Greenhouse Growers: How to More Efficiently Pick, Pack, and Ship

For greenhouse growers, order shipping can be a costly process. It can also have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction.

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    For greenhouse growers and horticulturists, order picking and packing can be a costly process. It is also an area that can have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction. After all, getting the pick and pack processes, as well as the shipping right means the difference between being sure that the orders your customers receive are accurate, in good condition, and on time – or not.

    Picking Process for Greenhouse Growers

    Three common picking processes include by order, batch and wave. Though we find that batch and wave picking are the most efficient in most cases, one size does not fit all. Approach is mandated by a combination of environment and requirement. For example, a location that is multi-level with hills and dirt roads is going to pick differently than a location that is flat and all indoors with concrete floors. The key is to find the most efficient picking process for your area.

    Picking by order can be very efficient depending on order size. If one order is a truck load or more, pick by order. On the other hand, if you have fifty orders with the same Petunia, why not pick by batch and pick for all orders once rather than going back to the pick location fifty times. In wave picking, orders are picked in batches, with workers assigned to a zone where they will pick batched orders.

    For even greater efficiency, companies are moving toward automated picking, using either a sorting systems method, where orders are brought to the picker by conveyor and automated storage units, or the pick to box method, which is similar to the sorting systems method but involves multiple order pickers at multiple stations, with boxes moving by conveyor between stations.

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    Packing is an area where automation is key to adding efficiency. If the orders are not assembled in the growing area, then assembly is completed in the packing area. An efficient routine needs to be developed to save time and handling. Some growers have adapted gravity flow racks to make order packing easier. These consist of racks of sloping conveyors adjacent to a work aisle. Flats or pots in carriers are delivered by cart to the back of the racks, loaded onto the conveyor and are moved by gravity to the front edge. Workers select flats from the conveyors to fill the orders.

    To save time during the shipping period, label or tag plants at the time they are planted. Also, it’s helpful to water plants before they are brought to the shipping area. This can be done by passing them through a water tunnel or by moving a whole cart through a water station.

    For growers that box their plants for shipment by common carrier or package delivery service, a workstation area is needed to do the packaging. According to Greenhouse Management, an efficient workstation design can increase efficiency by 20 to 30 percent. The workstation should include a work table, space for supplies, space for the packaged boxes and be convenient to the plant storage area. Workers should do a minimum amount of walking. Work tables should be at elbow height. Locate a conveyor at the back of the work table to carry the filled boxes to the shipping area.


    Timing is important in all stages of production; this extends over into shipping. Getting the plants to the customer when they are needed will result in repeat orders. Several areas are worth looking at when you want to improve your shipping operation.

    Container and shipping labels are essential tools for tracking products through different stages in the plant manufacturing process. To add efficiency to the shipping process, it’s important to invest in barcoding, automation, and lean flow. To maximize those efficiencies, staff involved in sowing, sticking, plant maintenance, growing, and shipping need to know how to read and interpret labels.

    When varieties are mixed up while patching or pulling an order, delays and mistakes will cost your company in labor, customer credits, and reputation. We pack a lot of complex information onto modern labels, which is not obvious to a new employee. Investing in simple tools and a training program for new employees will easily pay back many times over.

    Do any of these challenges sound familiar?

    • Improve customer retention and satisfaction with accurate, on-time shipments
    • Build a truck-load (TL) or less-than-truckload (LTL) shipment, maximizing profitability
    • Maintain accurate inventory and fool-proof the process with technology, reducing time and clicks
    • Support wave shipping, master picking, advanced racking, and FedEx or UPS shipments
    • Move product virtually to the shipping area as soon as it’s sold, whether from you or your contract growers


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