Greenhouse Management: What has it been like putting together a poinsettia trial in 2020?
Amy Morris: It’s been a little different and a little challenging. I am really surprised at the amount of people that are actually coming. Many people have said ‘thank you’ for spreading it out over a couple of days. Instead of the one normal day, we spread it over three different days. My goal was to keep it under 50 people a day. We have 2 acres of room in there and that seems like a lot, but with social distancing, I felt that it was really important to keep it as spaced out as possible ... We also aren’t letting people walk through the greenhouses. We used to have the talks in the dock area and visitors could basically do whatever they wanted. This year, everything is 100% kept in the garden area. We do not want anyone to come in and make unnecessary contact with our employees.
GM: With the COVID element, how did you weigh trying to do this event in person and get the benefit of having people review the plants in person while still managing health concerns?
AM: Our industry — we all miss each other. Networking is so critical. And we are going to do the best we can to have a poinsettia trial with a virtual aspect. Breeders will be filming themselves and we’ll be putting them online so if anyone can’t attend, we will at least have a filmed portion that people can go through and people can listen about each variety. The other thing that’s different is that I proposed that each breeder has its own house. Ball has its own house, Syngenta has its own house, Dummen and so on. That way, a group can walk through one breeder, see all of those varieties and then go to the next breeder.
GM: What does the slate of poinsettia offerings look like this year?
AM: Red is always going to be the most dominant. But, I have to admit, there is a lot of drive for color selection this year. Oranges are popping up. Some of our breeders are really doing a fantastic job on these new oranges and I’m really excited for people to see that. There’s a lot of nice new whites in the pipeline ... Another thing I’ve noticed is a few burgundy [options] coming down that look much stronger and have no delaying on them. That’s all really exciting. Breeders are trying to breed for that nicer pink that’s not salmon, but it’s more of a true pink.
In a matter of three months, Claire Baglien realized the pandemic was going to put her next career step on hold.
In January, Baglien was accepted into the Conway School, a graduate program in Massachusetts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in food justice and sustainability and had been working various green industry jobs ever since. These jobs included a role as the urban agriculture programs specialist for the city of Minneapolis, which just ended at the end of August.
The timing was going to be perfect: She’d end her stint with the Homegrown Minneapolis program and travel out east to live in Massachusetts. But as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, she grew concerned about moving out. So, too, did some of Baglien’s classmates, who eventually learned that their program had been postponed until next fall.
“I’m trying to see this as an opportunity to be flexible, and hopefully there are things that come out of this that I wouldn’t have planned on or expected otherwise,” Baglien says. “I’m trying to explore other facets of the landscaping industry, whether that’s finding part-time greenhouse work or other things.”
Of course, there’s still some disappointment. Roughly 18 students get accepted into the Conway School each year, so Baglien was about to receive in-depth education that would’ve taken her career to the next level.
But she’s taken comfort in knowing she’s not alone. Her future classmates all joined a group call after the decision was announced to postpone, and she found her concerns about doing in-person education had been echoed by her peers. The school ultimately decided that, after trying it out in the spring as a last resort for its 2019-20 students, online learning wasn’t an option. Baglien says she’s okay with that.
“I appreciated the opportunity to hear what other people were feeling. I think (the school) did a really great job processing what this looks like for everyone,” she says. “People were coming in from out of state, and so many people just felt like that’s just not going to happen with the pandemic. Ultimately, you can’t really learn landscape design online.”
Baglien says she’ll be there next year, but in the interim, she’s going to continue working about 30 hours a week at a local landscaping company. She’s still looking for work once the Minnesota snow comes in during the winter, but it’s at this company where she’s learning about the labor that goes into the design work she aspires to do in the future. Though she’s not taking any formal classes, she’s even learned some masonry since starting the part-time work.
“I think that’s really valuable,” she says. “If my goal is to be a designer, I need to understand how those designs are implemented on the ground.”
Baglien says her interest in horticulture began as an interest in climate activism in high school, and since then, she’s dedicated herself to designing environmentally responsible landscapes. After working in an urban garden, she says she realized the connection between climate change and sustainability.
Though it’s been a winding path to get here – a path that only continues to grow unclear amidst the pandemic – Baglien says she feels confident this is the industry for her.
“Doing work that was tangible really spoke to me. Since then, I’ve been looking for ways to not be in an office,” she says. “I love building something with (clients) who have dreamed about their landscapes for 20 years.”
The author is associate editor of Lawn & Landscape magazine.
A workstation is an area where an employee does a series of repetitive tasks; for example, transplanting, potting, patching, or preparing cuttings. The layout of this area can have a large influence on the efficiency of the work that is accomplished.
Basic principles of workstation design and layout have been developed based on time and motion studies, and these have been applied to many industrial operations and tasks. These same principles can be used to improve many of the tasks associated with growing plants and often results in a 20-30% reduction in time.
Include these in any workstation design:
- Incoming materials (prefilled containers, transplants, tags, cuttings to be graded, etc.)
