Head Grower Of The Year Joe Moore: The Best Growers Lead By Example

Joe Moore

Dedicated. Innovative. Enthusiastic. Thoughtful. Leader. All words that describe an ideal employee in any business, and they have all been used to describe Joe Moore, recipient of Greenhouse Grower’s 2012 Head Grower of the Year Award.

As head grower for Lucas Greenhouses in Monroeville, N.J., Moore is responsible for everything that happens in 22 acres of heated space and 30 acres of outdoor growing area. He directly oversees 15 growers and is also head of production, which means responsibility for planting and production lines and liner pulling crews — about 100 people in all. Lucas propagates 24 million rooted cuttings and grows a full line of prefinished poinsettias and spring material. Lucas also produces finished crops for independent garden centers and landscapers, including annual flats, 4.5-inch pots, hanging baskets, patio planters, spring bulbs, pansies, mums and other fall crops.

Moore not only handles all of this, he handles it well, as evidenced by the fact that Lucas Greenhouses won Greenhouse Grower’s Operation of the Year award in 2009.

“Joe has a very good reputation in the industry as a very good grower,” says George Lucas, owner of Lucas Greenhouses. “But he is much more than that. Lucas Greenhouses would not be in the Top 100 if it weren’t for his leadership and determination. He treats the business as his own, and his relentless search for perfection and attention to detail is uncommon.”

Moore has been with Lucas since the tender young age of 11, working up in the company as his responsibilities (and he himself) grew. He has been head grower for 24 years and has developed a reputation for pursuing new technology and mentoring his own employees, as well as being helpful to other growers who ask for his advice.

Empowerment Is Key

Moore, however, is quick to give credit to the team for his success.

“I’m just one key piece in the puzzle that makes up Lucas Greenhouses,” Moore says. “A lot of times George and I get the press and attention for what happens here, but it’s really important for people to know that there is an entire team of key employees that make this whole thing work. Neither of us could pull this off without them. I really do rely on my key management people to take our ‘recipes’ and put them into action and make them work. I may put together a growth plan for a crop that works great, but I’m no longer the guy dragging the spray hose around every day, or mixing the feed or doing the watering. We all know you can have a great plan, but if the execution is poor, the results will be, too.”

A Perfect Partnership

It’s obvious that Moore and Lucas have a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. Moore credits Lucas with giving him incredible opportunities for growth and responsibility; Lucas credits Moore with the overall success of his business.

“Joe understands what it takes to get where we are today, and I value his opinion very much,” Lucas says. “Other than financial decisions, he is in on all other major decisions and runs the entire operation, except sales, every day. He is very active in the propagation part of our business and is in touch with breeders and stock facilities all over Central America and Mexico. Joe makes all the cultural and variety decisions for all crops with input from me and the sales team.”

Moore says he knows how fortunate he is. “Most people aren’t given the opportunities I’ve been given here, or the same level of equipment and technology to do the job that I’ve been given. I’ve been very fortunate, and I’m very aware of that. George gives me, in essence, final say on almost all areas of production and growing, which is pretty rare in most operations. There are a lot of really good growers out there who don’t work for someone who would trust them to do what I do or who would be comfortable with the grower getting as much credit as I get as an employee. It’s been a win-win situation for both of us when you look at it.”

Regarding his reputation for mentoring employees, Moore says empowering
others benefits him as well.

“The biggest benefit comes when you can’t be around for some reason, and those people are able to act and react without having to come to you for everything,” he says. “The biggest challenge for me at times is getting the information they need out of my head into a format or system they can access and understand, so they can make decisions on their own. So much of what I do is based on making decisions on the fly and always being around to fix a problem or communication error that I may have created by not having something as well organized as it should have been. As we move forward, this is probably the area I need to concentrate the most on improving.”

Staying Current Is A Priority

Lucas says Moore puts a high priority on researching and understanding new technology and how it will help his business. “Joe is always looking for a better way to do something,” he says. “He and his team stay on the cutting edge of the best technical growing practices.”

Moore says he accomplishes this by partnering with some of the best minds and companies in the industry, citing their recent greenhouse expansion as a prime example.

“We have worked very closely with Jeff Warshauer and the folks at Nexus as we have grown rapidly over the last 10 years. Our latest expansion is a perfect example of a greenhouse company and a grower sitting down and designing a structure to meet the exact needs of what the grower is looking for at that point in time.”

Moore also says one of his favorite things to do is visit growers around the country to see how they are doing things and if they have systems or ideas that might work for his business. “You can’t be afraid of trying something new and having it not work out,” Moore says. “It’s not easy spending money on something and having it not work, but sometimes you have to take a chance. Not all ideas are hits, but we usually hit more than we miss.”

A typical work day for Moore varies based on the time of the year. Because he also handles production, it is usually a blend of looking at crops, planning crops and crop inputs, organizing production schedules and getting information out to planting line crews. A good layer of management at each area of production keeps those areas running smoothly, allowing him to concentrate on areas that require his direct attention. In the summer and fall, he devotes more time to crop planning, while winter and spring are more focused on the actual crops and production lines.

As is typical for this industry, challenges arise unexpectedly. One recent challenge Moore had to deal with was a mysterious phytotoxicity on spring finished crops. It was eventually traced back to wood glue used in the manufacturing of the coco fiber baskets that they were using. Moore also handled a bacteria problem on poinsettias a few summers ago.

Appreciating Success

As for the high points, Moore says being selected as the Head Grower of the Year is right up there at the top. “It’s one of the highest honors that someone in that position can get in our industry,” he says. “I was also honored to have had the opportunity to serve on the OFA Board of Directors.” His work in partnering with Syngenta Flowers and Pleasant View Gardens developing a highly successful young plant propagation business over the last 12 to 15 years is also something he is proud of.

Moore continues to give to an industry that has given much to him by participating in the Short Course and helping other growers, customers and sales reps with thoughtful, candid answers to their questions. He remains humble despite his success, saying, “If I would have sat down 25 or 30 years ago with a blank piece of paper and wrote down the craziest, wildest, most forward-thinking plan that I could have, I still would never have come up with where we have gone here over the last 32 years.”

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