Conducting the research and interviews for our annual State of the Industry Report is always a fascinating endeavor. Between chatting with growers and our editorial advisory board at trade shows and over the phone throughout the year, we get an idea of what’s on the collective industry’s mind — but the research is a chance to confirm our predictions and findings.

Some years, such as in 2017, we don’t see one specific issue causing big waves; in fact, the past couple of years, it’s been a mixed bag in a relatively stable market. However, the 2018 results showed a noteworthy shift, both in our research and the commentary we heard from growers afterwards.

For years, the issue of labor has been on growers’ minds, whether they own a large greenhouse in a rural area or a small, urban vertical farm in the city. Plain and simple, it’s increasingly challenging to find good help, a fact that’s reflected throughout our 2018 State of the Industry Report. Labor woes have outweighed other pain points, such as the economy, the weather and a declining customer base.

“It is very hard to find labor, and finding labor with a good attitude about what it means to have a job, is even harder to find,” says Stacy Bryant of Plantpeddler, a young plant grower in Cresco, Iowa. And she’s not alone — 79% of growers consider finding high-quality hires to be a significant problem for their businesses.

Growers are trying a variety of strategies to find employees, including social media campaigns, refer-a-friend programs, raising hourly wages, working with employment agencies and creating incentive programs for new employees to increase retention rates. After all, where would we be if we simply sat around, complaining about the situation without taking action?

In the area of trucking specifically, growers have found it tough to find drivers to transport their plants to customers, especially this year after the implementation of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate. Drivers’ hours are restricted, meaning they can take fewer loads and less product overall, and charge more. Some growers, like Metrolina Greenhouses, have already started booking their drivers for 2019. “‘Hope is not a strategy’ is what we say around here,” says Art Van Wingerden of Metrolina Greenhouses. “You can’t hope it; you better have a strategy.”

Check out the full 2018 State of the Industry Report

Karen E. Varga, Editor

216-393-0290 | Twitter: @Karen_GIE