Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers Breakfast has become a great annual event during OFA Short Course. We get together with representatives from the country’s largest greenhouse operations to talk about trends and developments in different areas of the business. And while the meeting is targeted for the Top 100, there are invariably interesting lessons that apply to growers across the board.
This year’s breakfast featured a panel discussion on “The Even-Higher-Tech Future Of The Top 100.” (You can read about some of the highlights from the event on page 32.) Our panelists included Gary Falkenstein, president and CEO of the new online live goods broker, ePlantSource; Paul Pilon, owner of Perennial Solutions Consulting; and Charles Grinnell, COO of Harvest Automation (whose plant-moving robots were one of the highlights on the trade show floor at Short Course this year). They shared their opinions on what exciting new developments growers may have to look forward to in the next 10, 20 or even 30 years. But this wasn’t simply a discussion about futuristic, super-expensive, state-of-the-art equipment.
Our goal was to stretch people’s imaginations. We wanted to get everyone in the room thinking about the future and what the greenhouse business may be like a decade from now, so we can all start preparing today. But we also wanted to open eyes to some of the untapped opportunities sitting out there right now. The potential of a simple smartphone or an iPad as a scouting tool or recordkeeping device, for example, is something most growers have yet to use to their advantage.
The group discussed the lighting-fast pace of development in the business capabilities of the Web. Cloud storage of data and applications, new software services and eCommerce should be on everyone’s radar. As one panelist said, “If you are using technology that’s two or three years old, you are behind the curve.”
We talked about how advances in other industries like telecommunications and transportation are decreasing costs and increasing availability of technology and tools. Automation — even robotics — are becoming a more realistic option for more growers. That’s a trend that will continue and will begin to impact growers of all sizes.
And maybe most importantly, we discussed people. We talk a lot about the changing consumer and how we can adapt to the dwindling number of baby boomer customers. But here’s a related question: how do we interest a new generation, not just in our products, but in our businesses? Where are we going to find the next wave of qualified greenhouse managers and company leaders that will help our industry — and your business — grow?
Despite all these advances in technology that make production more efficient and create new opportunities, this will always be a business driven by smart people. Making sure we have those smart people in place for the next 30 years is an issue that all growers — not just the big guys — have to address today.