Costs and Planning

worker in field nursery.Growing nursery plants is hard work and requires a great amount of labor. Estimates on the variable labor costs for field-grown plants range between 20% to 30% of the total cost of production. These estimates do not include the labor costs associated with sales, office, and management staff. Labor costs for container production can even be higher, and a general ‘rule-of-thumb' is one field worker per acre of containers. With such high labor demands, nursery owners must be concerned with wages and costs, labor availability, retaining skilled employees, worker safety, and many other aspects of dealing with human resources. Nursery owners probably spend more time managing people than they do managing the plants.

It is extremely important to retain good nursery workers and management staff. Growing nursery stock demands more time and labor during some seasons than others. Peak labor periods vary with different types of nursery operations. Spring is a busy time because plants grow rapidly and problems are more prevalent. You must fertilize, prune, and control weeds, insects, and diseases. It's also a major planting and shipping season. Summer's heat requires irrigation for plant survival. It is also a good time to construct or repair facilities and equipment. Fall ends the growing season, hence begins the harvest and storage of field stock, and preparation of container stock for the winter cold. Propagation is a year-long chore that requires skilled employees.

Skills and Training

Nursery production requires some specific skills. You must understand the growth and propagation requirements of a variety of plants. Crop protection in this industry requires knowledge of insect, weed, and disease problems and their management. The grower doesn't to need to know everything but must know how to approach problem identification and diagnosis. Employment at a successful nursery is often the springboard to a self-managed nursery.

Legal Considerations

As an owner of an agricultural business, you have an obligation to understand and comply with the proper labor laws and regulations. The United States Department of Labor administers a variety of federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers' rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support. The state of Oregon also has agencies that promote a competitive workforce and that encourage compliance with laws related to labor issues.

A good resource with a focus on management of human resources in production agriculture is the Agricultural Personnel Management Program, University of California. Details regarding farm labor management are explored at this web site.