Photo: Patrick Williams
Graphic: John Bartok

A recent survey of the greenhouse industry showed that labor continues to be one of the major concerns of growers. Finding and hiring employees takes considerable time. Keeping them can be challenging.

Reducing the time it takes to do tasks with labor-saving equipment and methods can save both in cost of production and in retaining good employees. Knowing what it costs to do particular tasks helps to evaluate your current methods and how changes might reduce time. Here are three charts that I find helpful in evaluating labor use and costs.

Graphics: John Bartok

Knowing how long a task takes can help in evaluating an alternate method or a piece of equipment. For example, if it takes five minutes to hand water 100 hanging baskets and your pay rate is $10 per hour, the cost is about $0.008 per basket. Over a four-month growing period, the cost is about $1 per basket. Installing a drip watering system would probably have a payback of less than one crop.

Reducing the amount of walking time pays good benefits. A 20-foot round trip to set a flat into the growing area costs at least 2 cents. Making a round-trip to the far end of a 100-foot greenhouse costs 15 cents at a pay scale of $10 per hour.

Much labor goes into hand transplanting. For example, if it takes two minutes to transplant a flat and your pay rate is $10 per hour, the cost is $0.33 per flat. This information can be used to evaluate what the payback would be on a more mechanized system.

Knowing the cost of individual tasks is necessary before a payback can be developed for a different method or the purchase of a new piece of equipment.