New Brunswick is well known for its farming, forestry, and fisheries. We have the value chain to support growing things, and a highly skilled workforce with an expertise that has supported those industries here for generations.
Operating since 1967, Northampton, New Brunswick’s Jolly Farmer is a great example of our province’s agricultural strength. The company now has 13 acres of greenhouses and a farm operation located along the Saint John River. They produce over 90 million plantlets each year to be sold directly to other greenhouses, garden centres, market gardens, and commercial vegetable growers.
“Our motto is Integrity, Quality, and Reliable Service,” notes General Manager James Darrow. “It’s central to everything we do, from our greenhouse operation to farming and transportation.”
ONB spoke to Darrow to learn more.
What advantages does the company see from operating in New Brunswick? You’ve grown to a team of about 150-200 people. How do you go about recruiting?
Darrow: Our location is prime. With our proximity to the US border, we can quickly get our products into US markets, while still servicing our customers across Canada. In addition, having our own transport division has enabled us to deliver our plants faster, and tap into the backhaul market as our trucks head back home. That’s been good business for us.
Another notable advantage to our location is the labour market. With 300+ employees at peak capacity, covering our labour needs has always been a major challenge. As a rule, however, we can fill most of our manual labour positions by hiring right here in New Brunswick. The wages for our region are also competitive when compared to other provinces which helps us remain competitive in our market as well.
We strive to be forward-thinking in terms of technology, recognizing that automation is essential for us to stay competitive. We’ve invested significantly in automation over the years, using technology to automate processes wherever we could. From soil-mixing to drum seeding, to transplanting and sticking, automation has saved us countless man-hours. When we first started with transplanting machines, they were a developing technology and with all the maintenance requirements and downtime, we weren’t seeing immediate benefits. Two years ago, we bought a wireless automatic transplanter and that’s been a phenomenal upgrade.
Not all our technology investments are machinery. For over 25 years we’ve had HPS (high-pressure sodium) lights throughout the greenhouse complex. We’ve recently invested heavily in LED lights. The new LED lights use only half of the electricity while providing a light spectrum that improves our plant quality and growth consistency. We’ve installed seven acres of LEDs and will continue to swap them until we’ve moved completely to LED.
Jolly Farmer is a fine example of New Brunswick companies getting productivity right. Any parting advice for other manufacturers or agricultural/horticultural companies in terms of investing in new tech?
Automation is critical. We wouldn’t be in business today if we had not automated, it’s that simple. If you aren’t leveraging new technology wherever possible, you will cease to be a player in a competitive market. Unfortunately, growers have folded because they didn’t embrace technology and new ways of growing.
There is an incredible amount of technology available for agricultural businesses to capitalize on. Automatic sticking machines, plant grading machines, the list goes on.
We aren’t looking for the shiniest new machines, but for the technology that best fits our operation. Not everything that’s on the market will be truly useful to you– be picky! If it’s a fit, invest in it even if the immediate payback isn’t that great, because we know from experience that our labour costs will only increase. Productivity is an ongoing process and automating will help your bottom line in the long run.
New Brunswick companies, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to take a serious look at what technology your business could be using to improve your productivity.
Jolly Farmer offers over 3,000 different varieties of flowering annuals, perennials, vegetables, and herbs. Learn more about their products and their story at JollyFarmer.com.