- Location of transplanted container (cart, conveyor)
- Space for the worker
- Container for waste material
A drawing should be made on graph paper to scale to develop the best layout. It should include the location of the worker, materials and tools.
The following basic principles should be followed:
The best table height is elbow height. Adjustment should be provided for different-sized workers. It is best to provide for both standing and sitting positions as greater efficiency is achieved when workers change positions.
Elbow height should be measured in the standing position. Height adjustment in the chair or stool can bring the worker up to the standing height level. Comfortable chairs with back support and footrests will create less fatigue.
Hand and arm motion
Where possible, both hands should always operate as mirror images and both be working. Holding something in one hand while the other hand is performing a task is not very productive. If reaching for plants or other things, the distance should be the same for both hands.
Continuous or curved motions are the most natural and productive. Start-and-stop motions require more energy and time. Try to avoid lifting and instead, slide the flats.
The reach from the normal arm rest position should be limited to a 24-inch radius to the side and front for women and a 27-inch radius for men. The main assembly area is best positioned within 16 inches to 18 inches of the resting elbow position.
A space of 3 feet by 3 feet is normal for the worker, unless a wider work area is needed. Space to the rear should be left for movement of carts.
Adequate lighting over the work area will increase efficiency and reduce eye strain. It should be located above the workstation so as not to create shadows. A level of 40- to 60 foot-candles is necessary. Glare from lights and windows should be avoided.
Location of materials
Locate materials as close to the work area as possible. The farther you have to reach for something, the more time it takes. Walking 10 feet to get, pick up, or set down a flat will add two to three cents to the production cost of the flat.
Tipping the flat toward the transplanter can reduce the distance by as much as 10 inches. Plugs should be dislodged to effect easier removal. Locating a dibble board in a permanent holder so the worker does not have to look to retrieve it is also advised.
Prefilled containers from the flat or pot filler are best conveyed to the work area. A belt conveyor with an accumulating station works best. Gravity should be used wherever possible.
A conveyor located to the back of the workstation is best for sending a transplanted container on its way to the greenhouse. The flat or pot is just pushed onto the conveyor. Alternate locations are underneath the workstation bench or behind the worker. This involves moving or turning which takes more time. If carts are used, they should be located as close as possible to each worker.
Inexpensive fixtures or brackets can be installed to hold materials in position while they are being worked on. This frees up one hand that would normally be required for support.
The bottome line? Putting the above principles into practice in your operation can help reduce worker fatigue and increase production output throughout your greenhouse.
The author is an agricultural engineer, an emeritus extension professor at the University of Connecticut and a regular contributor Greenhouse Management. He is an author, consultant and certified technical service provider doing greenhouse energy audits for USDA grant programs in New England. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the last 20 years, the plant tag has gone from a way for the grower to label the product in a way for the consumer to gather information on the product of purchasing. It’s about consumer information, why the consumer should buy that product, care and pricing at the point of purchase.
Rick Vulgamott, national director of sales for the horticulture division of WestRock, says tags and labels excel in their role as a silent salesperson. “One way to help make sure the customer feels a little more comfortable about buying the product is to support their buying decision with features and ‘why buys’ right there at eye level on the plant,” he says.
Bob Lovejoy, president of Hip Labels, shares a story from a recent meeting with the manager of a South Carolina garden center that purchases tags from his company.
“She said, ‘Bob, when we’re busy; 90% of the customers in here don’t get to see somebody face to face. And the plants with tags sell much better, much easier. If there’s no tag on it, people just walk away from it. They don’t know what to do with it.’ So at least in that one situation, the retailer realizes how much value a tag adds to the sales process.”
Lovejoy says that branded tags are playing a huge role in the tags and labels industry — much more than they were 10 years ago. And the reason that’s changed is the consumers themselves are more receptive to branding. Millennials that “finally got up the guts to go to a garden center” are not as price-driven as earlier generations.
“They’re not going to buy a plant for a dollar or two,” he says. “They’re going to buy the plant that looks the best. It has the best instructions and that bodes very well for the branded products.”
In addition to its standard hang tags and stake tags, Hip Labels makes custom pot wraps that are popular with branded plants.
The essential info
What should be on a tag? There are a few things that can help that plant sell itself. Instead of simple care requirements, you want to give the consumer reasons to buy that plant. If it attracts butterflies, or it’s drought-tolerant or deer-resistant, put that on the tag.
Vulgamott says at WestRock, they’ve moved away from information about what not to do. Opt for information that entices the consumer to make a purchase, not warnings that will make them think caring for this plant will be too challenging, which end up driving them to spend their money on something else.
Icons are easily-recognizable images used to present care information: for example, full sun, or shade. They can also be used to detail how much water a plant needs or what its size and shape will be at maturity. WestRock uses icons on almost every tag or label they produce, Vulgamott says.
“It’s our version of a plant emoji,” he says. “People recognize emojis; they therefore recognize icons. Space is limited on a tag or label. So we really have to concisely put the appropriate information on there that the consumer feels comfortable with and will see quickly.”
