Picture 60 workers in the field busily hand-pinching Hydrangeas before the weather turns sour. To most, this scenario seems somewhat serene, as columns of workers steadily hover over a sea of green beneath cloudy skies.
But if you’re an operations manager for a large plant wholesaler, the picture is painted a bit differently. You see a large stack of 60 paychecks that need to be processed by the week’s end. You see scheduling problems and employee issues. You see payroll taxes and healthcare costs.
You see the high cost of labor.
That’s how Rob Bigley sees production at Keepsake Plants Ltd., a division of Aris Horticulture, Inc. located in Leamington, Ontario. Bigley oversees a 20-acre growing facility that produces fresh Azaleas, Chrysanthemums, tropical Hibiscus, Hydrangea, Mandevilla, Poinsettias, Lilies and other finished potted plants for retailers.
“Everybody is looking for opportunities to cut costs,” Bigley says. “Ontario has some of the highest labor costs in Canada, so automation is a must. All greenhouse operators have to be thinking this way.”
Especially when an operation is virtually doubling its output, as Keepsake has recently done.
“We were expanding our program, going from 500,000 Hydrangea plants a year to more than a million,” Bigley says. “We needed to make various investments to grow the operation, and in looking at costs, we saw opportunities in automation that would allow us to grow more units and improve field operations.”
In an effort to reduce the labor costs that accompanied its tremendous growth, Keepsake contacted AgriNomix and ordered two Venti 004 Trimming machines in 2013.
Moving From Scissors To Trimmers
“At one point, we had 60 employees in the field using special scissors, handling every pot one at a time,” Bigley says. “Now we have two trimming machines attached to a motorized conveyor system and 28 employees (14 on each operation) performing the necessary functions as a part of one big operation.”
“Our Hydrangea operation is year-round, and we’re looking for every opportunity to make the operation efficient in the limited amount of time that we have,” he says. “The outdoor operation is limited by the weather. When the plants are ready, we have to jump in and get the job done in as short a time as possible. The plants don’t wait for us.”
Keepsake is now using the trimming machines for Chrysanthemum production alongside the company’s Hydrangea pinching and propagation out in the field.
“The machine has been very easy to use,” Bigley says. “It’s user-friendly, and you can set it to the heights that you want to pinch and never have to touch it again. It’s a very reliable machine.”
Training on the machine was just as simple, Bigley says.
“An AgriNomix rep came onsite and also provided phone support,” he says. “I also had the opportunity to see the machine in operation at the Cultivate booth in Columbus, Ohio. Basically, AgriNomix said, ‘If you like it, buy it. If not, then send it back.’”
“The trimming machine has been very successful for us,” Bigley says. “It works well, does a great, consistent job, and has saved us a lot of money, especially in labor costs, which is very beneficial. And with the new equipment available (the AgriNomix over-the-ground mower EZ Cut Trimmer), we’re now trying to determine how best to utilize a machine that needs just two people to get the job done.”
Reducing labor from 60 workers to just two is an impressive step in the cost-cutting game, and can only be attained through the ingenuity of automation.
“You have to look at the whole operation and determine where you can cut costs,” Bigley says. “If you want to be in business at this level, you have to automate.”
Page 2 – AgriNomix Expands Manufacturing Space
Page 3 – AgriNomix Venti 004 Trimmer Makes Trimming A Breeze
Page 4 – AgriNomix Twin-Head Disinfecting Trimmer Lends A Hand With Disease Control