I’ve had several opportunities to visit with growers lately, and it’s apparent that two issues top their list of concerns — labor and transportation.
Seasonal labor is hard to find, and filling positions with qualified workers is even tougher. Constantly changing labor laws aggravate the problem, and the impact of current and future immigration policy on labor is anyone’s guess. Some growers are already feeling the full force of state-mandated minimum wage increases, while the looming threat of state and potentially federal policies hang over others.
Growers agonize about labor retention, too. It’s difficult to retain workers in a largely seasonal industry. And a big question on growers’ minds is how to prevent the skilled workers they do manage to keep from being enticed away by the promise of more money and better hours. Finally, there’s recruitment — how to attract the best and brightest young minds to the greenhouse.
On the transportation end, growers are scratching their heads over how to increase availability of drivers and trucks, especially as experienced drivers reach retirement age. Changes at the U.S. Department of Transportation have taken their toll, and some of EPA’s recently implemented standards have pushed up costs. Then there’s the competition for available equipment (specialized trailers, etc.). With only so much to go around during a three-month period, growers are often scrambling for resources during their busiest and most critical time of the year.
Policies on ag funding, cannabis legalization, and healthcare concern growers, as well. Our next U.S. president and those he or she nominates to fill top-level positions will have a substantial influence on these policies.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the appearance of Q-biotype whiteflies in the landscape in Florida and California. This doesn’t bode well for greenhouse growers if these pests continue to spread across the U.S. Luckily, a National Whitefly Taskforce is working on researching the issue and what can be done to stop the spread of this devastating pest, but the taskforce will require grower support to continue its important work.
There Is A Bright Side
While challenges like labor, transportation, and pest control keep growers turning in their beds, there is a silver lining. An old proverb says the things that hurt us most today make us stronger tomorrow. Case in point, the lack of labor is driving innovation, which has led to the fine-tuning and creation of better automation equipment to help fill labor gaps. Growers who have successfully implemented lean flow at their operations say they have increased productivity with the same amount of people. The bans on neonicotinoids, while inconvenient, have led to new pest control solutions.
The path of least resistance isn’t the path to growth. That’s good news because it means the tempest of change our industry is currently navigating through is the catalyst launching it into a better future.