Each year’s Greenhouse Management State of the Industry Report yields a representation of what’s on greenhouse growers’ minds, in the form of statistics and year-over-year trends. This picture helps us to gauge the overall health of the industry, and where greenhouse operations’ pain points lie. This year, the two biggest pain points were clear — labor and trucking.
Labor has been a challenge for several years, but this year’s report shows that the problem is exceeding previous levels. While slightly more than a third of growers said that they didn’t have a need for additional labor, another similarly sized group said that they’re still unable to find qualified labor in their respective markets; 6% more growers said they can’t find the right person for the job this year. The vast majority of growers — 79% — still consider finding high-quality hires to be difficult, a result that has also been supported anecdotally through conversations editors from Greenhouse Management had with them throughout the year.
“Seasonal labor was extremely hard for us to find,” said Dorothy Russo, chief of growing operations at Al’s Garden & Home in Oregon. “With the increase in minimum wage that we are experiencing, all other wages and salaries have increased as well. We work closely with a company called Hire Horticulture to fill our gaps, and they are always looking for employees for us, both young and mid-career.”
With the recent implementation of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate in the trucking industry, many growers scrambled to find drivers and trucks to transport their plants to market. Art Van Wingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses in North Carolina, said that they paid an additional 40 cents per mile to be able to get enough truck drivers to deliver their plants. “We’re already calling drivers for next year, trying to get them to take runs now and see if they like doing it,” he said. “Last year we went into the season with about 200 drivers, and this year our goal is to have 350 that we’ve already called, gotten set up and are ready to go. ‘Hope is not a strategy’ is what we say around here. You can’t hope it; you better have a strategy.”
In addition, the early spring showers we’ve come to expect came in an unanticipated form — snow and freezing temperatures for many growers. This resulted in a backlog of plants across U.S. and Canadian greenhouses in March, April and, in some parts, May. Some growers were able to ship the plant material once the weather broke, but many weren’t able to get their cool-season crops out the door in time.
However, in spite of these challenges, most growers — 65% — said that they expected sales to be up compared to last year, and the market has stayed relatively stable. “Our spring was intense!” said Barbara Jeffery-Gibson, president of Jeffery’s Greenhouses in St. Catharines, Ontario. “We couldn’t sell pansies in April, but we could have sold anything in May. … Product sold faster than we’ve ever seen. The high temps continued into the summer months and summer sales were steady into late June.”