Growers Transplanting Inc.

Innovative Transplanting Technology for the Agricultural Industry
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

In 1981, two entrepreneurs established Growers Transplanting Inc. (GTI) as the United States’ first vegetable-producing greenhouse to have a field and transplanting department. More than 30 years later, GTI has become one of the largest greenhouse and field growing operations in the country. The company’s experienced leadership team includes Lawrence Henrard, president of GTI, as well as Bill Rover, vice president of sales. Rover has been with the business for more than 16 years, while Henrard is a recent transplant, having joined the business in 2013.

GTI has a core staff of 280 people. With field staff and seasonal labor, the business employs as many as 560 people at a time, depending on the season. The business has nine facilities in California, with a headquarters in Salinas. Combining technology and agricultural products, the team covers a geographic footprint that covers the entire state.

Innovative Technology

The team has established a unique niche in the agricultural industry. “We are known for our cutting-edge automation, something we implemented 25 years ago,” says Rover. “This is unique technology that saves growers on the cost of labor. Our patented AutoPlanter transplants crops. While we are in competition with other nurseries, this technology sets us apart and offers us a competitive edge. No one else is automated.”

GTI has 32 machines for automated transplanting. The company utilizes the equipment in its own operations, lowering overhead and increasing the efficiency of the growing operation. “Since there is such a tremendous shortage of labor to hire, this has been a huge asset,” says Henrard. “We are dealing with 1.8 billion vegetable plants every year. We can plant about any vegetable, with a majority in California, such as broccoli, cauliflower, romaine, tomatoes and peppers. We row crops in the winter months.”

Transplanting offers huge benefits to farmers, even without the automation that GTI embraces. “It is part of creating a more sustainable form of agriculture,” Henrard says. “Transplanting is an economically and environmentally ideal alternative to seeding. Our practices allow us to increase yields and quality, while decreasing costs, inputs and environmental impact.”

Looking Ahead

Like many other growers, GTI has faced a slew of challenges. Between a dwindling labor pool and erratic weather, the business has made major strides to manage the aspects of the industry within its control. “Many people do not want to stay on once we hire them,” Henrard explains. “Farming is hard work. To address that, we offer competitive benefits. We have put in place a medical program to help our employees offset the cost of insurance.”

Henrad goes on to note that the drought in California had a tremendous impact on price levels of fruit and vegetables. Therefore, the company’s high-tech approach helps remedy such price fluctuations and balance overhead. The team is also constantly seeking to further diversify business. Henrard explains that his team has several major initiatives underway that will be pivotal to the company’s success in the coming years. To maintain a competitive advantage, GTI is keeping these projects under wraps.

Henrard is confident in his team’s abilities, though that doesn’t keep him from worrying. “Our leadership team is comprised of driven individuals with high expectations,” he explains. “We take our position seriously as forward thinkers, but the drought is the most disconcerting of all. We can’t change what Mother Nature deals out.”

He reveals that part of the upcoming changes include diversifying the company’s crop yield. As market conditions improve, he is cautiously optimistic about the future of the team’s position in the agricultural industry. To accommodate changes in the business model, GTI is building 100,000 square feet of additional greenhouse space, a good sign that the crew is ready to increase production.

Henrard and his team are happy to have an established network to aid the business through the upcoming period of growth. “We work with several strategic partners who help us with shipping, insurance and legal operations,” he says. “We purchase vegetable seeds from four or five companies. As a mature business, our owners have been engaged with many of the same contracts for years.”

These partnerships help to keep the business ahead, although the real driving force behind GTI comes from within. “We have a desirable place to work,” explains Henrard. “We truly love to come to work at this company. Our goal is to provide a healthy, happy environment offering year-round, consistent jobs.”

As the business moves forward with a changing structure, Henrard intends to keep it that way. With efficiency, quality and integrity, Growers Transplanting Inc. continues to perform innovative work in the agricultural industry.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Wells Fargo