Some Things Never Change

You can read many business magazines and see how they are looking back over the years to explain what is happening now. There is a saying that you can talk with economists and they can tell you where we have been and what trends have gotten us to this point, but they have great difficulty in forecasting what will happen in the future.

I would like to share some old cultural, marketing, and management information that may be of interest to you. You may find it useful in planning for next year’s production. 

Cultural Facts

1. Mercury and many of its components emit vapors that are toxic to plant growth.
Zimmerman and Crocker in 1934 reported that roses are extremely susceptible to injury from vapors containing mercury. In their findings they showed that mercury-containing insecticides, fungicides, broken thermometers and paints caused problems (Zimmerman Hitchcock, 1956; Butterfield, 1954).

The use of paint with mercury in it caused significant damage in greenhouses in New England in 1954.

In 1968 significant damage occurred in a rose greenhouse in Michigan when a mercury thermometer was broken in one section of the range. After that event, an all-out effort was made to eliminate mercury thermometers from all greenhouses in the state.

The reason I mention this information is that the energy-saving light bulbs that many of us have changed to in order to save energy have been found to contain mercury. If one of these bulbs is broken, mercury fumes may be emitted. This may be a problem for plants in a confined area. I don’t know the quantity of mercury in each bulb or the potential hazard it represents, but I do know the damage can be severe to roses and other plants if small quantities of mercury are released in greenhouses.

2. Recycling can lead to severe plant damage if not done properly.
Subirrigation was researched and developed in the late 1890s and early 1900s at The Ohio State University. The mechanics of the system worked, but it was never widely adopted. The non-sterile soil in the pots, the reused containers and the lack of sanitation resulted in all the insects and diseases being spread throughout the various parts of the system.

The newer systems we have in greenhouses today have made great strides to correct these limitations. However, when you introduce new types of pots, flats or media or use them in an organic system, be sure to monitor for insects, diseases and all pathogens. Remember, the final product must be of acceptable quality to be marketed successfully.

3. Time is money — money is time.
Next year, fuel costs will be higher and the more time it takes to grow a crop, the more expensive it will be. The more space you need to grow a pot or flat will also increase the costs.

When I first came to Michigan, Dr. Sylvan Wittwer, who at that time was a plant physiologist, took me to a greenhouse in Jackson, Mich., right next to the federal prison there, to see lettuce and spinach being grown in a cold greenhouse with some of the first use of carbon dioxide being injected into a production system. Dr. Wittwer proved the carbon dioxide increased growth and decreased time to harvest, but it was not economically viable to use this method in Michigan.

Today, we see a trend to go organic. Buying organic food makes sense if you believe it is tastier, more nutritious and safer. There are many conflicting opinions on this, but it is well known that it takes more acreage to produce organically because yields are less per acre and the amount of labor is higher. Therefore, you must get a higher price for organic food products.

The longer the time to grow, the more your labor costs will be unless you have access to very cheap labor. Therefore, many of these ventures can only work if your labor costs consist of your family members and a few part-time employees.

Marketing Facts

1. Watch out for “green washing.”
It is a fact that some companies use the “green hype” as a sales tool and only as a sales tool without any integrity or belief in it.

Nowadays, it seems that “green” is being used as a marketing tool for new products and sales schemes. There has to be science behind the claims that are being made. Many people use the touchy-feely approach and testimonials to sells products or services, but this will not replace the need for scientific experiments to prove or disprove their claims. It comes back to the basics: where is the data, who are the people making the claims and what are their credentials.

Remember, if all you see is green, you must be suffering from blurred vision!

2. It is important to have the data to support your claims.
For example, if you sell an organically grown plug or small plant or a best practices grown plug or small plant to a customer whose garden is not organically maintained, what will be the difference? If it is put in an organically maintained garden, what is the difference? Or if it is organically or best practices grown all the way, what is the difference? The answer is either there is no difference, the organically grown plug or plant has better characteristics or the best practices grown plug or plant has better characteristics. Where is the data?

No data? Their answer is that it’s touchy feely.

If the answer is obtained from a valid experiment based on a valid hypothesis, then the data will provide validity for your conclusions. 

Management Facts

1. The business remains the same.
Every year there seems to be a new spin on how to manage a business. New books are written about it, but there are some timeless rules that are as valid today as they were a generation ago.

2. What are these timeless rules?
• The best marketing technique is a great product.
• Be determined to be the best — sufficient money will almost automatically follow.
• Boldness in business is the first, second and third commandment.
• Don’t believe that the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
• Don’t be an egoist, that is someone who burns down the house just to cook a couple of eggs.
• The future belongs to things that can grow, whether plants or people.
• To survive, you need faith. To destroy a business, use fear.
• Identify the opportunities. Decide if they are fads or trends. Do your best to lead the trends and avoid the fads.
• Knowledge is power — use it or lose it. To be successful in your business, you need to know more about it than anyone else.
• Enjoy what you are doing — in business, family, friends and community. A well-balanced leader will have a well-balanced business and life. 

A last thought — be aware of the world situation today. Over 850 million people are starving. Many are rioting to get food and most are unable to even get enough to survive. They even eat dirt to get the minerals they need. They don’t care if their food is organically or inorganically grown. They have no way of feeding themselves.

Massive amounts of food, water and staples are needed, or we won’t have to worry about carbon footprints because there will be one billion fewer people on the planet.

If we were on the Titanic and we knew we were about to hit an iceberg, we wouldn’t be rearranging the deck chairs. We would be thinking about how to avoid the collision. Everyone thought that the ship was unsinkable. Guess what? It wasn’t!

We need to use all our talents to grow plants to provide food, shelter and safety as well as beauty to help sustain life. Don’t get caught up in what techniques are being used to grow the plants, but rather concentrate on producing enough to sustain the population that exists.

