Develop New Growers In Your Own Backyard [Opinion]

Head Grower Of The Year winner Tom Wheeler (middle) from Bell Nursery with Editor Laura Drotleff and Joe Lara of BASF, the sponsor of the Grower of the Year program
Head Grower Of The Year winner Tom Wheeler (middle) from Bell Nursery with Editor Laura Drotleff and Joe Lara of BASF, the sponsor of the Grower of the Year program

One of the greatest parts of my job is having the opportunity to honor ingenuity in breeding, marketing and innovative growing in this industry at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening Of Excellence, a premier event held during Cultivate in July. The work leading up to the event is just as rewarding, from attending California Spring Trials to see all of the beautiful new varieties released to the marketplace to inspire consumers and solve problems for growers, to selecting the best of the best varieties for Medal Of Excellence In Breeding Awards. I humbly learn about and choose the Marketing and Industry Achievement Awards through industry nominations, and serve as a member of the selection panel for the Grower Of The Year Awards, on which we review nominations from people across the industry about creative, hardworking, dedicated operations and individuals who not only love their work but also live it.

The Evening Of Excellence is the culmination of all of these activities and more, including writing stories, creating slideshows and videos, and contacting the winners and nominees to let them know the great news about their nominations and awards. Then, at the actual event, our honorees humbly and proudly accept recognition for their achievements — something that just doesn’t happen enough.

Seeing the passion that each of these people have for their work, it’s hard to imagine that it would be tough for us as an industry to recruit and retain skilled labor. As I often say, once you come into this industry, you find it hard to leave. But labor and grower recruitment continues to be one of the biggest problems growers face — if not the most daunting. At every industry event I attend and with every grower and supplier I talk to, this challenge is echoed, and the concern is really starting to reach panic mode as the skilled labor pool gets shallower.

Young plant growers, who work year-round to supply plugs and liners to the marketplace, are particularly feeling the crush, as we saw in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Young Plant Grower Survey. In the survey, we asked, “What is your biggest challenge as a young plant grower, and how are you solving it?”

There were many challenges listed, but labor was the most prevalent — and the one issue for which growers didn’t seem to have a solution to offer. Here are some of the responses:

Sun-Fire Nurseries in Florida is closely aligned with a local FFA horticulture program. The operation has provided the school with a greenhouse and other amenities. In return, students entertain showgoers at the TPIE show happy hour that Sun-Fire cosponsors with Suntory Flowers in January.
Sun-Fire Nurseries in Florida is closely aligned with a local FFA horticulture program. The operation has provided the school with a greenhouse and other amenities. In return, students entertain showgoers at the TPIE show happy hour that Sun-Fire cosponsors with Suntory Flowers in January.

“Labor is our biggest challenge. We are having to find inventive ways of being creative to recruit employees, as well as offering different types of work schedules and bonus schedules.”

“Number one problem is labor. Just cannot hire enough hard workers for plug fixing.”

“Finding skilled labor. We are constantly training and promoting from within. Growing plugs require fine attention to detail, and it takes well-trained employees to do it well.”

“Labor is starting to be a challenge with the uptick in the economy. We work all year to prepare our procedures for the peak of the year.”

While at Cultivate, I attended a session focused on recruiting the next generation of growers. Panelists included growers, educators, students and graduates fresh out of school. They confirmed my theory that rewarding work is more important to them than being well-paid, but they also mentioned something surprising to me: Young people don’t especially want to move away from home or their friends to get a job, and many want to live close to or in a city. Working at a rural greenhouse is often not conducive to this desire.

So after Cultivate, I was happy to hear from Lars Nilsen, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Smith Gardens who responded to my July column about the shortage of growers, to share what the operation is doing to combat this issue in the three states where it has farms. Through an initiative called “Cultivating The Future,” Smith Gardens works with local schools to educate students about opportunities in horticulture, and recruit potential employees in its own backyard. The operation’s ideas are applicable to most growers, and you can learn all about it at bit.ly/smithgardensgrowers.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

More From Editorial...

December 9, 2017

Southern California Wildfires Narrowly Miss Most Grower Operations

Here’s an update on horticulture businesses in the areas affected by the California wildfires.

Read More
Weigela Czechmark (Spring Meadow Nursery)

December 8, 2017

Spring Meadow’s New Logo Highlights Focus on New, Colorful Shrubs

In a move that highlights its commitment to developing new, colorful flowering shrubs, Spring Meadow Nursery has unveiled a new logo.

