Saturday, July 11, 2009

Four Star's Tom Smith On Contract Growing

Tom Smith, president of Four Star Greenhouses in Carleton, Mich., was one of four growers on a panel Saturday discussing how others can make contract growing relationships work for them.

Four Star, of course, is one of three Proven Winners propagators in the United States. As Proven Winners grew over the years, the greenhouse operation didn't have the labor to keep up with demand for Proven Winners. That's when Smith turned to other growers.

"We'd probably need more than 200 people if we didn't have off-sites," says Smith, who first hired contract growers 12 years ago. "Capital expenses and labor expenses are the two reasons we use contract growers."

Contract growing can be beneficial for many reasons, including when natural disasters strike. Smith explained how a tornado once struck one of Four Star's growing ranges, shattering glass into thousands of Proven Winners trays. The tornado could have doomed Four Star, but having contract growing relationships in place allowed the operation to acquire the necessary product and ship 98 percent of it on time in the days after the disaster.

In Four Star contract growing relationships, the growers it contracts buy trays, use the soil and crop protection products of their choice, as well as thier own labor force for sticking, pinching and other tasks.

Four Star, on the other hand, is in charge of the following:

• Testing at labs
• Unrooted cuttings: "We're paying for them for a service to root the product for us," Smith says. • Labels
• Action plans: "Even though the other grower is a specialist, we'll use them in our peak weeks. We use our sites the rest of the time so we are always familiar with the crops we're growing."

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