Invest now to save later — the industry’s market message isclear. It is safe to say that our industry is moving forward and takingadvantage of new technologies. More than ever there is demand for new equipmentand programs that can push a business forward and make it more efficient. TheInternet and new software programs are implemented into the way we do businessand may be what makes one operation more successful than another. Can the samebe said about crop scheduling?
Recently, GPN asked growers how they approach their cropscheduling needs and looked into some of the solutions currently available onthe market.
Different operations choose different scheduling methods.For Joe Boarini, owner of Grande Greenhouse Inc., Indianapolis, Ind.,spreadsheets have proven to be a relatively simple but effective method forcrop scheduling. “I use spreadsheets that I have built myself,”Boarini said. “The main benefit is that all your information is organized,it is convenient and much simpler than using the old-fashioned piece of paperand calculator method.” Spreadsheets allow growers to clearly visualizespace usage and calculate how much it costs to grow a particular crop.According to Boarini, spreadsheets are very useful for growers running asmall-to medium-size greenhouse and can be put together with little effort.
On the other hand, Justin Marotta, president and co-owner ofPossum Run Greenhouses Inc., Belleville, Ohio, said his operation usesproduction software (Arc Software) for vegetative scheduling. “In the verybeginning, pen and paper seemed great. Today the problem is that there are somany different varieties and plants. Some of these new items require differentstarting times versus different finish times, so the software makes it easierand saves a lot of time,” Marotta explained. He also thinks the benefit ofusing software instead of spreadsheets is the continuity and consistency thatexists within a software program. “It forces you to be consistent. Itbecomes a disciplined part of your production.” In addition, the softwareterminals allow for greater accessibility. “You can get a printout of aworksheet and give that sheet to a specific grower or production staff so theyhave access to the information they need to stay on top,” Marotta said.
Robert Milks, production manager of Van WingerdenInternational, Fletcher, N.C., said that Van Wingerden uses two main operationsoftware programs, one that helps plan greenhouse space utilization and anotherone for coordinating production and sales functions. “We use Starcom,which keeps track of crop schedules, such as sowing and transplanting dates andquantities, sales forecasts and so on,” Milks explained. “For spaceplanning we use Gart Plan, used by various other greenhouse operations in theUnited States, who also has a Web version available on subscriptionbasis.” Milks said both software programs handle space and productionaspects, but Van Wingerden uses the portions of each that they felt were mostfully developed.
Milks explained that the main benefits of usingspace-planning software are having the information to maximize production andfulfill orders correctly, while reducing losses due to over-estimation ofcapacity. He feels that greenhouse space is the most limiting factor to thenumber of plants produced, and programs such as Gart Plant, can help maximizeproduction.
Because Van Wingerden is a weekly floral pot producer aswell as a bedding plant poinsettia promotional crop grower, weekly schedulingis very demanding, as they must stay full all the time. “Ten years ago, wecould have said we are growing a standard quantity of flats and baskets, and weknew what fit almost intuitively. Now we are growing numerous differentspecialty programs with new genetics, so we can’t plan space effectivelywithout a computer,” Milks ç said. “Of course, we have to havegood data; if we don’t continually record ready dates, a computer won’t helpthat much.”
Milks said that although both of the programs they use arenot custom designed to every user, they have a great deal of flexibility, andboth address issues of crop timing variance due to the short-term weather,seasonal changes and problems such as crops with extended bloom windows.”They are far more advanced than a spreadsheet and certainly less costlythan hiring a programmer and starting at ground zero,” Milks explained.
Growers are often skeptical because the horticultureindustry is complex and varied, and it is hard to design software for schedulingthat fits everyone’s needs. Marotta thinks that some of the drawbacks withsoftware use are in part because growers feel that they have different needsthan what software programmers think they do. “I think it is a learningcurve for all of us, because programmers don’t always understand production,and production doesn’t understand what it entitles to put a programtogether,” he said.
“There is a high number of companies that have droppedthe spreadsheet and gone to a production planning system,” said RichardNuss, CEO of Starcom, Buffalo, Wash. Starcom offers growers a productionplanning system that has been on the market for about eight years. “Theproduction planning system allows growers to look at a ready date and when theproducts need to be shipped,” Nuss explained. “Depending on the typeof plant, the program goes back to a library of processes that the grower hasset up and creates a schedule from the first labor task to materials and toactions that need to be performed so the crop is completed on time.”
The production planning system is a database that keeps allhistorical information, and it works as a program as opposed to spreadsheet.Growers can record all of the information about what is required to produce acertain item in the Plant Library. The library can accommodate multiple seasonsand allows growers to preset changes to grow times based on plant weeks. It canestimate spoilage, and the program can reduce the expected yield available tothe salespeople or automatically increase planting quantities to allow for theestimated spoilage and ensure the grower’s goal. In addition, growers canrecord labor materials used to produce and item and the program willautomatically calculate resource requirements. Changes to the libraryinformation automatically adjust future forecasts.
According to Nuss, spreadsheets require a lot of hand typingof information and can be very time consuming. “The program is alreadyorientated to different days, plans and growing seasons. It makes the processeasier by using a lot of historical information, year after year, with a veryfew changes,” Nuss said. “It is much more automatic than aspreadsheet.”
What Works for You
Overall, most growers approach scheduling based on whatworks best for their operation. However, operation size is no longer the mainfactor in deciding whether spreadsheets or a software program is right for you.
“I think all types of growers can benefit from theseprograms,” Milks said. “There are simpler, less expensive programsfor smaller growers and more complex and expensive for larger ones — they canbe tailored to anyone’s needs.”