Glory Days Are Gone At MSU

The late ’60s through the late ’90s were glory days at Michigan State University (MSU), a golden age for floriculture mirroring the rise of the bedding plant industry and then perennials. This leadership came from emeritus professors Will Carlson as the lead floriculture Extension agent and Royal Heins as the leading scientist and plant physiologist.

“Will and I each had different strengths, which we were able to combine to build a strong floriculture research, teaching and Extension program at MSU,” Royal says. “Will was a big idea person with a skill of fundraising while I tended to be more of a detail person and information generator. Will focused on fundraising and methods to disseminate information while I worked with the research team to generate new knowledge through the research program.”

In many ways, Will was the face of floriculture at MSU–a business agent and promoter. We’ve been very fortunate at Greenhouse Grower to publish Will’s columns and the results of MSU’s cutting-edge research and present them as packaged series for growers: using temperature to control plant growth (DIF), plug storage, graphical tracking to model plant growth and flowering, and unlocking the mysteries of forcing perennials into flower.

Together, Will and Royal showed growers the data and the road to profits. This was truly applied research growers would derive a direct benefit from in a relatively short period of time. Their findings helped growers reduce costs while increasing quality and consistency and made Michigan growers the General Motors of the bedding plant industry.

Another side benefit to all this research was cultivating the next generation of floriculture faculty. MSU grads leading today’s floriculture programs include: John Erwin at the University of Minnesota, Paul Fisher at the University of Florida, Jim Faust at Clemson University, John Dole at North Carolina State University, Roberto Lopez at Purdue University and Erik Runkle, who has assumed both Will’s and Royal’s roles at MSU.

But the world has changed at MSU and Land-Grant universities nationwide the last 10 years. At MSU, funds are no longer provided from the horticulture department or experiment stations to faculty, who used to have funds to partially cover technicians and graduate students. Will was ahead of his time as a faculty member raising money for projects and programs. Now it’s mandatory.

Twelve years ago, MSU had five faculty members devoted to floriculture. Now the only dedicated floriculture faculty member is Runkle, who has partial access to a few others. The university also is in the process of merging the horticulture department with crop and soil sciences to create a plant, hort and soil science department, which will bury floriculture’s presence even more.

“I think it is safe to say that MSU’s administration has not made applied floriculture research a priority,” Runkle says. “Faculty are increasingly being evaluated on how much overhead funding they bring into the university. Ornamental production research does not lend itself to these kinds of funded projects.”

If this is happening at Land-Grant universities all over, where is floriculture research alive and well? Fortunately, the current generation of faculty I mentioned above has formed alliances to work across universities and pursue funding together. This is out of necessity and desire based on friendships and shared roots. Because this work is decentralized, we’re not going to see the powerhouses of floriculture we’ve seen in the past.

The big question is what will happen after these young faculty cycle through their careers. We may not see another alliance working together. This may be it. If we want to continue to benefit from unbiased, research-based information, we’re going to have to fund it.

Leave a Reply

6 comments on “Glory Days Are Gone At MSU

  1. Of equal concern is the education of young floriculturists. There are not very many places left that have experienced and knowledgeable floriculturists to teach and train undergraduate students. The industry will sorely miss having access to college graduates in floriculture as horticulture curricula across the country disappear or become so diluted that any specificity is gone. Just who will replace today’s industry leaders over the next generation?

  2. Virginia’s point is well-taken. To this could be added the loss of plant breeders to teach about plant breeding and genetics. There are probably even fewer plant breeders left in floriculture and ornamental horticulture than floriculturists. And the major seed companies are soaking them up with pay well above what universities can offer. The Molecular types seem to attract the big dollars from which administrators can skim their overhead.

  3. I understand funding is very important for any project. We have similar projects in Venezuela. We plan to give a course this summer on horticulture. We would like to form an aliance with The Michigan State University. To interchange research and we wuould like for you to certify our students in the project we develope in Michigan. We also offer the same if you would like to do research in Venezuela.

  4. Of equal concern is the education of young floriculturists. There are not very many places left that have experienced and knowledgeable floriculturists to teach and train undergraduate students. The industry will sorely miss having access to college graduates in floriculture as horticulture curricula across the country disappear or become so diluted that any specificity is gone. Just who will replace today’s industry leaders over the next generation?

  5. Virginia’s point is well-taken. To this could be added the loss of plant breeders to teach about plant breeding and genetics. There are probably even fewer plant breeders left in floriculture and ornamental horticulture than floriculturists. And the major seed companies are soaking them up with pay well above what universities can offer. The Molecular types seem to attract the big dollars from which administrators can skim their overhead.

  6. I understand funding is very important for any project. We have similar projects in Venezuela. We plan to give a course this summer on horticulture. We would like to form an aliance with The Michigan State University. To interchange research and we wuould like for you to certify our students in the project we develope in Michigan. We also offer the same if you would like to do research in Venezuela.

More From Grow Initiative...
Lavandula 'Meerlo' (Sunset Western Garden Collection)

March 3, 2015

Why You Will Still Grow Today’s Big Perennial 10 Years From Now

What will be the next big perennial? Breeders say it takes more than a splashy plant to distinguish itself in the market. Therefore, the question is not what will be the next big perennial, but rather what perennial performs well enough in the garden to have staying power in the market for years to come.

