The Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the Mississippi State University-Coastal Research and Extension Center with funding from the United States Department of Labor-Employment and Training Administration conducted research to develop mechanized and automated systems for the greenhouse and nursery industry. This research comprises both the determination of needs and the creation or transfer of technologies to meet current and projected industry requirements.
The greenhouse and nursery industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the region’s agricultural economy; however, a major problem facing this industry is a shortage of workers, particularly skilled workers. A national survey of commercial nursery/landscape operations listed shortage of labor as the number one limitation facing the industry at the end of 2001. The shortage continues today.
The geographic focus of the project is the greenhouse and nursery industry of 9 of the 12 states in the Southern United States, namely Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. The target group to be served by this project is green industry workers, directly and indirectly through the operators of the greenhouse and nursery industry, in the Gulf South. These workers are relatively unskilled laborers with minimal on-the-job training. Many will likely be Hispanic immigrants with limited knowledge of the English language. These workers may lack driver’s licenses and desirable certifications. Due to the strenuous nature of the work, the work force is primarily comprised of younger workers. The high degree of manual labor in combination with low wages leads to a high turnover rate among these laborers.
Worker training in the utilization of the technologies and automated systems identified and developed through this project will be implemented in order to meet the project’s objectives of a skilled workforce. This project will provide strategies to alter the nature of the tasks required of greenhouse nursery workers to become highly skilled, requiring less manual labor such as heavy lifting, digging, handling of sharp objects, and repetitive tasks; requiring more knowledge of the use of machinery and electronics; and reducing exposure to pesticides, pests, dust, and plant materials.