Elevating An Industry

Elevating An Industry

Will stayed in touch with his students. Shi-Ying Wang
seeks Will’s autograph during a book signing at
OFA’s Short Course in 2003.

It’s no fluke that Michigan is the third-largest state for floriculture crops, right after California and Florida. While those two large sunny states have natural climatic advantages, why would cold, cloudy Michigan emerge as third? It all started in 1966, when an ambitious new floriculture Extension agent at Michigan State University (MSU) named Will Carlson urged vegetable growers, who were losing business to farmers in the South and West, to start producing bedding plants–flowering annuals from seed. While most university floriculture programs were focused on fresh cut flowers, blooming potted plants and potted foliage, Will believed bedding plants had the potential to be the next big wave in horticulture.

Thanks to his drive and leadership, within 25 years, bedding plants went from being the smallest segment of floriculture to the largest. In addition to creating a highly concentrated bedding plant industry in Michigan, Will brought together thousands of bedding plant growers in North America by creating an educational association, Bedding Plants Inc. (BPI).

“Will started Extension meetings and then formed BPI at a time when the bedding plant industry was still in its infancy and growers knew very little about production and the science of growing bedding plants,” says fellow MSU faculty member and long-time research colleague, Emeritus Professor Royal Heins. “The meetings, bulletins and tours associated with BPI shared information among growers, leading to greater knowledge in producing bedding plants. Without this sharing, the bedding plant industry would not be as developed as it is today.”

Karl Batschke of Ball Horticultural Co., who was at Michigan State University in the late 1970s agrees. “Will has been a tireless advocate for our industry and was instrumental in fueling the innovation that drove the rapid advancement of the bedding plant industry,” he says. “His monthly columns in Greenhouse Grower were always challenging and encouraging. He will be missed.”

One of Will’s first big crop-specific projects focused on seed geraniums. He worked closely with Berl Thomas, who was then director of research for plug powerhouse Speedling Inc. in Florida. “I worked with Will and MSU for 20 years, developing graduate students in floriculture research,” Thomas recalls. “We developed a 10-week geranium program to finish geranium seedlings planted after Easter lilies were shipped. They were guaranteed to flower before Memorial Day. I remember the tremendous efforts and work Will did for BPI, starting out with all the activities being in the basement of his house.”

BPI became a national platform to bring growers together as far apart as Nantucket in the Northeast and Seattle in the Northwest. “One of the best things was the BPI tours around the world. No one is doing that anymore,” says Egon Molbak of Molbak’s, a leading grower-retailer in Woodinville, Wash. “In those early days, growers did not travel outside the United States. The international tours were a great inspiration for me to start planting mixed containers.”

Henry Huntington of Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, N.H., served as BPI’s second-last president during its 30-year span. Reflecting on what Will accomplished through BPI, he says, “Oh, what a vision he had–to see the potential of the bedding plant industry and realize the best way to share information with thousands of growers across the country was nothing less than visionary. His passion for quality, production and process improvement showed he was a man before his time. Our industry owes Will a debt of gratitude for pushing us to always find a better way to grow our product.”

A Magnanimous Mentor

Growers in Michigan were especially lucky to have a mentor like Will serve as their lead Extension agent. They reflect fondly on his visits, support and friendship. “Four generations of our family were fortunate to be able to call Dr. Carlson our friend and all of us consider ourselves blessed to have known him and worked with him,” says Mike Klooster of Klooster Greenhouses in Kalamazoo. “He was instrumental in transitioning us from struggling celery farmers to relatively successful flower growers. Through it all, Will’s wit, wisdom and sarcasm were always appreciated and most enjoyed.”

Micki Buist of Micandy Garden Greenhouses in Hudsonville, Mich., says she and her husband, Andy, were starting their business when Will was new at MSU. “We had so many questions, as plastic flats were replacing wooden flats and soil was being replaced with new soilless medias,” she recalls. “A call to Michigan State put us in contact with the new professor, which led to many conversations, greenhouse meetings, tours and a first-name friendship.”

Will challenged growers as an educator and writer for the rest of his days, Micki adds. “He challenged us to persevere in learning, embrace change, think outside the box, look for opportunities and always strive for excellence. An icon has left us but his influence lives on in our business, as well as in an industry, which has learned many things because someone led the way.”

Eric Rohloff of Esman Greenhouse in Kalamazoo recalls Will helping him with seed impatiens problems in the early ’80s. “Will’s down-to-earth approach to solving the problem gave me the insight to solve many of the growing challenges I faced then and face now,” he says. “His influence on me at the time was unknown until I matured as a grower and was able to realize that one short visit would benefit me the rest of my life.”

