Structures & Equipment
The Need to Automate for Improved Greenhouse Efficiencies and Profitability
A Growing Need For Automation
By Dave Harrison
February 2017 – It’s not a question of “if” you’ll automate more of your crop production processes. It’s only a question of “when.”
There’s a farm labour shortage looming, and the greenhouse sector is expected to be the most seriously affected among all agricultural groups within the next decade.
Greenhouse growers will continue to face some pressing problems over the next few years. Margins remain quite tight. Expenses are rising. Labour costs are going up.
And that’s why automation and mechanization are so important. Not only will experienced workers be more expensive in wages and benefits (as minimum wage rates rise), but there won’t be enough of them, according to a recent report.
“The gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce in agriculture has doubled from 30,000 to 59,000 in the past 10 years and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs,” notes the newly released Agriculture 2025: How the Sector’s Labour Challenges Will Shape its Future research by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).
Among commodities, “the greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture industry will continue to have the largest labour gap. With an expected gap of 27,000 workers in 2025, this commodity group will account for nearly one-quarter of the sector’s labour gap,” notes the report.
Traditional greenhouse operations will soon find themselves competing with the emerging cannabis sector for experienced workers, as the latter industry is poised for rapid growth over the next few years.
CAHRC offers Agri Skills, online and in-person training programs, and the Agri HR Toolkit – an online resource guide and templates to address the HR needs of any business.
The pending labour shortage also emphasizes the importance of the existing foreign worker programs.
There are great greenhouse horticulture post-secondary programs across Canada, and there is clearly a need to boost enrolment numbers. Graduates will be increasingly in demand to match the growth of the greenhouse sector in propagation, ornamental, vegetable and cannabis crops. More graduates are needed.
Automated watering, environmental control, labour tracking and product handling systems, to name just a few, significantly improve efficiencies. Automation means less labour-intensive and repetitive work for employees, and allows managers to redeploy staff to more crop maintenance and scouting duties. The more eyes on the crop, the better.
The need for automation also requires a thorough assessment of current operations.
As Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates once noted: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Industry automation specialists have the experience and the expertise to assist with such operational assessments and to recommend the best solutions.
So … what do you plan to automate or upgrade this year?