Life Is A Challenge

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Here we are in October, planning for the spring of 2010. If you’re like me, you read the business papers, check the stock market, find out how many people are unemployed and what our national debt is. You also look at interest rates and whether bank credit will be available in order to finance your 2010 plan.

The government has initiated plans to stimulate the economy. These plans have involved everything from bailing out the financial institutions and banks to supporting the automobile industry by taking in “clunkers” and giving people $4,500 to help them buy new cars.

The government is now focusing on universal health care and many other issues that will affect our businesses.

I wish the government would give people a rebate for buying nourishing foods like fruits and vegetables to keep their families healthy and well.

Most of these issues are beyond our control, and we will have little impact on the outcome.

Brace Yourselves

So, our first major challenge is government. What is the government going to do? How will it affect us? What will it cost us? We don’t know! With this unknown background, we need to face the challenges we can control.

We know the government is now $174 trillion in debt. We know 15 percent of the people in Michigan are unemployed and that there are more than 15 states in the United States that have double-digit unemployment. Many predict the country’s unemployment rate will be above 10 percent by December.

All the signs indicate the U.S. will need to increase taxes in order to survive, and we will probably see inflation starting in 2010. Make sure you are in a good cash position. Get your mortgage rates fixed at 5 to 6 percent for 30 years. You need to be in a strong financial position because the roller coaster ride is about to begin!

One of my close friends indicated there are now only two industries he would want to be in: 1) building or repairing homes because people have to live somewhere and they have to keep their homes maintained; and 2) food, because everyone has to eat and needs a source of food. Our industry can provide food.

In the 1970s, the government checked to see what percentage of greenhouse space was used to produce food. The government thought space used for other purposes was a waste of energy, but as long as food crops were produced, we could utilize the greenhouses.

Today, we would have a much easier time justifying the use of space for food. Just look at plug production, an area where we grow 500 plants in 1.8 square feet of space. How many acres of vegetables could you produce with 10 acres of plugs? My point is you need to be prepared to let people know how important you are, not only to the food chain but also to life itself!

When I was discussing this article with my wife Barbara, she said I should be positive. She told me a story that her mother told her when she was a little girl. The story was about this hen that was constantly working, growing food, storing it and making sure she had enough for the next year. She would also work at night knitting blankets. She was always making sure she had enough to survive the next year.

All the other hens laughed at her and thought she was stupid to do all that work because nothing would happen. Well, something did happen. The other hens were not prepared, but she was. They knocked at her door and asked for food or a blanket to keep warm. She shared what she had with them to help them survive. They never laughed at her again.

Sometimes you can learn a lot from an old children’s story.

Times Change

I always enjoy my birthday because my insurance agent sends me a birthday card telling me what various things cost the year I was born and what they cost now. I think you might enjoy what some of the differences are:

  1941    2009
New Ford    $680 $20,900
Gallon of milk $0.54 $3.99
New home $4,000 $218,000
Gallon of gas $0.19 $2.50

During that period, the average income grew from $2,437 per year to $50,986, and the population of the United States increased from 113.4 million to 306.8 million.

Times change. Things happen faster and faster. Looking back to that time, it would have been hard to believe what is happening today. My schoolteacher in 1950 said a loaf of bread that cost 10 cents then would cost a dollar by the year 2000. We thought he was crazy, but he was right.

There are three points I’ve learned that might be of help to you as you plan for life’s challenges: 1) No one is ever all wrong; 2) No one is always right. You need to sort out what is wrong and what is right; and 3) No one is ever gone until they are forgotten. I’ve learned a great deal from people who taught me and were my mentors.

Another point to ponder is that it is always easier to start at the bottom and go to the top of a business than it is to start at the top and go to the bottom. The most successful businesses in our industry are ones that have been started by the first generation, developed by the second generation and matured by the third.

Surviving in these difficult times depends on what you do. Remember that if it is to be, it’s up to me!

Parting Thoughts

Here are my five basic rules for success:

1) Work hard. It is the best investment in your future.

2) Build your knowledge. Learn as much as you can about your profession. The more you know, the easier your job will be.

3) Take responsibility. The more you can do, the more you will become a valuable employee that the company can’t afford to lose.

4) Love your work. You need to find pleasure in what you do. If you do, it will show and others will become interested.

5) Do your best. If you have done this, you have done everything. You will receive thanks for a job well done.

I hope you can meet all of your challenges and make 2010 a great year for the bedding plant industry.

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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