How to Make Plants Better With Automation

Green Circle Growers ships thousands of orchids each week. Automating its processes has allowed it to produce, pack, and ship peak volumes of orchids more efficiently.

At Green Circle Growers (GCG), it’s our goal to make every day better with plants. This means we also need to make every day better for our team. Automation helps us create a safer, better, and more efficient work environment for all our team members.

Improving Growth and Yields

Automation helps to achieve our growth curve, sustaining higher yields. Since we grow a variety of plant types from flowers to foliage, we need to make the most of our growing space. For example, an automated watering system allows us to grow plants closer together because we don’t require space for a person to reach each individual plant.

“The improved setup on orchid potting has increased yield by reducing common planting errors, and the anthurium potting line has significantly sped up the potting process,” says Director of Greenhouse Operations John Ploenes.

Orchid Grower Managers Frank Paul and Marcel Boonekamp add, “To be able to produce, pack, and ship peak volumes of orchids, we’ve streamlined and automated our processes, from semi-automatic potting robots to a vision grading system for consistent sorting of plants. Within the production process, there are bottlenecks that can only be solved by automation.”

Automation at Green Circle Growers not only saves labor for other more skilled jobs, it also creates a safer, work environment. Photos by Green Circle Growers.

Tackling the Dirty Jobs

By implementing automatic solutions, we’re able to take care of some of the hardest (or least desirable) tasks in the greenhouse with automation.

Like many nurseries, one of our most significant challenges has been the availability of labor needed for common day-to-day jobs. Activities like potting, sticking, sorting, spacing, and packing require significant amounts of human capital, and oftentimes we simply can’t secure the necessary headcount to ensure that these activities are completed according to plan.

To make matters worse, these types of jobs are usually physically demanding, which exacerbates our ability to secure people to perform them. In response to these challenges, investing in automation has allowed Green Circle Growers to remain competitive while maintaining a high level of quality.

Automation is improving working conditions in our entire facility, especially the orchid range, Boonekamp says.

“Orchids are set down on an automated table system, which places the plants at the perfect work height so employees don’t have to bend down,” he says.

With unemployment at historic lows, automation reduces the need for entry-level labor.

This allows us to bring the plants to workstations in concentrated areas rather than sending people out to the greenhouse. Working conditions in these stations can then be better managed. Also, many repetitive tasks have been automated, which helps reduce the manual workload.

Ploenes adds, “The new boxing line for the orchid range automates the boxing process and stacking of heavy boxes onto pallets, which means that this heavy job will be handled more safely and securely.”
With many hard labor duties and safety concerns addressed by automation, we have the ability to reassign our employees to more skilled labor jobs or give them the opportunity to move into leadership roles.

Addressing the Skills Gap

Green Circle Growers is always seeking skilled growers for the greenhouse with a variety of open positions. However, we are prone to some droughts in the labor pool.

“With the improvement of the economy over the past several years, it has become a challenge to attract enough talent into our organization,” Paul says. “With unemployment at historic lows, people have more options to choose where they want to work. Automation reduces the need for entry-level labor positions, in turn creating more skilled job opportunities for technicians,” Paul says.

The Future of Greenhouse Automation

In recognition that the current set of challenges aren’t going away, we will continue to invest in automation where it makes sense for efficiency and safety. At the crop level, we will continue to provide our team of growers with tools to make their jobs easier, and we’ll invest to improve quality, reduce crop times, and reduce scrap. Greenhouses will be designed and built not only for efficient transport, but also to maximize plant health and performance. While automating our processes isn’t the answer to all of our challenges, we recognize that it’s an important piece of the puzzle, and it’s a philosophy that will help propel us into the future.

Automation makes work in the greenhouse more efficient, safe, and rewarding for our team, and it lets us consistently deliver high-quality plants to our partners and consumers.

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

More From Automation...
Dramm TracFOG Nozzle Extension

March 14, 2018

Dramm Offering New Video Chat Option for Service Issues, New Whitepaper on Indoor Air Flow

The Dramm Corporation recently introduced two new resources for its greenhouse grower customers to deal with indoor growing conditions.

Read More
Ever Bloom Robot Sprayer

March 5, 2018

Technology Will Change the Face of Horticulture Within 20 Years

Every once in a while, I’ll see a grower post a video on social media, showing off some new transplanter, harvesting robot, or another kind of automation equipment and explaining what it is and how it’s making a difference in the growing operation. Inevitably, these videos get tons of clicks, likes, and comments. Most are from people outside the industry who say something like, “Wow, that’s really cool!” or “I had no idea greenhouses were so high-tech!” But then there are the folks who make comments about the automation taking away greenhouse jobs. The grower who posted the video typically responds, explaining that the automation actually doesn’t displace any workers — they’re just reassigned to higher value functions — and that reliable employees are extremely difficult to find in our industry, thus the need for automation. The reality is, due to our current labor struggles, it’s likely our industry will […]

Read More

February 26, 2018

The Benefits of a Greenhouse Maintenance Plan and Checklist

A greenhouse maintenance plan and checklist can reduce equipment failures, improve equipment efficiency, and boost long-term profits.

