Category Archives: Personnel

John Pound Interview, Part II

John Pound owner Agra Tech

John Pound owner Agra Tech

John Pound is the Owner and Founder of Agra Tech, one of the world’s leading commercial greenhouse manufacturers, with its headquarters in Pittsburg, CA. This interview is Part #2. Click to read Part 1.

Q: What are the biggest changes in the commercial greenhouse industry since you began?

JP: There have been multiple changes from when I started, but the biggest thing that comes to my mind is the way the market has evolved. When I started in this business forty years ago, the biggest users of our products were the cut flower companies. At that time, we did large greenhouse projects for rose and carnation growers. The work was very seasonal and revolved around holidays like Easter, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. So it was a fairly predictable market. At the end of the season, the growers knew if they had made enough money to invest in another greenhouse. They would call us and say “We need another greenhouse and we need to get it done in time to have flowers to sell for Christmas”, for example. It was pretty straightforward with very simple greenhouses.

That market eventually fell apart when the US signed a free trade agreement with Columbia, who now supplies over 80% of our cut flowers. They can produce a cut flower in Colombia and air freight it to the US cheaper than a local company can grow it. So that market literally went south.

Then the market started to focus on house plants, or Interior Landscaping. Ferns, orchids, and other types of house plants became popular so there was a lot of business in that market for us during that time. These were mostly small family businesses just like us. At the same time, the need for bedding plants for landscaping was also on the increase.

Today, our business is focusing more and more on agriculture, including seed companies and transplant growers. We are working with big corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow and that has been a real change for our company.

The newest development in the agricultural market is food production for the local community. There is a cultural shift to buying local foods in response to concerns about the environment, the economy, and health. Greenhouses providing a controlled environment are the answer to growing produce year around. Smaller growers are producing tomatoes, vine crops, lettuces and leafy greens for restaurants and farmers markets. We started Agra Tech working with family businesses and we’re happy to be back working with this type of grower again.

Q: Agra Tech is a family business. Please mention the names and positions of all your family members that work for Agra Tech, with a brief description of their backgrounds, etc.

JP: Anita Pound my sister is our greenhouse engineer and also the Chief Operations Officer. She’s the brains of the outfit if you get right down to it. She’s been here 40 years and has learned the business from ground zero. Anita has done it all–she can weld, fabricate and she’s done installation—everything to build a greenhouse. She used to be out on the road as a foreman and she knows this business inside out. Anita is married to Craig Miskel and he has been our Production Manager for 38 years.

John Pound and his son, Adam.
John Pound and his son, Adam.

Adam Pound, my son, is in sales and he’s been with us for seven years. He handles our Monsanto account, which he earned after working here for a few months. So he’s grown the Monsanto account and other accounts and done an excellent job for us.

Eloise Pound my wife works as our Controller, handling the legal end of the business. She does contracts; handles personnel issues, financing, insurance, and much more. She worked in banking before joining us and she’s extremely detail-oriented. Eloise and I met while we were both students at U.C. Davis and we’ve been married for 40 years.

My younger brother Ray Pound worked for us for a number years and then he decided he wanted to go out on his own. He was doing all our construction as an Agra Tech employee, so we sold him the construction division of Agra Tech and it works out very well. His company is called Ag-Con located in San Jose, CA. He does most of the local construction for us. Ag-Con.

I also want to mention some other people, including Jim Bergantz one of our sales engineers, who is very good. He came from the industry and he’s an important member of our team here at Agra Tech. There’s also Tonya Pitcher in the office doing inside sales and James Roberts who does the lion’s share of our customer service. When customers call with tech support questions, James Roberts fields them. He’s very knowledgeable having worked for here for more than 17 years.

John and Ray Pound on site visit

John Pound and Ray Pound of Ag Con on a site visit

Q: Please mention some of your leading strategic partners and how you work with them?

JP: In addition to Ag-Con, we’ve been working with American Hydro for 15-20 years. They specialize in the actual growing of the plant material through hydroponics and they’ve sold some of our greenhouses. We sometimes make parts for them and it’s been a great relationship.

We’ve also been working with our Engineer, Rob Shaffer, the owner of Shaffer Engineering for several years. All the structural engineering, building permits and engineering-related issues are handled by Rob’s company. We show him the design and then he makes sure that it meets the actual building codes. That way, it’s done right and to code. We are glad to be partnering with his company.

Q: What does the future hold for Agra Tech?

JP: We feel we are just at the very beginning of greenhouses being a major factor in agriculture, for both large and small scale growers. This is fueled by the need to use fewer pesticides, conserve water, and to grow more crops on less land. Seed research companies are continuing to work toward developing plants that can produce more with less water, fewer pesticides, and for a variety of climates. More and more small growers are starting up to respond to local markets. We are fortunate that we saw this coming and are already experienced in the AG market.

