, our industry has mastered squeezing everything we can out of the spring season. And while this year happened to be a very successful one, thanks to the improving economy and elevated consumer confidence, they said, “now is no time to celebrate.” “Spring is still Christmas in the horticulture industry, but we have done such a good job focusing on spring that we have neglected other seasons,” one grower said. “Having so many eggs in the spring basket is dangerous. Fall will never be what spring is, but having a solid second season is in […]

Read More
Laura Drotleff

July 11, 2015

Get Creative With Grower Recruitment

There’s a shortage of grower talent in our industry — that’s no secret. But a recent employment outlook led by Purdue University’s Agriculture Department, with support from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), reported 57,900 ag-related jobs are slated to open annually across the U.S. over the next five years. With an average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher in agriculture-related fields, that makes us 22,500 people short of the jobs available. So not only do we have to compete with industries outside of agriculture for highly skilled job candidates, but our fellow farmers are also hurting for qualified people to fill their empty positions. It’s time to get creative with grower recruitment, and that means opening up the realm of possibilities beyond the traditional channels of four-year, land grant universities. It doesn’t help matters when institutions like Cal-Poly, long heralded as a […]

Read More
Laura Drotleff

May 27, 2015

Growers Working Hard To Protect Pollinators — And Their…

Editor’s Note: This editorial was written and published just prior to the news coming out about Lowe’s phasing out neonicotinoids by 2019. However, that news doesn’t change the fact that growers have a long history as good stewards of their land and of the environment. As evidenced by the 2015 Top 100 Growers Report, the nation’s largest growers continue to adapt their production practices to be cognizant of environmental factors, worker safety, retailer preferences and consumer concerns. In light of Lowe’s announcement, growers who produce for the retailer are certainly working toward that mandate; but they’re also hopeful that the research currently underway will provide scientific reason for decisions made on production going forward. When the news broke last year that growers would be required to label plants treated with neonicotinoids at The Home Depot, and that other retailers were mandating growers to produce crops without neonics, I sucked in air and […]

Read More
Laura Drotleff

April 10, 2015

STEM Curriculum Ideal For Teaching Horticulture [Opinio…

STEM curriculum in the schools offers the perfect opportunity to intertwine horticulture with learning.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

March 4, 2015

Celebrate Women In Horticulture

Women have always played a crucial role in the horticulture industry, not only from a consumer point-of-view, where traditionally our biggest customers have been women, but also as prominent business leaders and owners, growers, breeders, marketers, researchers and matriarchs of industry family empires.

Read More
Janeen Wright

March 2, 2015

Deliver Plant Quality That Trumps Price [Opinion]

The industry's goal is to have loyal customers who return to the same plants time and time again, not because of price, but owing to a plant brand that shouts top-notch garden performance and is synonymous with excellence, which gives them the secure knowledge that their investment will be worth every hard-earned cent.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

February 10, 2015

Biocontrols Aren’t Scary [Opinion]

Crafting a softer pest management program is likely in everyone’s future — if it’s not here already, especially due to increasing regulation and growing consumer concern over pesticide use. Learn more about biocontrols to determine how they could fit in with your goals and production practices.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

January 5, 2015

“Growers Are Artisans” [Opinion]

We need to elevate the craft of growing to attract young talent to our industry.

Read More

December 1, 2014

Consumers, Retailers Only Hearing Voices Of Protest

Speak up about your operation's responsible practices.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

November 12, 2014

5 Ways Growers Can Be More Sustainable [Opinion]

While you're still preparing your operation for spring and investing in new ideas, consider employing some of these improvements to save money and resources.

Read More

October 1, 2014

Greenhouse Grower Issues A New Challenge To The Industr…

Let's rally behind the healthy pollinators initiative. How will you step up to the challenge?

Read More

September 15, 2014

What Does Precision Horticulture Mean To You?

Precision horticulture is what you do every day — growing with precision for efficiency and profitability.

Read More

July 28, 2014

How Gen X & Y Horticulturists Will Change The Indus…

Seek out young professionals in the industry and in your operation to develop new ways to do business, improve communication and address consumers. How have you cultivated ideas from younger generations?

Read More
Laura Drotleff

July 8, 2014

Consider Hiring Non-Traditional Growers To Secure Our I…

Your operation can benefit from hiring returning veterans, professionals changing careers and non-traditional students, in addition to horticulture graduates. Where have you had luck recruiting?

Read More
Carol Miller

June 3, 2014

Consumer Success Is Key To Industry Success [Opinion]

Many breeders are aware of the problem and are striving to ensure that plants in a customer’s home garden will live up to the visual appeal the plant has on a store display bench. A lot of the resulting plants were on display in California.

Read More

June 3, 2014

Active Grower Voices Are Invaluable To Retailers, Consu…

Creating our own advocacy is an important tool in areas like presenting science-based knowledge about pollinator health, and informing the public about how growers already preserve natural resources through responsible practices like integrated pest management (IPM), water reclamation and recycling, plastic recycling and sustainability initiatives.

Read More

May 7, 2014

Stand Firm, But Speak Gently

Teach your community about how much the floriculture industry depends on pollinators and the responsible actions we take to ensure their safety. Listen to consumer concerns, help build bee havens and hotels and promote and plant pollinator-friendly gardens.

Read More

March 26, 2014

The Case For Locally Grown

A growing consumer desire for locally grown produce is one reason greenhouse ornamentals producers should consider vegetable production.

Read More