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7 Habits of Highly Successful Growers

Highly Successful Greenhouse GrowerDifferent crops require different levels of specific expertise in attaining the highest quality. The growers that achieve this high level of success do so by getting in the routine of practicing great growing habits.  

1. Master the Basics

Highly successful growers makeit a habit to always include the fundamentals of growing when dealing with crop issues. These fundamentals or “Basics” refer to 5 considerations when growing a crop:

  1. Air exchange: Oxygen and Carbon dioxide – all plant life depends on this and cannot survive long without it
  2. Water exchange: second most important in a plant’s survival
  3. Nutrient exchange: mastering the basics of plant nutrient uptake can determine a great crop from an average crop.
  4. Light exchange: essential for photosynthesis
  5. Temperature stability: for both air and soil, specific for each crop.
  6. Mastering these basics involves a complete understanding of how and why they affect the crop at every stage, without this knowledge the grower is unable to determine what conditions and techniques are best when managing the crop. The successful grower when making changes makes it a habit to not override the plant basics and hinder the goal of a quality crop.

2. Consistent Record Keeping

In order to consistently grow high quality crops a grower needs to learn from both mistakes and successes. Successful growers make it a habit to keep accurate and detailed records of all aspects of the growing process so that mistakes are not repeated and successes are. Climate control computers can be used in conjunction with growing notes; on most systems the grower can look at climate history making this a very useful tool when reviewing crop notes.

The climate control computer is one of the modern grower’s most necessary tools; it irrigates, fertigates, ventilates, shades, heats and cools automatically. However, the highly successful grower recognises that no matter how sophisticated the computer system, it is still at the command of the grower and only does what it is told! This is why it is so important that this “automatic” system is reviewed on a regular basis. The automation of the system will tell the grower when there is an EC deviation or when there is an issue with the heating system but it cannot compensate for errors in what is put into the system. Supplemental light timing, light levels that initiate shading and black out times are all inputs controlled by the grower and should be reviewed regularly. Highly successful growers will make this control review a routine so that nothing is missed and quality is guaranteed.

3. Hands On Crop Techniques

It is one thing to use the climate control computer as a valuable tool but it is another thing to trust it to do all of the growing. A highly successful grower is always in the habit of confirming or denying what the computer is telling him by physically viewing the crop regularly. Sensors can fail making computer readings unreliable, nothing compares to utilizing your senses to review your crop. A successful grower can tell the health of his crop through how the foliage feels, how the plant and roots look and pythium and foliar rots can be detected through smell. Being with the crop will tell a successful grower far more than any climate control computer ever will.

4. Regular Soil and Foliage Testing

Being a successful grower doesn’t ensure that one is “all knowledgeable” and at times we all benefit from outside testing. For success in growing it is important to get into the habit of sending random soil and foliage samples out for testing. The testing is usually at a minimal cost and will give the grower a very accurate sense of what is happening within the growing media and inside the plant. This valuable information is used to tweak nutrient delivery to increase plant health and ensure that the crop is of the highest quality. Some growers hire a monthly consultant to take care of media and foliar analysis which is usually included in the fee.

5. Research

The highly successful grower is never satisfied, the mindset is always that it is never “good enough” and there’s always room for improvement. This motivates the grower to constantly do research into new growing techniques, pest control, disease control and advancements. The investigation aspect of the research can become a daily habit of the successful grower and time is always put aside for this. The industry advances rapidly and highly successfulgrowers needs to stay on top of it.

6. Keeping Equipment Maintained

Maintenance of all greenhouse equipment is essential to the success of the crop. Irrigation equipment if not maintained will give false readings and poor results will be imminent. A successful grower will be in the habit of calibrating sensors and probes on a regular basis, leaky pumps will be addressed immediately and injectors will be also be inspected. Motors on vents, shading and blackout will also be given attention on a regular basis as these systems must be operating properly to attain the highest quality product. Well maintained equipment runs as it’s designed and gives the grower that “peace of mind” that is paramount for a grower’s success!

7. Superior and Ongoing Training

Highly successful people recognise the need for continual learning for themselves and their team. Successful growers share their knowledge with other team members; they attend industry events and seminars, and encourage others to do the same. Good training programs and standard operating procedures ensure individual jobs are consistently done to the company’s quality requirements. And an open mind to new learning opportunities enables a successful grower to continually make improvements.

Growing is both an art and a science. Highly successful growers do not limit themselves to mastering their particular crop, they learn about the business, the customer base, the market trends, and about other potential plants they could grow. And the world is a better place because of the fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, shrubs, and trees that they grow.

