It’s Not Easy Being Green

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A month ago I told you a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen entitled, "There Is A Difference." The moral of the story was that all types of plants and people receive the same resources, such as sun, air and nutrients, and it is up to them to utilize these resources as best they can to survive, enjoy life and prosper. Andersen wrote the fairy tale more than 200 years ago.

In 1970, a "Sesame Street" book and record followed in Andersen’s footsteps when Kermit the Frog said, "It’s not easy being green."

I guess our industry feels like Kermit, since we have tried to be green for more than 200 years. We use greenhouses to grow plants that are not native to areas and make it possible for them to be enjoyed in all parts of the world. For example, poinsettias, which are native to Mexico, can be grown in greenhouses in the northern United States and Canada to be enjoyed at Christmas.

We produce a product that takes carbon dioxide and water and releases oxygen into the environment. As I write this article, I look out the window and see 10 contrails from planes flying over my house. How much carbon dioxide do those planes give out into the environment? How much oxygen?

It is interesting that the NBC network changed its peacock logo to all green for one week in November. The parent company of NBC is General Electric. GE is working to reduce its carbon footprint on this planet.

Many of the major companies are now getting to the point where they want to be green. British Petroleum, the World Council for Sustainable Agriculture and probably 100 more are promoting their green efforts. They say they will be the path to a green future. Even some of the business magazines think that we just are going to be greener.

All of these efforts receive a lot of attention. Our industry has always been green, but we are seldom recognized for our contributions.

With all the problems with weather in the United States, wildfires in southern California and droughts in the southeastern states, it is getting more difficult to be green. Firms in the southeast have gone bankrupt. Firms in Michigan have closed their doors and others have been bought out or taken over by other companies.

Also it is interesting to see that the Canadian dollar is equal to or slightly ahead of the value of the U.S. dollar. The last time that happened was about 30 years ago. As a result, product from Canadian growers will probably be less available in the United States as long as American growers can produce it at the same cost or less than Canadian sources. 

Staying Green

All this indicates that, although change will occur, we still have to be green. I have 10 points that I would like to suggest to help you stay green.

1. We are the makers of green.

As I have said many times before, we are in the business of growing plants that take CO2 and H2O in the presence of light and make carbohydrates and oxygen. In fact, we can actually use more CO2 than is present in the atmosphere to produce greater plant growth.

2. We grow green.

We take seeds, plugs or cuttings and grow them to greater size from a 4-inch pot to a 6-inch pot to a 10-inch pot to a 12-inch pot or to any size people want. We can grow grasses, shrubs and forest trees. We can start plants that will live for four or five hundred years.

3. We spend our lives taking care of green.

Keeping plants growing is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job. Anyone who has a business in horticulture knows that one mistake – not enough water, too high or too cold a temperature, air pollution, an infestation of insects or an outbreak of a disease – could kill our plants at any time. A good crop can only be produced by skilled people who not only know how to grow it, but also are willing to take care of it every hour of every day.

4. We have the skill to make more green.

We are the people who create new cultivars. We can breed plants to have the characteristics that our customers want and we want. We can make selections of plants for their productivity, for their beauty, for whatever needs have been identified. If we want plants that will produce more ethanol per acre, that can be done. Perhaps plants that are currently considered weeds will become valuable to produce fuel for cars and money for the growers.

5. We can provide plants for food, shelter and safety for all people.

It’s about time that we realize that oil is not the limiting factor in our society. Water and food are! If we were to stop shipping our food to other countries, they would have great difficulty surviving. We can drink water and eat corn. They would have to drink oil and eat sand. We need to use these facts to our economic advantage.

6. We are a renewable resource.

Every year we produce products that provide food, shelter, pharmaceuticals and beauty. As long as there is life on our planet, the raw materials will be available to grow plants, and we can provide the products that will be able to sustain our society.

7. We should express our outrage at the use of the term "greenhouse effect."

This term is unfair and detrimental to the image of our industry. Greenhouses collect solar energy. They provide a place to grow plants that turn carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates and oxygen to help people survive and improve the environment.

8. We provide a path to a greener future.

People can reduce emissions from engines and make all kinds of improvements in their systems to reduce their carbon footprint. They can also try to control Mother Nature, the volcanoes, wild fires, droughts and other natural disasters that occur. However, they will only reduce the pollution, not eliminate it. The plants that we grow and will continue to grow will be the source of saving life. Remember that in the long run, no plants = no people.

9. We need to make sure that our contributions are recognized.

We can make every effort to see that our industry receives the recognition and appreciation for its contributions to the environment. There are thousands of us who work for years to grow and protect plants. We do more to reduce global warming than all the other efforts to reduce pollution.

10. We need to remember Kermit the Frog.

Kermit told us, "It’s not easy being green. It seems you blend in with so many ordinary things and people tend to pass you over ‘cause you’re not standing out."

You must have a profitable business to stay green. Profit is not a dirty word. It enables you to continue the process of being green.
Two bits of advice: 1) Stay low and keep moving; and 2) Money isn’t everything, but it is way ahead of what is in second place.

Happy New Year! Have a very green and profitable year! 

Will Carlson is a Michigan State University emeritus professor who has devoted his career to educating growers. He also had the vision to launch Greenhouse Grower magazine with Dick Meister more than 25 years ago.

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