For the first time, Greenhouse Grower is recognizing head growers as part of its Grower of the Year program. Our Head Grower of the Year will be named July 12 during our Evening of Excellence ceremony at OFA as part of our program. Our Operation of the Year will be named then, as well.
Seventeen head growers were nominated for this award. Our 2010 panel, which narrowed the field down to four, includes Associate Professor Paul Fisher of the University of Florida, Greenhouse Grower Editor Delilah Onofrey, our last two Growers of the Year – George Lucas and Mark Elzinga of Elzinga & Hoeksema Greenhouses – and Steve Larson, national ornamentals account manager for BASF.
Now, we present our four finalists of Head Grower of the Year.
Andrew Britten, Costa Farms
Andrew Britten, who currently manages plug, propagation and offshore stock production at Costa Farms, joined the Miami, Fla.-based operation in 2001. Britten’s role upon his hire was to build a plug range from scratch with the intention of producing plugs for Costa’s internal production. Now, in less than 10 years, Britten oversees production of more than 115 million plugs and liners for Costa Farms’ locations in Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He also developed Costa’s off-shore production site in the Dominican Republic and built his own production team from scratch over the years.
In production, Britten is developing algorithms to determine exactly how much water different crops need in propagation. He is also working to develop new ways to apply plant growth regulators on crops, including as pre-germination sprays that lead to reduced chemical use and improved control.
“I have known Andrew for about 15 years, both as a competitor and as a peer,” says Cindee Delbridge, director of purchasing and production planning at Costa. “Andrew is a very well-rounded individual who demonstrates all the necessary skills to become a leader in the industry.”
The much-talked-about Aqualok is partially a product of Andrew’s creativity, as well. Andrew conducted much of the research on Aqualok for Costa Farms.
Regina Coronado, Stacy’s Greenhouses
With a staff of four assistant growers, four scouts, eight irrigators and 12 chemical applicators, Regina Coronado uses a variety of methods to ensure every plant grown at Stacy’s Greenhouses in York, S.C., is grown to the highest quality and ready to perform for the consumer.
From managing 250 miles of drip irrigation and 20 acres of lit growing beds to new chemical experimentation, Coronado is Miss Versatility at Stacy’s. She keeps the operation at the front end of technology and innovation because of a willingness to learn and improve. Coronado is a good teacher and a regular contributor to the management team from a variety of aspects, including cost analysis, efficiency improvement, raw material use, safety and waste analysis.
“She teaches as well as anyone I have ever encountered,” says Tim Brindley, vice president of operations and sales at Stacy’s. “She listens very well. Her work ethic and hands-on interaction keep her staff at a very high level.”
Regularly working with other experts has molded Coronado into a leader, too. Many growers around the country consult with Coronado daily. And, in everything Coronado does, she gets results.
Marc Verdel, Battlefield Farms
Marc Verdel began his career at Battlefield Farms as an assistant grower in 1991. Today, Marc is Battlefield’s head grower, and he’s played a key role in the Virginia-based greenhouse operation’s growth from 6 acres two decades ago to 40 acres today. Much of Battlefield’s growth is attributed to Marc because of his ability to recognize plant quality and shifting markets for plants.
As a hands-on grower, Marc provides direct motivation and mentoring to those on his growing staff. He works side by side with his staff and is largely responsible for production enhancements at Battlefield. Most recently, Marc guided the operation through a transition that resulted in Battlefield Farms becoming a perennial liner supplier.
“Marc not only uses new tools in growing, he is responsible for many of the innovations,” says P. Allen Hammer, Dümmen product and development. “He always asks what is new and cutting edge. When asked, Marc is always the first to participate in greenhouse experiments looking at new chemical uses or production changes.”
Tom Wheeler, Bell Nursery
Always open minded and willing to change practices, Tom Wheeler is constantly developing programs to improve production at Bell Nursery and its 40 affiliated network producers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Bell is now a VeriFlora-certified sustainable producer growing in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, and Wheeler’s role in the VeriFlora journey was a big one, as he implemented aggressive IPM and recycling programs that resulted in chemical use reductions and improvements in Bell’s recycling output.
Also impressive is Wheeler’s photo library of 40,000 crop photos at all stages of production in Bell’s various facilities. And he’s made strides to reduce runoff by implementing Echo systems and drip irrigation over the last few years. Wheeler has also developed several computer models he uses year-round for all facets of production.
“Tom has made valuable contributions in both our short- and long-term strategic planning to ensure our continued growth, profitability and success,” says Dale Mangum, who nominated Wheeler for the award.
Through his hands-on approach and leadership, Wheeler has the respect of his team and those in the industry.