Generation Now: Bryce Danbrook on Why He Got Into Horticulture

Commercial Greenhouse Hydrangea GrowerIt was late 2009. I was 3 and a half years out of high school and working full time at Canada’s largest musical instruments retailer. If you had asked me then, I would have told you I had my dream job. I was constantly learning, meeting interesting people, and had access to all the latest toys and gadgets. It’s funny how perspective can change. I was very proud and successful in what I did, but no longer felt challenged and was seeking the fulfillment of participating in something more profound. In the midst of economic uncertainty, nothing seemed more secure and essential than the need for food.

Out of countless friends and acquaintances spending many thousands of dollars on a post-secondary education, few of them had pursued a career in the field of their studies. I was convinced that if I was going to spend my money, I wanted to specialize in something that was inarguably essential. It’s a funny thing, food. People need it. Every day. With all the talk in those days about careers being “recession proof”, it seemed obvious that people’s need for food was unwavering. Therefore, if I was able to produce food, there would always be mouths to consume it.

Having come from a farming family, I was all too familiar with the harsh conditions and intense labour required in the lifestyle. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of committing to the immense effort involved, when one late frost, or exceptionally dry summer could tarnish an entire season’s work. Can you blame me? I began to really see the value in controlled environment crop production, and was convinced that the future of agriculture depended on it. I remember coming across an article forecasting the coming age of vertical farms. Something inside me clicked, and I knew that I somehow needed to prepare myself to participate in bringing that dream to fruition. I didn’t want to aim myself for where horticulture and agriculture is today, I wanted to aim for where they’re going in the future.

Through months of researching college and university programs, I became particularly interested in Niagara College’s Greenhouse Technician Co-op program. Being in the routine of working, I felt that the blend of practical hands on learning, and structured academic study would favour my learning style, as well as offer me real work experience within the industry. I became fascinated with the intricacies of greenhouse production, and felt that the science involved would be the most transferable to where I saw the future of both horticulture and agriculture heading.  Several months later, I had been accepted and was looking for an apartment to move into for September, near the NOTL campus.

I was sensible enough to know that no school program will get you where you want to go. Rather, school introduces you to the skills, and develops the confidence needed for ambitious people to pursue their goals. I took every opportunity available to participate in extracurricular learning, join research groups, and pick the brain of industry experts. I tried to adapt every project and assignment to be relevant to my particular goals, or at least take something relevant from the experience. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of designing indoor vertical farming systems, and production techniques to be used for such applications. I relearned the importance of always keeping the big picture in mind, staying organized and thinking outside the box to solve problems, which in crop production, are never in short supply.

Since entering the industry, I have been privileged to apply my skills in several areas such as horticultural research, large scale hydroponic vegetable production and floriculture. For two seasons I managed a garden center offering countless varieties of vegetables, annuals and perennials. This demanded a huge amount of multitasking and time management, and challenged me to take full responsibility of managerial duties. Following this experience, I was contacted by a group in the beginning stages of applying to Health Canada’s new MMRP program. For those who are unfamiliar, this is the new program tasked with regulating Canada’s new commercial scale medical marijuana facilities. For the next year, I became the go-to for horticultural knowledge and consulting in retrofitting a 30,000 square foot warehouse into a highly efficient indoor farm. I saw this highly valuable crop as a basis for developing techniques that will enable other crops to be adapted for vertical farming applications. This process provided invaluable insight to the unforeseen complications inherent within such a project. I accumulated a huge amount of knowledge and experience which would serve as a solid foundation for helping others pursue similar projects, and overcoming the challenges necessary to carry vertical farming into the future.

It’s been a short 4 and a half years. I have been privileged to gain experience in many facets of crop production and the supporting industries. I am excited to now be a member of the GGS team. Each day I look forward to applying what I’ve gained through my own experiences, and learning from the years of experience GGS has to offer. I still don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I rest assured that I’m in the right place to help develop the horticulture and agricultural systems of tomorrow.

Holiday Giving to Make a Difference in a Child’s Life

giving, Africa child, War Child, donation, donation matchingAs the year comes to an end we are reminded of how fortunate we are.  But not everyone can say the same. Two thirds of adults in the world have assets worth less than $10,000.1  and world poverty is felt most severely by the very young, and further compounded by War.

One of the greatest strengths of the greenhouse industry is our charitable hearts.  Many growers operate worthwhile charities, and knowing the people behind the charity builds confidence.

I am fortunate to call the founders of War Child Canada my friends.  I know the passion and personal commitment they make to do whatever possible to help the innocent victims of war.  As medical doctors and humanitarians they are deeply concerned with health and wellness.