Tom Smith of Four Star Greenhouse in Carleton says Will was one of the most influential people in molding his career. “I was a kid fresh out of high school. He took me under his wing and said if you do these simple, basic things, you’ll be a good grower versus a reactive one,” Smith says. “He also taught me the value of time management as a business owner and to set aside time to work on the business. When I look back at it, these were the best steps forward.”

When Four Star had just begun producing new genuses of vegetative annuals in the Proven Winners line, Will saw the potential and opportunity for improvement. “He thought the plants looked a little weedy and that we needed to do research on how they come into color,” Smith says. “This led to our Super Nova liners, much like the early research MSU had done with seed geraniums.”

A Fantastic Fundraiser

Will always looked at the payback for growers, and in turn wasn’t shy about asking growers for money to fund the research. “He said if you don’t believe the research will pay off, you can have the money back,” Smith says.
Will had the personality and passion to be an effective fundraiser, says Erik Runkle, who now fills both Will’s and Heins’ roles in teaching, research and Extension. “Probably Will’s greatest strength was his ability to twist arms, finagle funding and make things happen,” Runkle says. “He was able to deliver information generated at MSU, make growers understand the importance of that information and unashamedly ask them to take out their checkbooks to continue to fund research.”

Over 36 years, the research Will, Heins and graduate students like Runkle conducted spanned the discovery of the DIF concept (manipulating plant growth through the difference of day and night temperatures), graphical tracking, plant timing concepts related to average daily temperature, and a wide understanding of flowering, dormancy, scheduling and height control in herbaceous perennials.

“He was a visionary thinker, always looking at five to 10 years down the road as to what the industry needs were,” says Tom Dudek, who worked closely with Will in cooperative Extension. “Then he would challenge the researchers to generate the information needed to deliver the new concept.”

One of Will’s finest contributions is the MSU Horticulture Gardens, which are adjacent to the Plant & Soil Science buildings. Just 30 feet from the campus arboretum, they’re a beautiful setting to see annuals, perennials, roses, vegetables, native plants and the highly acclaimed 4-H Children’s Garden.

“Will was the heart and soul of the formation of those gardens,” says the gardens’ current director Art Cameron. “Without his drive and passion, they would have never happened.”

Lasting Lessons

In addition to the importance of fundraising and sound science, Will taught lessons that helped many with their professions and daily lives.

Four Star’s head grower Dennis Crum also was mentored by Will as a teacher, employer and friend. “He taught me the foundations of what it takes to be a good grower and person in general. We studied not only the science of growing but the basics of everyday growing,” Crum explains. “He believed that you cannot be a good grower until you learn by getting your hands dirty and your feet wet.”

There are two sayings Crum feels best describes Will’s passion toward teaching all of us in the industry what is needed to succeed in our work and lives–”Only the mediocre are always at their best” and “Over prepare so that you always perform.”

“Some people have said that at times Dr. Carlson pushed too hard and demanded too much, but so does life, and he was merely trying to teach us to be well prepared for the challenges of work and life,” Crum says. “Good is not good enough if better is expected.” 

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...
Bob_Peters

July 28, 2015

J.R. Peters’ Founder Dies At 97

J.R. Peters announced that its founder, Robert (Bob) Peters has died. Here is how his family and coworkers honored him: It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Robert (Bob) Peters, 97 years old, founder of the Robert B Peters Company. Our mentor, father and grandfather passed away peacefully surrounded by his family on July 18 in Allentown, Pa. He was a true floriculture chemist who designed and formulated the earliest Peters Fertilizer Products that still carry his name today. Born October 12, 1917 in Hanover, Pennsylvania, he was the oldest of 6 brothers. He made his home in Allentown where he started his first business, Peters Horticultural Services, in his mother’s garage in 1947. Bob was happily married for over 50 years and has 4 children, 13 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren. His passion for plant nutrition began in 1947 after he completed his service in […]