People were starving hundreds of years ago, and people are starving today. I guess some things never change.

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...
Sheridan Nurseries

September 3, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Operation Of The Year Sheridan Nurseries Raises The Bar

Ontario-based Sheridan Nurseries has long been an innovator in the Canadian market, but during the economic downturn, CEO Karl Stensson says the company decided to take things a step further. “We have survived the Great Depression, two World Wars and many other downturns in the economy,” he says. “During this last recession, our staff set out at being the best at what we do.” The company’s efforts have paid off. Sheridan Nurseries was named Operation of the Year at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, held July 13, at Cultivate’15 in Columbus, Ohio. The company was also awarded for Excellence In Perennials Production, based on its reputation for plant quality and the activities the nursery has led and been a part of, both within its company and in the industry at large. “We are elated and proud of our staff accomplishments,” says CEO Karl Stensson. “Over the last five years, we […]

Read More

September 3, 2015

Legalization Of Marijuana In California A Strong Possibility

The push for the legalization of recreational marijuana intensifies in California as proponents promote the crop’s agricultural and economical benefits.

Read More
More and more people are employing a landscape service, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still garden

September 2, 2015

Under Siege? Not Really, Just Go For A Walk

I have no trouble with people buying chocolates or wine instead of flowers to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays or peoples’ lives. We should all have choices. However, the other night I felt like I was entering the Republican caucus. I was minding my own business by the television set and became more than a little upset. A website called insteadofflowers.com came on the screen. It provided serene music and wholesome images of busy women doing busy things. It turns out that such busy women enjoy a small token of appreciation, but apparently their enjoyment, according to the voice-over, does not include flowers. This website delivers meals to the house, anything from beef brisket to beef bourguignon. It is a fine website with a good idea. But why pick on us? Why not use “insteadofbaloneysandwiches.com” or “insteadofgrilledcheeseandsoup.com,” “insteadofburgerdoodle.com,” or a dozen other things. When did flowers get to be the whipping boy? […]

Read More
Latest Stories

September 2, 2015

Delegation Is Key To A Successful Greenhouse Operation

In a packed room at Cultivate’15, speaker Bernie Erven presented key steps growers need to take to improve their delegation skills, the benefits of delegating and the dangers of not learning how to delegate. This is a skill, he says, that everyone needs to learn. “For all of you who are part of a family business, you are choosing not to do things the easy way,” Erven laughed, as he presented a list of ways to know whether or not you’re an effective delegator. The owner of Erven HR Services, LLC, Erven has been working with and observing family businesses for many years. In his presentation, he said, he didn’t share anything that he hasn’t seen first-hand. You might not be a good delegator if you: Tend to be a perfectionist Work more hours than anyone else Lack time to explain clearly and concisely Are often interrupted Enjoy what you used to […]

Read More
AmericanHort logo

August 20, 2015

David Savoia To Serve As AmericanHort’s Interim P…

Following Michael Geary’s announcement that he has resigned as president and CEO of AmericanHort, the association has announced that CFO and Senior Vice President for Operations David Savoia will serve as interim president and CEO while the board conducts a search for a new staff executive. Craig Regelbrugge, the senior vice president for advocacy and research, will support Savoia with the association’s external affairs. Geary announced August 12  that he will be leaving his position after September 30 to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” Geary said in an eMail. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me […]

Read More
Geary-Michael

August 18, 2015

Michael Geary Is Leaving AmericanHort

AmericanHort president and CEO Michael Geary announced last Wednesday that he will be leaving his position at the end of September to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services. “I am writing to share with you that on October 8 I will begin a new professional chapter as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries,” Geary said in an email. His last day with AmericanHort will be Sept. 30, 2015. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” he said. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me to be closer to my family and aging parents and to re-engage with another industry […]

Read More

August 15, 2015

Ball Horticultural Co. Buys Conard-Pyle/Star Roses And …

Ball Horticultural Co. plans to add Conard-Pyle/Star Roses and Plants to its family of breeding and distribution companies, according to a press release dated August 14, which announced the company’s recent acquisition of the famous introducer of Knock Out Roses and other perennials and woody plants to the market. Ball plans to capitalize on the expertise of its Ball Ornamentals woody ornamentals division, as well as Conard-Pyle’s market-leading position as a top rose breeder to strengthen its product line. The sale is scheduled to close by the end of September 2015. Conard-Pyle’s in-house breeding division NovaFlora, along with its intellectual properties and the distribution, production and administration facilities of its wholesale division are also part of the acquisition. NovaFlora is the driving force behind the Star Roses and Plants brand. “Conard-Pyle has been the leader in roses in its market and has been actively diversifying its offering with other woody […]

Read More
cannabis, marijuana plant

August 7, 2015

Big Banks A Step Closer To Financing Cannabis — Or Not

A key Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill on July 23 that allows the nation's capital to establish regulated medical marijuana stores and lets banks provide financial services to state legalized marijuana dispensaries.

Read More

July 30, 2015

Spread Your Risk Beyond Spring Sales [Opinion]

Growers who participated in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Crops Recap Survey said they have had enough of the uncertainty that the weather brings. They said it’s time to build up sales in other seasons like fall so we’re not so dependent on spring. As a couple of wholesale growers, both from the Southeast, very eloquently stated, our industry has mastered squeezing everything we can out of the spring season. And while this year happened to be a very successful one, thanks to the improving economy and elevated consumer confidence, they said, “now is no time to celebrate.” “Spring is still Christmas in the horticulture industry, but we have done such a good job focusing on spring that we have neglected other seasons,” one grower said. “Having so many eggs in the spring basket is dangerous. Fall will never be what spring is, but having a solid second season is in […]

Read More
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