By providing access to education, opportunity and justice, War Child gives children in war-affected communities the chance to reclaim their childhood and break the cycle of poverty and violence.2

So this holiday season, consider a gift to War Child, and help mothers and their children.  As an added bonus this year, your donation will be matched, but this opportunity expires December 31.  So act now! Last year 425,000 people were helped thanks to generous donors like you, and so much more can be done.

Your donations give a child in a war zone the opportunity to know childhood.

                          Double My Donation Now          gift, present

                        Learn More About War Child

 

 

 

Sources:

  1.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/09/richest-1-percent-wealth_n_4072658.html
  2. http://www.warchild.ca/index2

 

10 Steps for Recovering From Disaster

When the early winter snow storm hit western New York State with more than a year’s worth of snow in 3 days, roofs of houses came down, cars were buried, people were stranded, and some greenhouses collapsed. These events are traumatic and heart breaking and it is easy to wonder how on earth you would get through such a disaster.  

At different times and in various parts of the world greenhouse businesses have suffered from extreme snow loads, fires, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. Often the business owners and families have rebuilt and come out of it strong.

When all is lost, take heart, you can get through this.  Here are 10 steps to help move your greenhouse business forward.

 

  1. Understand that it is okay to grieve.
    • Greenhouse businesses are family businesses, and losing your business is personal, and emotional.
    •  “I’ve had growers break down in tears. It is emotionally draining for everyone, including me, because I really feel for these people who have had everything destroyed. “Greg Ackland the GGS representative in New York State has helped several growers recover from storm damage.    
  2. Find something to be grateful for
    • In times of crises most people find it helpful to cherish what they have.  Through the recent damage growers repeatedly said “Thank god we didn’t lose any lives”.
    • Be grateful for family, friends, and neighbors. The agricultural community is always quick to help out.
  3. Be conscious of unproductive worry. 
    • During times of stress, you may find yourself running “what if” scenarios in your head. Focusing on hypothetical future situations is unproductive worry, because there is no real problem yet to solve.  When you find your thoughts drifting say to yourself: this is not a problem I can solve right now, then return your focus on immediate tasks, problems and solutions. 
  4. Get help
    • Your insurance agent will hopefully be a help in a time of crisis, and they need to be notified right away, before any cleanup is done.  They are familiar with the steps that need to be taken when disaster strikes, and a good agent will provide you with assistance and assurance about what is covered and what is not.
    • In the US the Small Business Administration may also be able to provide some financial help. Their Office of Disaster Assistance has a mission to provide low interest loans to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery & equipment, inventory and business assets that have been damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster. 
    • Friends, neighbors, suppliers, can all be called upon to lend a hand, help with cleanup details, as well as rebuilding.
  5. Take stock of the situation
    • Making a list of what can be saved, and what needs to be repaired, or replaced can help clarify the situation.
    • Identify potential suppliers to contact for each item that needs to be repaired or replaced.
  6. Make a daily work schedule plan
    • Make a daily plan for what you will need to do and what your team will need to be doing.  A lot of crisis anxiety is caused by interruption to your daily routine.  Making a daily work plan for the first few weeks gives everyone specific goals to work towards, and everyone will take comfort in seeing progress made as these small tasks are accomplished.
  7. Identify Symptoms of Stress in you, your family, and your team
    • It is common for stress to make it difficult to sleep, induce headaches, stomach problems, colds or flu-like symptoms.  You may find it difficulty communicating your thoughts, or find people becoming easily disoriented or confused    
    • Being that many greenhouse businesses are family farms, be aware of how your stress will affect how your children cope.  According to Fema’s coping with disaster page: Parents and adults can make disasters less traumatic for children by taking steps to manage their own feelings and plans for coping. One way to establish a sense of control and to build confidence in children before a disaster is to engage and involve them in preparing a family disaster plan. After a disaster, children can contribute to a family recovery plan.
  8. Stay on top of communication
    • Once the worst is over, let your customers know what’s happening. Have a representative personally contact every customer who’s orders are directly affected. Update the home page of your company’s website, keep social media like facebook and twitter updated. Let your customers know if your ordering, shipping or inventory is affected, and if or when you expect to be open for business again.  Share as much detail as you can about your recovery plan.  Showing your customers how you are dealing with a problem will inspire trust, and assure them that you will be back in business.
    • This type of communication will work for assuring your employees as well.  Regular updates of progress throughout the company will build moral and keep everyone focused on the tasks at hand.
  9. Make and execute your recovery plan
    • Call your suppliers, get quotes for repairs and replacement of greenhouse structure, equipment, heating systems, etc.  Consider if there is anything different that should be done that will make your business more efficient, or better equipped in case of a future disaster.
  10. Reassess your Emergency Plan ( or create one if you don’t have it already )
    • Having a plan in place “just in case” is one of the best insurance policies you can have, because a plan provides security for your mental and emotional state.  It also helps highlight where additional insurance may be needed, like business interruption insurance.
    • Emergency Plans should cover how to deal with an emergency: tasks required, like calling insurance, shutting down the boiler, moving chemicals, calling customers, and who is in charge of each task.  It should also include a business continuity plan that answers critical questions like, how will we fill existing orders.
    • Reassessing your emergency plans shortly after a disaster is important because critical issues are fresh in your mind.  We can never be totally prepared for everything, but improving plans after a crisis, will make you better prepared.