The second generation of Pounds my son, Adam and his wife, Leslie are learning the business so they will be ready to take over and run Agra Tech in the future. Adam is involved in cutting edge uses for greenhouses to help feed more people and even aid in reducing world hunger. It is an exciting time to be in the greenhouse manufacturing business.

Q: If someone is thinking about entering this industry, what would you tell them and what is the best way for them to learn more about greenhouse growing?

JP: The first thing I would tell them is to know your market. Find out what people in your area need and grow those things. Once you have determined what your market is, learn everything you can about it, because if you can grow food or plants that people need, you can succeed. You can grow the most wonderful plants but if there is no market for them, you can’t make a profit. It’s common sense. Knowing your market is key, and some growers lose sight of that.

Written by Ed Attanasio

John Pound Builds Agra Tech, Inc., Into a leading Commercial Greenhouse Manufacturer

 

John ready to deliver a Solar Light 18 to Sonoma College – about 1976

John Pound, 65 has been running Agra Tech, Inc. for 41 years after founding this commercial greenhouse manufacturing company in Salinas, CA in 1973. Things have changed in many ways since John Pound began this successful company, but his passion hasn’t waned one iota. “People used to ask me how were you able to start a greenhouse business at 24,” Pound said. “But, today I’m the old man in this industry, so things have truly changed.”

Pound went to UC Davis and got a degree in Agriculture Economics and Business Management in 1971, after completing two years at junior college. Growing up in Walnut Creek, Calif., Pound’s father had a small retread car tire business for many years, so John already had a glimpse of what it was like to own and run your own business. But, at that time greenhouse manufacturing wasn’t even something Pound was even remotely considering. “After graduation I got a job at a mid-size farm in Salinas,” he said. “They hired me as their Agricultural Economist and one of the first projects I started working on was the proposed construction of two one-acre greenhouses. They wanted to grow tomatoes and English cucumbers, so I put all the numbers together for them, including the costs and what they’d make. They reviewed it and were obviously impressed, because they said let’s go with it.”

At that point, Pound made a decision that eventually led to the forming of Agra Tech, Inc. “I went to the boss and I told him I can save you a ton of money by constructing these greenhouses for you. Instead of hiring a contractor, just buy the materials and I’ll build it for you. They said, what do you know about building a greenhouse? And I told them when I was 15 I re-modeled my parent’s house, so I know how to build stuff, that’s no big deal and I can tell people what to do. So that’s how it started.”

Nine months later, both of the greenhouses were built, as Pound promised, and the crops were already planted and growing. Things started moving quickly after that and pretty soon other offers for building greenhouses were dropping in his lap. “The company that sold us those two greenhouses asked me would I build more greenhouses for them and I said yes,” Pound said. “Then another company approached us and said we’re starting a company making greenhouses, will you build for us too? Of course, I agreed.”

After looking at the business model more carefully and continually learning on the job, Pound was able to start building greenhouses. “Since I was an Agricultural Economist, I knew exactly what it costs to build a greenhouse, including how long it takes to put up a truss; to put on the glazing and put in doors, vents and all the hours it took to do it all. So, when I looked at what I could earn, I said wow–this sure beats hourly wages!”

Pound seized the opportunity, got his contractor’s license, business license and hit the ground running in 1973. “We were having success building greenhouses (the company’s name back then was Agra Techniques), but after a while I thought, I can make these things,” he explained. “So, we found a good fabricator and started making greenhouses, as well as selling them to other people and then building them ourselves.”

During those first 6-8 years, Agra Tech also got involved in other types of building projects, including retail shade structures, remodels and repairs to pay the bills. “It was very tough at the beginning, because it took time to find vendors, and establish relationships to get it to happen. The greenhouse growers were a tight-knit group and they weren’t exactly embracing a young, inexperienced guy initially. But after a while we started to build a name in this industry and things got a lot easier. And that’s pretty much how it all started.”

Part II: Agratech Grows in the 80s and 90s as the Commercial Greenhouse Industry Blossoms

Article by Ed Attanasio

Let’s Meet Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz, Sales Engineer

JWB_pic

Jim Bergantz working on a new project.

 

Q: Jim, please tell us about your background when it relates to farming, agriculture and greenhouse farming?

JB: “I literally grew up in a greenhouse and purchased my parents’ retail nursery and wholesale/retail growing operation right after graduating from college. That’s where I found my passion in growing bedding plants, native trees, shrubs and poinsettias and learned there is no substitute for getting your hands dirty and working hard. I loved the challenges the business presented;  meeting greenhouse heating and cooling requirements in the extreme heat and cold of foothills weather, managing a seasonal staff, adjusting cultural variables to make sure plants were blooming or colored-up to meet the demands of our customers at holiday times. To promote our business, I developed a weekly radio show which aired for one hour every Saturday and afforded me the opportunity to interface with interesting experts in our field.”

