Time To Play Offense by Bob Dolibois
Growers cannot afford to sit back and let only a few take action.
November 18, 2008
Since 1876, the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) has focused energy on representing the industry's interests before government. Most of the time, that focus has been largely defensive and directed toward federal legislative activity.
Since joining the ANLA staff in 1991, I have seen some important changes take place. These changes determine how the industry needs to respond to government pressure on growers in the next 25 years.
First, there is more attention on influencing federal regulators, in addition to federal legislators. This trend can be attributed to the explosion in the number and scope of well-financed adversarial stakeholders now engaged in lobbying, which results in the tendency of federal legislators to pass laws that are too general. And that leads to the requirement for career government regulators to add details to how the law will work - sometimes with very unintended consequences.
Second, this flow of regulation is now being matched at the state level. As Washington has become more gridlocked, interest groups are now targeting states where their agenda can move forward, and then encouraging that victory to metastasize to the other 49 states. Instead of fighting just a big blaze in Washington, industry must now fight fire in many states.
Third, the information explosion we are all experiencing is also hitting government decision-makers. The result is that pleading a case on the basis that a proposal "will put me out of business" is no longer effective. For every compelling business story, there is an equally compelling and opposing story from academia or a non-profit advocacy group saying business done "that way" ought to fail! In response, government decision-makers want more data, more facts or they simply resort to political calculation. That means going with the position resulting in the least political consequences, not necessarily the best results.
With these trends, it becomes easier to appreciate why the following changes need to occur if our industry is going to manage increasing government pressure on growers.
More "offense" with more resources. Ten years ago, ANLA moved from defensive play to offensive play. For example, ANLA led efforts to reform guest worker and immigration laws. Playing offense takes more resources.
More layers of playing offense. The state capitals and municipal offices are the new playing fields (think water regulations and pesticide use). Too few industry state associations are fully equipped to play offense to address water and pesticide issues. The industry association network is too fragmented. There are calls for more collaboration among these associations and combining of resources.
Plus, our industry needs to engage in "retail politics" at the state and municipal level. Water access decisions can kill this industry. We must be more involved in local politics and business groups where we can tell our story positively and be credible.
More research and new methods. Some of agriculture's basic assumptions and processes are under assault. And some of those assaults may be justified. It is imperative that the industry undertake - and fund - more research on innovation and efficiency. Just as the association network is fragmented, so is the industry's research agenda and its researchers. Collaboration and consolidation are important steps in leveraging finite research funding.
Sustainable PMA: These initiatives are a lot to ask of an industry already facing major change (PMA). Success will require us to sustain a positive mental attitude. We are good people doing good work, producing good products for a good customer who wants to enjoy our good earth. Government decision-makers want good stories, and we can deliver them.