A comparison of greenhouse software programs for managing profits and scheduling

Comparisons of three free (or very inexpensive) software packages that can help greenhouses manage profits and production scheduling.

With the availability of new greenhouse software, the differences between them can be confusing. Several no-cost or very inexpensive software packages are available for estimating greenhouse production costs or crop timing. The three that are widely used are: Virtual Grower, Flowers on Time, and Greenhouse Cost of Production. Each package is compared in the table below.

Item Software
Virtual Grower 3.0 Flowers On Time Greenhouse Cost Of Production Software
Cost Free Free Less than $30
Developed by USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Researchers at University of Florida, Michigan State University (MSU), and University of Minnesota Researchers and Extension educators at MSU
Computer hardware/ software requirements Compatible with computers running Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, and Mac OSX 10.4.11 and above. Must have Microsoft Excel installed on your computer.
Use for Accurate predictive estimates for heating and lighting costs for each greenhouse, as well as basic plant scheduling information (weeks to flower). Quick analysis or second opinion of the impact that changing greenhouse temperatures will have on crop timing. Developing estimated costs and detailed accounting information on a per crop basis.
Download/buy at USDA-ARS Products and Services Floriculture Research Alliance MSU Extension Bookstore
Instructions for use Download includes a detailed manual. The first page has instructions on how to use the spreadsheet. Ships with a DVD that contains a video demonstrating how to use the spreadsheet.
Data you enter Dimensions, style, and construction materials of each of your greenhouses; type, duration, and set-points of supplemental lighting and heating systems; type and location of energy curtains, air infiltration; and plants grown (40 varieties available). Species/ cultivar (62 to choose from); the standard cropping time it usually takes you to grow that species/ cultivar (in days); and the standard production temperature you usually use for that cropping time. For each crop: plant date, sell date, number of units grown, sizes and spacing of units, number sold, projected sale prices, fertilizer, pesticide, media, and labor costs.
Software calculates The total and per square foot estimated monthly heating and lighting costs (based on yearly weather averages for your geographical region), number of weeks to flower and weight at flowering for each plant variety. A table showing the effect of raising/ lowering your temperatures six degrees either direction on time to flower. Summary of all direct and indirect costs per crop and in total, as well as break-even analysis for pricing.
Examples Run the output for various heating and/or lighting scenarios. For instance, if you want to run a cooler or warmer greenhouse, enter in different heating set-points to see how total heating costs and time to flower are impacted for each scenario. Alternatively, you could model how adding different types of lighting or energy curtains will impact your energy bill. If I typically grow Verbena ‘Quartz Waterfall Mix’ at 68°F for 42 days (plug transplant to flowering), the software generates a table that shows how lowering my temperatures to 64°F will increase the production time by 4 days, assuming all other production variables stay the same. Copy the spreadsheet and enter in alternative costs for different cost scenarios (for example, if you are considering a lower cost media or fertilizer from a different supplier). Then, evaluate how changing that cost impacts pricing and profits.

 

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