Read More
2016 SHSG covers.indd

July 28, 2015

SHS Griffin Releases 2016 Catalog In Print And Expanded Digital Formats

SHS Griffin has announced the release of its annual seed and plant catalog for the 2015-16 season. Available in both print and digital formats, the 2016 catalog features more than 400 new and improved varieties from the industry’s leading breeders. The 262-page print catalog covers the company’s full seed portfolio — more than 3,400 cultivars of annuals, perennials, ornamental grasses, herbs and vegetables. From the SHS Griffin vegetative offering, the complete spring-annual assortment from Syngenta Flowers is featured, alongside new introductions and top sellers from nine top suppliers such as Proven Winners, Dümmen Orange and Suntory. More than 120 vegetative perennials from Syngenta Flowers are also included, including several SHS Griffin exclusives. The SHS Griffin 2016 digital catalog includes all of the product information and photography from the print edition, and more. For the first time, SHS Griffin has added a range of digital-only bonus content: detailed crop culture, quick […]

Read More
Cal-Poly fields

July 28, 2015

Cal-Poly To Preserve Campus Agricultural Land

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo will no longer consider development of nearly 43 acres of prime agricultural land just west of its campus core, as the university proceeds with the two-year process of updating its campus master plan. In May, the university had released an update to its Master Plan that indicated that almost all of its orchards, horticulture facilities and field sites may be repurposed for future development of university housing and other campus infrastructure. Most of the land in question is classified Class 1 farmland. The acreage is used now for lemons, grapevines, mandarin oranges, a deciduous orchard and silage for the university’s livestock. The proposed changes would have directly affected the current orchard plantings and other long term plans for the department, according to a letter from Scott Steinmaus, the horticulture and crop science department head. Steinmaus encouraged industry members to submit their comments to the university. An […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Berns_Roberto Lopez_Purdue6

July 22, 2015

Cultivate’15 Greenhouse Learning Tour Showcases G…

Growers took advantage of the Greenhouse Learning tour held Saturday, July 11 at Cultivate'15 to see the strategies and technology two successful growing operations are using to tackle production challenges and come out ahead of the game.

Read More
thermoflor

June 16, 2015

Philip Schaafsma To Represent Thermoflor In The U.S.

Philip Schaafsma is a new sales representative for Thermoflor, a company with a lot of experience building garden centers worldwide. The history of the Dutch construction company Thermoflor goes all the way back to 1877. Since then, the company has been through a lot of changes, from simple conservatories to complex glass and steel turnkey projects. With a new sales representative, Thermoflor is well equipped to service the American market. Previously, Petitti Garden Center (Avon, Ohio), Chuck Hafner (Syracuse, N.Y.), Jacob’s Garden (Ottowa Lake, Mich.), Hicks Nurseries (Westbury, N.Y.) and Holes (Alberta, Ca.) were all built by Thermoflor. After a period of absence, the company is now  represented in the U.S. and Canada by Schaafsma, who has more than 40 years of experience in retail lawn and garden, greenhouse growing and the floral industry, and is a former board member of the Garden Centers of America. Schaafsma is the former owner […]

Read More

June 15, 2015

Hortica Insurance To Become Member Of Sentry Insurance …

Upon completion and approval of an affiliation agreement, Hortica Insurance (Florists' Mutual Insurance Company) will become a member of the Sentry Insurance Group, based in Stevens Point, Wis. As a member of the Sentry Insurance Group, Hortica keeps its name and brand and will continue doing business from its current headquarters in Edwardsville, Ill.

Read More
Cal-Poly fields

June 2, 2015

Cal-Poly Students Seek Continued Industry Support To Sa…

Agriculture students and faculty at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, want industry members to continue to stand with them in their effort to preserve Class 1 agricultural land from being repurposed. The university recently released an update to its Master Plan that indicates that almost all of its orchards, horticulture facilities and field sites could be repurposed for buildings, including residential and/or recreational space. According to Joel Leonard of Students For Agriculture, an organization of Cal-Poly students in favor of saving the land, the Master Planning Committee will be meeting over the summer to form a final version of its plan and present it once more to the public in the fall, before it is submitted for final approval to the California Board of Trustees. Students For Agriculture’s goal in the meantime is to increase awareness and rally industry supporters to continue to send their input to the planning committee. Visit studentsforag.com to see more […]

Read More
Cal-Poly fields

May 27, 2015

Cal-Poly Students And Faculty Ask Industry To Help Save…

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has released an update to its Master Plan that indicates that almost all of its orchards, horticulture facilities and field sites could be repurposed for buildings, including residential, and/or recreational space. According to a letter from Scott Steinmaus, the horticulture and crop science department head, the proposed changes directly affect the current orchard plantings and other long term plans for the department. The department is committed to making sure that its facilities remain invaluable teaching environments that enable its students to learn about crop, fruit and horticulture production, food safety and pest protection, in addition to providing sites for externally funded research projects that benefit the industry. Industry members are invited to submit comments to the university. According to Steinmaus, a recent eMail to the Cal-Poly community from the university president indicates that all of the input gathered through the end of May will be studied by the planning […]

Read More
people-of-Battlefield

May 13, 2015

Battlefield Farms Receives MPS-A Qualification

Battlefield Farms, Inc., in Rapidan, Va., has been awarded the MPS-A qualification after becoming a participant for MPS-ABC in 2010. After four years of showing effort and improvement, the company has been awarded the qualification.