It is a challange to stay positive in a time of crisis, but Greg Ackland noticed "the people I have seen who approached the damage in a positive manner have had a much more positive staff, and progress towards rebuilding goes quicker. We are fortunate that no one lost any GGS greenhouses in this storm."

Handling Bad PR on the Farm

At what point did our society decide that actors were the all-knowing expert on all topics?

Eva Longoria, who may or may not have ever been on a tomato farm, has apparently taken upon herself the plight of the American Farm Worker, specifically targeting Florida tomato growers as evil abusive corporations. And while it is good to see that she is using her master’s degree in Chicano Studies to bring forward issues in the Latin American community, it hardly makes her an expert on farm management.

Sadly, while Ms. Longoria’s intentions may be noble, her facts are questionable, with broad sweeping generalizations that paint an entire industry in a negative light instead of focusing attention only on specific guilty individuals.

As someone who depends on the strength of Agriculture, most growers, and farm owners I know, are deeply concerned about issues surrounding migrant workers.  Most treat their employees fairly, and provide a fair wage, as well as housing.

So what can you do when a “star” decides to use their public favor to sway the general population against your farm business?

1.  Do what you can to provide fact based answers for the issue in whatever public forums you can, like the CEO of Florida tomato grower Lipman Produce did in his letter to the Editor of the Maimi Herald:

While I applaud Ms. Longoria for her advocacy and passion, she continues to make inaccurate statements that threaten to reverse positive momentum.
 

· As CEO of the nation’s largest open-field tomato grower — Immokalee, Fla.-based Lipman — allow me to state the facts:

· There has not been a single reported case of a Florida tomato farmer beating or raping a farm worker.

· Stating that people earn “$40 a day for 4,000 pounds” of harvest is incorrect. Our workers are paid at least minimum wage, with a vast majority making far more than that. Last year alone, we awarded over $1,000,000 in season-end bonuses to those who harvest our crop. We pay $.55/bucket, plus a $.10/bucket bonus. That is more than $.02/pound which is more than double of what Ms. Longoria continues to state. Our average farmworker made $12.83/hour last year and that is before factoring free housing and transportation.

· When it comes to farmworkers’ rights, Publix Super Markets is not the problem. Publix is a values-based company that I believe has been forced into a defensive stance because of the offensive statements and actions being directed at them.

Working together will get so much more done.

I do agree with Ms. Longoria that great-tasting Florida tomatoes should be grown in the most sustainable and socially responsible way. Our company has been farming in Florida for more than 70 years. We have always considered the people who harvest our crop part of our family.

 

2. Offer to help educate the “star” on the positive side of your farm business by letting them see who you are, as Kent Shoemaker, CEO of Lipman Produce, wrapped up his letter.

Ms. Longoria: I understand that you have not been to Immokalee to see first-hand how we treat our workers. Barry Estabrook, author of “Tomatoland,” has — and I trust he will tell you he was impressed. So consider this my personal invitation to visit our farms. The weather is perfect this time of year. The tomatoes, of course, are on us.

Not only are you inviting the opportunity for “star power” to be positively reflected on your business, you are also informing the general public that the inaccuracies presented have been done without any personal knowledge of the true nature of your business.

 

3.  Don’t wait for bad PR to generate your own Positive Press

Agriculture is the backbone of most countries: Greenhouse growers, nurseries, cattle ranchers, chicken farmers, fruit veg and grain field producers, feed a nation.  And yet, many city dwellers do not understand where their food came from aside from the supermarket.  As an industry we need to educate the consumers. As individual farm families we need to provide information and opportunities to let the general public see and understand the hard honest work you put into producing their food, flowers, trees, and herbs.

 

Share your farm stories with us.  Let’s get the word out about what is good in agriculture.

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