Read More
HortScholars

December 8, 2017

HortScholars Program Now Accepting Applications for 2018

Do you know any college students currently in a horticulture-related program? This unique program gives them a chance to connect with industry leaders and make new connections at Cultivate.

Read More
Latest Stories

December 7, 2017

For the Record: Differing Opinions Are Healthy

With all of the changes happening in our industry, differing opinions are healthy. Let's open up the dialog and keep it real.

Read More
Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Holy Moly!’ (Proven Winners)

July 8, 2017

Are Utility Patents Tying Up Innovation With Litigation…

The opportunities for innovation in plant breeding could be greatly advanced by creating an industry-led patent licensing platform.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

February 13, 2017

Your Voice Matters in Shaping Policy Important to Horti…

Anyone can voice an opinion, but not everyone will take the appropriate actions to communicate with lawmakers. Here’s what you need to do now.

Read More

February 10, 2017

4 Ways We Can Reinvigorate the Poinsettia Market [Opini…

Poinsettias are often described as a beautiful, necessary evil. But they be profitable for everyone again if we work together to promote the right messaging to retailers and consumers.

Read More

January 13, 2017

We Must Help Heal Our Nation, with Plants and Flowers […

No matter how you may feel — personally or professionally — about the outcome of the election, it’s likely that you realize our nation has some healing to do.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

December 6, 2016

Are You Driving Young Growers Away? [Opinion]

In a time when the industry is facing a critical shortage of both labor and skilled, educated growers, it's important that grower operations don't unwittingly turn candidates off to a career at their business or in the industry in general. Take a closer look at your hiring practices to ensure you are being inclusive and not breaking any laws.

Read More

September 26, 2016

How Even An Overworked Plant Retailer Can Predict Consu…

Years ago, I read an article about Pottery Barn and the women who were making it a success. It was eye-opening to realize that a glossy, national chain like Pottery Barn used to buy products in a similar way garden retailers do. There was one section of that article that really caught my imagination. It was the profile of Celia Tejada, the woman who moved Pottery Barn from buying products from outside vendors to designing their own products. It was eye-opening to realize that a glossy, national chain like Pottery Barn used to buy products in a similar way garden retailers do. When Tejada joined Pottery Barn, she instructed her entire staff to begin keeping an eye out for things they liked, no matter how minor. So if they were at a restaurant with friends, or walking along a street and something caught their eye, they were to either buy it or […]

Read More

June 7, 2016

It’s Time To Rethink The Value And Timing Of Cali…

Fourteen years ago, Greenhouse Grower saw an opportunity to bring next-day coverage of California Pack Trials (now California Spring Trials or CAST) to your inbox. The objective was to be your eyes and ears on location, to report the debut of the newest varieties and marketing programs, and report major breeder announcements, especially for those not attending. We continued to develop new story-telling tools with video capabilities, slideshows, and more. And once social media took hold, everyone attending CAST became reporters of their favorite varieties and displays at trials. So we’re left with the question — how should we continue to evolve our coverage, to bring the most value for you? It’s easy to fall into a certain pattern, to stick with what works — or seems to work. And just because you’re working really hard at something that you’ve had success with in the past, it doesn’t mean it’s […]

Read More
Gotham Greens Atrium Style Greenhouse Chicago

May 23, 2016

What’s Good For The Environment Is Good For Business [O…

Investing in technology to become more sustainable “always goes hand in hand,” says Abe VanWingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses. “If it is good for the environment, it normally is good for business over the long term.” That connection was abundantly clear in the responses we received to this year’s Top 100 Growers Survey. VanWingerden points to three investments Metrolina has made as good examples of how technology can reduce an operation’s carbon footprint and pay dividends financially. Its biomass system burns locally sourced waste wood — a renewable resource; its ozone water treatment system cleans irrigation water, reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and improving plant quality and precision growing; and electrostatic sprayers reduce water and chemical use, and provide more targeted chemical applications. Other Top 100 Growers have found VanWingerden’s theory to be true, as well. Costa Farms’ investment in solar energy panels on three buildings at its […]

Read More

April 28, 2016

Holistic, Integrated Approach To Pest Control Rooted In…

Greenhouse growers have been practicing integrated pest management for decades, but it’s becoming increasingly more important with the continued scrutiny of conventional pest control by a number of “regulators” — government, retail, and consumers. I just returned from Meister Media Worldwide’s Biocontrols USA 2016 Conference, in Monterey, CA, at the beginning of March this year, which served 450 attendees and 50 exhibiting supplier companies. It’s clear from the presentations and the growing attendance at this specialized event — now only in its second year — that use of biocontrols in IPM will continue to be adopted widely, as more growers get past their personal hurdles of doubt and intimidation, and embrace a new way to approach pest and disease control. Many growers think of using biocontrols as an all-or-nothing approach, but ultimately, IPM is about balance. Growers will need to continue to focus on IPM, integrating chemistry with biology, because […]