Tags and labels are just one part of WestRock’s business. The company manufactures POP, along with corrugated packaging, which includes shippers, displays and adhesives all in-house. The point-of-purchase material provides helpful info that sells more plants.
The new gardeners who purchased plants online during the COVID-19 pandemic will need help keeping their purchase alive, and that’s where the tag comes in.
“Our customers are shipping plants to people who can’t spell plant,” he says. “They have no idea what they’re buying. They want to have to have it in their apartment or condo, just because it’s cool.”
Lovejoy says these online purchases should be accompanied by not only an informational tag, but growers and retailers should use it as an opportunity to talk about the company plant was purchased from and why you should buy your next plant from them, too.Typical two-sided tags can hold more information than labels, but aren’t as easy to automate.
Innovations in automation
The printing and application of tags and labels is all on the grower’s shoulders. Typically, a retailer will direct the grower to use a label or tags in conjunction with labels. It used to be common to use a tag to convey information to the consumer and a blank white adhesive label with black print to communicate the UPC and price point. They were separate items applied separately.
As labor became a bigger issue, growers needed to find a way to minimize the number of touches to the plant. At the same time, retailers wanted all the information on one component.
“Everybody’s having labor problems and labor costs are just getting out of hand,” says Tony Cook, CEO of Label Gator, a company that manufacturers print and apply label applicators specialized for the horticulture industry.
Cook says he’s seen facilities with 50 people applying labels by hand. When it comes to tagging, it’s not abnormal to see eight or nine people per production line handling tagging to keep up with run rates of the other equipment.
The biggest complaint he hears from growers is a lack of labor to tag plants during the production process. And handling the inventory in the tag room is quite a job itself.
“Those (tags) don’t just get to the line themselves,” Cook says. “So they create a make-work program where people are running around trying to get the right tags to the right line.”
There’s also the minimum order question. Many growers have pallets and pallets of boxes of different tags that they can’t use.
“Every grower has at least a 30% obsolescence rate in tags because they have to buy a minimum of a thousand of everything,” Cook says. “They throw away so many tags at the end of the year.”
Lovejoy agrees and says the trends he’s seeing are that growers want to make more frequent orders with smaller amounts. It has forced his company to examine its production methods.
“Shorter runs, quicker turnaround is the way the world is going,” he says. “Not just with tags and labels, but in general, but it’s certainly spilling over into our world.”
Big-box retailers are trimming SKUs, but Lovejoy believes garden centers are adding more in a bid to differentiate themselves. He also says people are getting smart when it comes to inventory. Printer trade practices have allowed for shipping plus or minus 10% on an order. That means if a grower ordered 1,000 tags for a particular plant, the printer could (and usually would) send 1,100. When you multiply that by 400 SKUs, you begin to see how this becomes a logistical problem.
“Over time, inventory gets to be a real issue for growers,” “I have seen tag rooms with hundreds of thousands of dollars of excess inventory that wasn’t ordered, and growers just keep it because they paid for it,” he says. “But when you go towards smaller orders and more frequent orders, you can get away from that type of ordering and just order what you need.”
Labels are growing in popularity due in part to these labor issues and several companies manufacture machines that can automate the application process. Some growers opt for machines that can print and apply labels in-line to containers. Some prefer to print separately, in a room away from the containers and growing media lines.
WestRock manufactures a line of applicators called RockLine. Label options include partially-printed, fully-printed or print-on-demand labels.
“We know the challenges they have with just-in-time inventory and last-minute requests,” Vulgamott says. “And so we just try to give them the flexibility to execute properly. We can put together the best system in the world, but if we don’t make it easy for the grower to execute, it’s worthless.”
Tony Cook, CEO of Label Gator, has noticed a shift from growers using apply-only machines to those that print and apply. The flexibility of on-demand variable-printing is a great help to growers that sell many different varieties.
“The tag is more than double the price of the label and it can’t be automated,” he says. “So it’s very labor intensive and it’s static information printed on the tag. You have to have an inventory of every single SKU that you sell. But with the label, you may be able to use one label for hundreds of different SKU numbers and variable-print the data on demand as you’re applying the label automatically.”
Cook says another reason businesses are moving away from tags and toward labels is in part because of the recent advances in label printing techniques. From a hot stamp to a cold foil metallic to embossing and tactile coatings that have raised bumps you can feel.
Tags hold a lot of information but can be expensive and require a lot of labor. To fit more info on a label, Label Gator developed expanded content labels that have a hinge on one side and peel open.
And for growers whose retailers still want a tag but with the other advantages of a label, Label Gator created the Lagit, a label with a built-in, peel-off tag. The Lagit can be printed on a Label Gator machine or ordered from the company.
Not every grower will want to invest in a machine to automate this process, and there are other options. Lovejoy says one of the biggest growth areas of his business is digital printing and production. Also, for the last 18 months, Hip Labels has been testing alternative materials for tags and labels, paper-based and non-petroleum-based plastics options. Lovejoy expects this work to play a key role in the company’s future, and believes younger more environmentally-conscious consumers will respond well to the new materials.
The author is managing editor of sister publication Garden Center magazine.