Q: The life’s journey that brought you to work for Agra Tech is inspiring. Please share it with us.

JB:  “Life events prompted the closing of our nursery and I became involved in a different line of work. Though I left horticulture for a time, it never left me.  Our local high school here in Angels Camp, CA has a stellar agriculture program which has won several national awards. Every day I passed the school’s empty greenhouse and decided I’d like to become involved in getting the beautiful facility up and running. With a green light from the Ag faculty, I mounted a volunteer effort to raise the funds necessary to get the cooling system operational, installing an energy curtain system and high tech environmental controls which I knew were essential for the success of a new program. I learned the greenhouse had been manufactured by Agra Tech, Inc., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of commercial greenhouses. Ray Pound, who had originally constructed the structure, was instrumental in providing the technical advice and hands-on support I needed. As more and more people in our community joined to support my efforts, our scope grew. In all, we were able to raise over $30,000 in donated funds to create a self-sustaining program to educate students in how to raise a healthy crop and bring it to market. I enjoyed this volunteer effort so much that I went on to earn my credential as an agriculture educator. Shortly after the greenhouse was up and running, I found myself suddenly very unemployed due to corporate downsizing.  That’s when I phoned Ray Pound at Ag Con again; this time to ask him if he knew of anyone with a job opening. He suggested I phone his brother John who hired me at Agra Tech soon after our first meeting.”

Q: You have a higher purpose to be involved in this industry and I can tell you’re very driven and passionate about your job at Agra Tech. Please explain.

JB: “I strive to make information about agriculture and horticulture accessible to anyone who wants to learn. Education is exciting to me–both when I am sharing information and when I am receiving it.  There are opportunities for me to learn every day and I love being part of this dynamic industry.”

Q: Name several of the more noteworthy projects you’ve been involved in during your employment at ATI?

JB: “Each project we work on is unique and presents site-specific requirements.  There may be nothing more exciting than to stand inside a newly-constructed greenhouse that meets the requirements of our client.   Among the highlights, it’s been my privilege to work on the positive pressure commercial greenhouse for the Lincove Research Facility and on the insect exclusion greenhouse for Willits and Newcomb.”

Q: What is your title at Agra Tech and what is your job description?

JB: “As a sales engineer at Agra Tech, it’s my job to make sure the client has the information necessary to make decisions pertinent to the construction of greenhouses to meet his needs.  It is also important to be available to the customer long after his project has been completed. I enjoy this interface with our customers and make myself readily accessible to them in order to facilitate excellent customer service and satisfaction.”

Q: Tell us what your average work week is like.

JB: “There really is no “average” work week here at Agra Tech. My day is dictated by the needs of our customers whether those needs require me to be in the office or on the road. I travel extensively so that I am able to be of service to my customers.”

Q: How do you think this industry will change within the next 10-20 years?

JB: “In the future, I see Agra Tech at the center of advancements in controlled environmental agriculture.  Insect exclusion structures will continue to be vitally important for the health of plants and the industry at large.  Our company strives to provide the best possible solutions for its customers.”

Q: Tell us some personal things about you, Jim.

JB: “I enjoy my life in the rural community of Murphys, CA, where I have a deep interest in the native vegetation, geology and wildlife that makes the area so naturally beautiful. My wife is the secretary at an elementary school and writes a column about foothills gardening for Sierra Lodestar. My daughter Jill is Director of Sales for an engineering/manufacturing firm and my other daughter Jane is a pediatric nurse who cares for children who have undergone organ transplantation.”

Q: Describe why you like working for a family business like Agra Tech.

JB: “I am passionate about my work at Agra Tech because it satisfies my creativity, allows building relationships with clients and gives me the opportunity to facilitate sales and construction of world-class agricultural structures to the industry’s finest growers. What can I say about working for the Pound family?  They are excellent employers who appreciate their employees and are proud of their business.  They are creative, innovative thinkers striving to create solutions to 21st century needs. It’s extremely exciting to work for such a dynamic company!”

Q:What are your personal and professional goals?

JB:  “I love my job and strive to continue learning from my customers on each project we work together to develop and construct. In the future I look toward continuing to move ATI and agriculture-at-large forward with the advent of new concepts and solutions for our industry. These are exciting times! On a personal level, I continue work in my community to sow “Seeds of Kindness” in our schools. Over the past several years, this effort has grown to include all 22 schools in our county. It’s a remarkable program which affords me the opportunity to work with an inspiring group of educators and students. We help children and adults to focus on the connections we have with one another and how we, as individuals, may influence others in a positive way.”

Jim-25

Jim sampling a tomato grown in an Agra Tech greenhouse

Written by Ed Attanasio