We’re borrowing a phrase from farming to coin a new one in our industry — Precision Horticulture. It’s not a new concept, we’re just trying to put a name to it. Precision growing is inherent to horticulture, especially among greenhouse growers. It’s what you do every day. Just the act of growing in a greenhouse is, in itself, growing with precision. You use less water and land to produce more crops in less time. You program your crops with just the right recipe for optimum growth by using lighting technology, programmable irrigation, environmental controls and more.
But as important as the growing process is, precision horticulture goes beyond production. It encompasses the ultimate efficiency and profitability of your operation, and the tools and processes you use to achieve that. It’s process optimization, or the automation and fine-tuning of the work you do each hour, day, month and season. Some may call it lean flow — that’s part of it. But as you’ll read in Associate Editor Janeen Wright’s article on page 40, lean flow is all about numbers and focus — how many touches a plant receives, how many people you use in your greenhouse to complete a process and how much time it takes to go from one process to the next.
Scaling down those processes, reducing labor, improving time spent — that’s all well and good, as long as it’s done with care. And that’s an ingredient that sometimes gets left out of the recipe.
Back in the day when growers were just growers, and the owners of the business were on the frontlines of production, they knew every piece of equipment like it was an extension of themselves. They were in tune with what was happening in every step of every process. That may still be true on some level today, but in many cases, owners of greenhouse operations are business people. They’re in the front office, managing people, controlling budgets, overseeing purchase decisions, orchestrating logistics, developing customers and making plans for the future.
To a greenhouse owner, if a machine breaks down, each liner that doesn’t get transplanted or plug that doesn’t germinate represents a loss — in time and profits. But with all of the concerns that growers have to address throughout their busy and often very long work days, it’s not just nice, but necessary, to have technology that will let you “set it and forget it,” and move on to other things.
Precision Horticulture is the machine that emails the boss — and technical support — when a robot finger malfunctions. It’s the environmental controls that alert you when the greenhouse temperature gets too warm. It’s the software that helps you manage and plan the space in your greenhouse. It’s the soil recipes that help you grow each crop with optimum nutrition. It’s the sensor that measures whether your hanging baskets need more water. And, it’s the streamlining of familiar processes that help your team automate its work, with as few surprises as possible.
So tell us, what does Precision Horticulture mean to you? Are we on track? Let me know at [email protected] so we can continue this discussion and carry it forward. After all, we want our definition of this new term — Precision Horticulture — to be, well … precise!