Read More
Latest Stories

February 28, 2018

How to Make Plants Better With Automation

Automation does more than help with labor problems. Other tangible benefits also make automating the greenhouse worth the effort and cost.

Read More

February 4, 2018

Automation Turns to Data at Four Star Greenhouse

When Four Star Greenhouse needed its ISO machines to do more than stick cuttings, three businesses came together to come up with an innovative solution.

Read More

February 1, 2018

New Greenhouse Transplanters Aim for Improved Accuracy,…

Manufacturers of transplanters and sticking machines for cuttings have developed new systems that can meet the needs of growers of all sizes. Here’s a look at some of the latest products on the market.

Read More

January 24, 2018

Automation Never Stops, Even for the Biggest Growers

Metrolina Greenhouses has designed a unique forklift system to help move plants more efficiently at its newest perennial facility.

Read More

January 23, 2018

ISO Group Debuting New Cutting and Transplanting Machin…

Because many growers have a limited season for sticking cuttings, ISO Group wanted to develop a machine that can also transplant liners.

Read More

December 11, 2017

Evaluating Robotic Transplanters for Plant Cuttings

There are several factors that might affect your decision to invest in transplant robots, based on initial observations and reported information about available equipment.

Read More

December 10, 2017

Greens Production Goes High-Tech at lēf Farms

A Finland-based company has developed two new automatic growing systems for lettuce heads and baby leaf lettuce. Learn how one grower is making it work for them.

Read More
TTA PackPlanter S-2

October 16, 2017

TTA Introduces New Transplanter Suited for Smaller Grow…

The PackPlanter S has 16 grippers and a capacity of 10,000 to 20,000 plugs per hour in a small frame.

Read More
1B Filling trays for Transplanting Feature

October 9, 2017

Maximize Your Labor Efficiency When Sticking Plant Cut…

Transplanting unrooted cuttings into trays is one of the most labor-intensive activities in greenhouse production.

Read More

October 8, 2017

Greenhouse Equipment Supplier AgriNomix is Expanding

In an effort to keep up with demand from growers venturing into automation, the company is adding almost 20,000 square feet of warehouses and offices.

Read More
Irrigation Booms for Finished Crop Production at Foertmeyer

July 29, 2017

Boom Technology Helps Irrigate Multiple Crops at Foertm…

The boom system in place at Delaware, OH-based Foertmeyer & Sons, developed by Damatex Control Systems, provides more flexibility in growing and irrigating several crops in one area.

Read More
Visser Autostix

June 17, 2017

Visser, Ball Partner on New Sticking Technology for Cut…

The new AutoStix system is designed to provide better consistency and uniformity with shipped cuttings, easier and more reliable counting, automatic transplanting, and optional buffering in the peak season.

Read More
Bellpark Horticulture and Visser Shipping System

May 31, 2017

New Greenhouse Conveyors Help Automation Become More Fu…

The latest conveyor and shipping systems from leading manufacturers are designed to be more versatile and customized to any operation. Here’s a look at the newest models.

Read More
Pic-O-Mat Vision system feature

March 3, 2017

How Growers Can Make the Most of Automation

A Greenhouse Grower Top 100 Grower says investing in automation can reap several long-term benefits, as long as you do so for the right reasons.

Read More
Visser PC 16 Transplanter feature

February 13, 2017

How to Find a Greenhouse Transplanter for Every Grower&…

Equipment manufacturers have recognized a void in the market for machinery that appeals to growers of all sizes and budgets. Here are some affordable options to consider investing in to improve your operation’s efficiency.

Read More
ISO Cutting Machine

February 4, 2017

Getting to the Next Generation of Greenhouse Automation

The most successful growers in the future will be those that are willing to accept and invest in new technology.

Read More
Ever Bloom Robot Sprayer feature

January 23, 2017

New Automation Systems Improve Spraying and Harvesting

In response to increasing regulations on labor, Ever-Bloom Inc. decided to invest in new automation technology that also dramatically improves efficiency.

Read More
Bouldin and Lawson Precision Needle Seeder feature

January 19, 2017

How You Can Get More Precise With Your Seeder

Bouldin & Lawson’s Precision Needle Seeder is designed to improve accuracy when sowing small, difficult seeds.

Read More