Winning the 2012 Greenhouse Grower Head Grower of the Year was an honor, one that I’ll remember the rest of my career. The truth though — as with any award of this nature — is that standing behind the winner are many other people. And these people help ensure the success of the person receiving the award. It’s a team effort.
The keys to long-term success in any business are how you select the members of the team and how the team works together. Here’s a look at how we’ve assembled the growing team at Lucas Greenhouses and how that team operates on a day-to-day basis.
The Growing Team At Lucas Greenhouses
Our growing teams are broken down by growing range/area. Each area has a lead person for that area, with additional growers working with the leader. The total number of people in each area depends on the size of that specific area and the crops being grown in it. We have a total of five main growing areas. All together we have a little less than 1.1 million square feet of climate-controlled greenhouses, plus 32 acres of outdoor growing area.
The growing team in each area is responsible for watering the crop, the daily scouting for crop pests and diseases and all necessary chemical applications during the production process. They also handle the maintenance of the growing equipment in that area.
At peak season there are a total of 15 workers (in addition to myself) in the growing department. My job is to equip the growing teams with the information that they need to successfully grow the crops, as well as to oversee and lend support as needed during this process. With the size of the operation and with my additional responsibilities in the area of production management, their role in the day-to-day operation is critical to our success.
Selecting The Right Growers
The growers are selected based primarily on three criteria: character, strong work ethic and the ability to pay attention to details. You’ll probably notice that I didn’t mention anything about educational background or experience. The reason for that is if someone meets the first three criteria, I believe they can become an excellent grower given the right opportunity and training.
On the flip side, a grower could have a masters or a doctorate degree from one of the best horticultural schools in the world. He may know how to be a good grower, but if he doesn’t meet the other three criteria, he won’t be able to do the job in a real-world production greenhouse.
Believe it or not, the grand total of college and university-based training between all members of the growing team, myself included, is a whopping two years. I don’t say that to knock college training or to imply that it’s unimportant, but rather to emphasize that from my perspective, the intangibles in a person’s individual character outweigh all other things. All of the lead growers in each of the sections have been with us for seven or more years, and each of them has risen up through the ranks, starting their careers working below a lead section grower.
Almost all of the growers were selected out of the production ranks after being identified as someone displaying the traits we look for in a grower. With the rapid growth of the business over the last 10 years, there have been plenty of opportunities for advancement. As the workers show the ability to consistently take on increased responsibility, they are given the opportunity to advance. This same philosophy is used in every area of production.
Three Criteria That Define Success
So why are the three criteria I listed the building blocks for a good grower? Consider each one individually.
Character: All great growers are high-character people. Character comes into play in all areas of the decision-making process. What do you do when it’s Sunday afternoon or a holiday and you’re the one with watering responsibility on that particular day? The sun comes out at 3 p.m., but your watering decisions that morning were made based on the weatherman’s forecast of rain all day. Do you run back over to work and double check things to make sure that everything is okay, or do you just say, “It will be fine”? How about when you realize that you made a mistake while making a chemical application? Do you just let it ride and hope that nobody figures out what
happened, or do you go ahead and tell someone, so that steps can be taken to reverse the mistake?
Strong work ethic: Growing can be and is a time-consuming job. The crops are here and alive (hopefully) 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They’re not ball bearings sitting on a shelf in a warehouse, where you can leave at 5 p.m. on a Friday and come back at 7 a.m. on a Monday and nothing has changed. They need constant care, and a lot of that takes place outside of normal working hours. Pesticide applications take place in most situations at night or on weekends, watering needs take place on Monday through Friday, but also Saturday, Sunday, Independence Day, Christmas … well you get the picture. Oh, and the general rule is, if it’s going to break, it’s going to break on the weekend or a holiday. So, yeah, you better have a strong work ethic.
Attention to details: The difference between a good grower and a great grower is the little details: growth regulator drenches with exactly the correct amount per pot each time it’s done, spray mixtures made up with precision accuracy and temperature sensors calibrated so that 68°F is really 68°F. Crops need to be scouted regularly so small problems don’t become large problems because they were missed or ignored for a few days. These are just a handful of examples of how little details can change a crop for better or for worse. A grower who pays attention to the little things delivers consistent quality over and over again.
In a nutshell, high-quality people make high-quality growers, and high-quality growers make high-quality crops. I’ve been very fortunate to have a team full of these kinds of growers at Lucas Greenhouses, which, when coupled with all of the other areas of our business that run on the same philosophy, have allowed us to be very successful over the years.