Read More
Barry_Sturdivant_columnpic

May 8, 2015

How To Survive Succession Planning And Resolve Conflic…

If you work in agriculture, you most likely work with family-owned businesses. This is especially true within the greenhouse industry. I’m fortunate to work for a company that specializes in financing and supporting such businesses. Family-owned businesses often have a level of commitment and support that helps during lean times. This is important for a company exposed to seasonality and events that are sometimes beyond management’s control. Business owners and management are constantly looking for solutions to the unique issues faced by these small but complex businesses. Specifically, how these issues affect the transition from one generation to the next. There are many family enterprise success stories, cases of harmony, health and longevity. Yet it’s no secret that family businesses can struggle with governance, leadership transitions and even survival. According to the Family Business Institute, only 30 percent of family businesses last into the second generation, 12 percent remain viable […]

Read More

April 30, 2015

North Creek Nurseries Welcomes Nikki Drake As New Finan…

Nikki Drake will fill the role of new financial administrator at North Creek Nurseries, with responsibility for the accounting department. She will also serve on the strategic planning committee.

Read More
Andy Huntington Pleasant View

April 29, 2015

Pleasant View Gardens Promotes Andy Huntington to Natio…

Pleasant View Gardens recently announced that Andy Huntington will be the company’s National Sales Manager. Huntington, who has years of horticulture industry experience, will oversee national territory and inside sales departments, while fostering strong partnerships with customers. “Our relationships with customers are central to all that we do at Pleasant View,” Huntington says. “In my new role, I am excited to work with a broader base of broker, grower and retail partners to understand their business needs. Pleasant View’s goal is to be so in tune with our customers that we are able to anticipate their problems before they arise.” Huntington has a history of growing sales and forming long-lasting relationships with a diverse customer base. For the past two years, he has been working as a territory account manager for Pleasant View Gardens, responsible for young plant liner sales in New England and New York. Prior to that, Huntington was […]

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Syngenta logo

April 15, 2015

Syngenta Names Chris Freeman Senior Key Account Manager…

Chris Freeman is the new senior key account manager for Syngenta Flowers, Home & Garden's Commercial Sales business in the Americas, effective March 2015. Freeman, who joined Syngenta in 2006, carries more than 25 years of experience in the agriculture and floriculture business.

Read More
Lake Buchanan_LCRA

April 10, 2015

USDA Designates Areas Of West And Southwest As Drought …

The ongoing drought has resulted in disaster area designations in counties across nine Western and Southwestern states, including Texas, where some reservoirs are at or near historically low levels.

Read More

April 9, 2015

Altman Plants’ Online Cactus Shop Shows Strong Sa…

Altman Plants recently opened its new Cactus Shop, an online retail store that sells a variety of cactus and succulents. The store is a take-off of Altman’s original wholesale business, as the company started as a mail order catalog.

Read More
Dummen

April 8, 2015

Dümmen Group Welcomes Jim Devereux And Andrew Konicki T…

Dümmen group recently announced the addition of Jim Devereux and Andrew Konicki to its team. They are the newest members of the Key Account and Broker Support team for Dümmen, and will be responsible for building, developing and maintaining current broker and grower customer relationships.

Read More
Gov._Jerry_Brown_California

April 8, 2015

California Institutes First Ever Statewide Mandatory Wa…

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 1 that, for the first time in state history, action will be taken to implement mandatory water restrictions, with the ultimate goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. As Californians are pushed to conserve more, growers will need to think about how demand for products will be affected.

Read More
DNA-logo

March 31, 2015

DNA Green Group Will Acquire Rijnplant

DNA Green Group and Riknplant have finalized DNA Green Group's acquisition of Rijnplant, meaning that the breeding and propagation activities in pot and cut anthurium, bougainvillea and heliconia will transfer to DNA Green Group.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 23, 2015

UF/IFAS Appoints Joseph Albano As Director Of Mid-Flori…

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a new directors for its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (REC) on Apopka, Fla. The role has been filled by Joseph Albano, a research horticulturist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with more than 25 years of experience.

Read More