Read More
Random Acts Of Flowers

March 31, 2016

The Floriculture Industry Needs A Unified Message To Pr…

Seeing the sneak preview of the new varieties that will be presented at California Spring Trials (CAST) spurs a visceral reaction in me. I’m giddy and excited about these gorgeous plants, having taken in some of their beauty and excellent performance already at Costa Farms’ Season Premier. I’m excited to travel to Spring Trials and that spring is coming, and I’m ready to dig in and get gardening. I’m guessing many of you feel the same way. And it’s likely that consumers do, too. Nearly a year ago, upon returning from California Spring Trials, I lamented the absence of ideas translated from CAST to retail. The beautiful displays, the breathtaking combinations, the clever marketing — somehow, all of that effort and enthusiasm focused on business-to-business promotion is not being funneled effectively to the consumer. As an industry, we are not good at working together to market our products in a clear, […]

Read More

January 20, 2016

Tips For Overcoming Challenges In Family Business From …

Our industry is run by a collection of family businesses, and every one, no matter how big or small, has its share of management issues. But there are several differences between one that is run successfully as a business and one that allows family politics to distract from the organization’s goals. In this year’s State Of The Industry Survey, we noted that labor recruitment and succession are two areas where growers struggle. In talking with the owners of Costa Farms for this month’s cover story, I thought some of the values they have incorporated into the operation’s management structure really stood out as practices that other family businesses could use. The participatory management approach to business and team building is one that Tony Costa, the second-generation owner of Costa Farms, instilled in his children, Maria Costa-Smith and Jose Costa, and son-in-law, Joche Smith, the current owners of Costa Farms. In […]

Read More
Laura Drotleff

January 6, 2016

Most Popular New Year’s Resolution For 2016 Favor…

It’s splashed all over social media: 2016 is going to be a great year! And what’s fueling that sentiment? It’s an overwhelming need for Americans to enjoy life more. In fact, we’re so passionate about this that it’s the most popular New Year’s Resolution for 2016, followed by living a healthier lifestyle. Here are the top 6 resolutions for 2016, as reported by Time.com, according to a Google Consumer Survey by GoBankingRates. Enjoy life to the fullest Live a healthier lifestyle Lose weight Save more, spend less Spend more time with family and friends Pay down debt Among different age groups, Millennials (18 to 34) are setting more resolutions than any other group, and they’re the most concerned with spending more time with loved ones, and the most concerned with spending less and saving money. Younger Gen Xers (35 to 44) are focused more on living healthier in 2016, while […]

Read More
Laura Drotleff

December 8, 2015

Develop New Habits To Change Your Greenhouse Business

Grower Homework: Don’t let your product mix become habit. Opportunities abound for the horticulture industry to evolve its reach beyond traditional plants. People have an inherent need to be in and around nature, and they’re looking for new ways to use plants, even if they don’t know it yet. Let’s study trends and habits to get ahead of the curve and create some new demand. Share your ideas by writing to me at [email protected] or tweet @Laura_GG_TGC. Over the past few years since I came back to work full time, I’ve been studying habits, and admittedly trying to change my own. As a full-time, working, married mother, I’m still getting used to the challenges of “having it all,” and I’ve reluctantly realized that changing my habits is an absolute must to maintain a sustainable level of sanity and success. Thus, I’ve been consuming books about habit, and how it plays […]

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
Laura Drotleff

September 14, 2015

Develop New Growers In Your Own Backyard [Opinion]

One of the greatest parts of my job is having the opportunity to honor ingenuity in breeding, marketing and innovative growing in this industry at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening Of Excellence, a premier event held during Cultivate in July. The work leading up to the event is just as rewarding, from attending California Spring Trials to see all of the beautiful new varieties released to the marketplace to inspire consumers and solve problems for growers, to selecting the best of the best varieties for Medal Of Excellence In Breeding Awards. I humbly learn about and choose the Marketing and Industry Achievement Awards through industry nominations, and serve as a member of the selection panel for the Grower Of The Year Awards, on which we review nominations from people across the industry about creative, hardworking, dedicated operations and individuals who not only love their work but also live it. The Evening Of […]

Read More

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