Read More

March 2, 2015

Avoid Surprises On The Delivery Dock

A call in advance about problems with a plant shipment to a retailer you supply goes a long way toward customer satisfaction.

Read More
Janeen Wright

March 2, 2015

Deliver Plant Quality That Trumps Price [Opinion]

The industry's goal is to have loyal customers who return to the same plants time and time again, not because of price, but owing to a plant brand that shouts top-notch garden performance and is synonymous with excellence, which gives them the secure knowledge that their investment will be worth every hard-earned cent.

Read More
Latest Stories
Smart Herb Garden

March 2, 2015

Smartpot Uses Sensors And Cartridges To Ensure Success …

Click & Grow helps make it simple for consumers to grow their own herbs and spices at home, even if they have little experience with plants.

Read More

March 2, 2015

Student Flash Mob At TPIE Has Roots In Floriculture

The local FFA students who entertained TPIE attendees in 2014 and 2015 received industry donations of plants and a greenhouse structure to help expand their horticultural program.

Read More

February 12, 2015

GROW Perspective: What Is It You Do Again?

The industry is very good at talking about what we do and how we do it, but has almost completely lost touch with talking about why this work is important. As an industry, we need to promote our professions as vital to healthier living.

Read More
bee photo

February 11, 2015

26 Ways Growers Improve The Green Industry

In Greenhouse Grower’s annual State Of The Industry Survey, we asked how your operation is living the GROW Initiative’s five pillars: How are you driving consumer success, cultivating new customers, demanding quality, investing in the industry and sharpening business management? Through your candid responses, we learned about some of the ideas you’ve implemented and steps you’re taking for 2015. Here are just a few.

Read More
Noble Foundation

February 3, 2015

Lloyd Noble Scholars Program Application Period Now Ope…

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is offering college students an opportunity to work side-by-side with the Noble Foundation’s renowned agricultural consultants and researchers through the Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture program, a summer internship that provides students the opportunity to enhance their in-class education with real-world application and experiences.

Read More

January 7, 2015

GROW Summit 2014 Homes In On The Issues That Keep You U…

During Greenhouse Grower’s third annual GROW Summit in December a number of ideas, questions and calls-to-action transpired. Here are a few of the highlights.

Read More
GROW Logo

January 6, 2015

Growers Resolve To Educate Public About Their Operation…

See what growers plan to work on for their 2015 business resolutions.

Read More

December 22, 2014

National Garden Bureau Launches Therapeutic Garden Prog…

National Garden Bureau has chosen the Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago as the first beneficiary of its annual fundraising effort "Growing For Futures."

Read More

December 19, 2014

Hydroponic Food Production Course Serves Up Life Lesson…

Students in the new HORT 331X Hydroponic Food Crop Production course at Iowa State University are producing more food than they can eat, so they began donating the vegetables they produce to a local food pantry and free meal program.

Read More
GROW Logo

December 8, 2014

“The Cheapest Generation” Will Be Tomorrow&…

Members of the Millennial generation aren’t buying cars and houses the way their parents did, and according to a recent article from The Atlantic titled “The Cheapest Generation,” it might be more than an effect of a bad economy. So what does this mean for horticulture? Industry members weigh in.

Read More
Katie Nickolaus

November 25, 2014

Proven Winners Names 2014 Scholarship Winners

Looking to promote industry leaders of the future, Proven Winners has established a $15,000 scholarship program that awards students in three distinct areas - breeding, marketing and growing.

Read More

November 24, 2014

GROW Perspective: We Need To Think Bigger

Garry Grueber of Cultivaris and Global Breadfruit says the horticulture industry must evolve to help solve the problems of world hunger and food insecurity.

Read More

November 13, 2014

NY SunWorks’ Greenhouse Project Aims To Build 100 Labs …

NY SunWork's Greenhouse Project aims to build 100 labs by 2020. With 15 greenhouse project labs built and 11 more in development, it’s on its way to reaching that goal.

Read More

November 4, 2014

Millennials Rank Gardening Among Top 5 Leisure Activiti…

United Kingdom consumers, aged 25 to 35, have rated gardening as a top five favorite leisure activity.

Read More
Ken Altman

October 27, 2014

GROW Perspective: Why I Give Back To The Industry

Ken Altman of Altman Plants knows a thing or two about the green industry, including the importance of contributing to the industry he loves.

Read More

October 21, 2014

Plants, Gardens Of The Future Will Be Radically Differe…

Over the next 20 to 30 years, Garry Grueber of Cultivaris and Global Breadfruit says the horticulture industry will need to address such issues as population growth, feeding a hungry world, less availability of water and land resources, rampant climate change and increased focus on the environment and sustainability.

Read More

October 13, 2014

Costa Farms Celebrates Indoor Plant Week With A College…

Cost Farms kicks off 2014 Indoor Plant Week by sharing plants with college students amid song and dance.

Read More

October 7, 2014

Ohio State Horticulture Senior Receives Prestigious Shi…

Amy Miller, a senior majoring in horticulture at The Ohio State University, is the recipient of the 2014-15 Shinoda Scholar of the Year award.

Read More