Maintaining Momentum

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Put the he-said, she-said banter aside for a moment. The reality is Late Blight infected Bonnie Plants’ tomato plants earlier this summer, and the outbreak is a black eye to our industry whether the disease originated in a greenhouse facility, a retail store or somewhere else.

Vegetable sales were our biggest victory of spring. We reeled in first-time consumers, got them excited about gardening and built some momentum for 2010.

Now this. The most visible vegetable brand in the commercial greenhouse industry faces a steep recovery following a Late Blight outbreak. And because Bonnie is the face of vegetables at the box stores, consumers are bound to grow weary about growing any vegetable.

We simply cannot afford to lose vegetable consumers. Not when significant headway was made this year connecting with younger consumers. This year proved veggies are a gateway to a new realm of gardeners. And if 2009 was the year of the veggie, 2010 should be the year consumers grow more of them–or venture into floral crops for the first time.

Of all things, let’s not lose consumers over Late Blight. It’s unfortunate any time disease spreads, and its even more unfortunate when that disease reaches the consumer’s garden. Let’s all use Late Blight as a reminder proper sanitation measures should be taken at all times, whether you’re treating seeds, young plants or finished plants.

He Said, She Said

Following the Late Blight outbreak, the question on many minds was where the disease originated. The industry badly wanted to assign blame, but nobody stepped up to accept it. Bonnie Plants argued Late Blight was first confirmed in a commercial Long Island, N.Y., potato field and at retail stores in the Northeast. The company also argued Late Blight was first found at a Bonnie Plants facility in New Berlin, N.Y., two weeks after the first disease symptoms were confirmed.

The components of that argument are sound, but they don’t directly address Late Blight’s origin. Sourcing wet, windy Northeastern conditions hasn’t helped Bonnie’s cause either.

Subsequently, Bonnie has drawn criticism for its arguments. Two University of Maine crops specialists loudly refuted Bonnie on GreenhouseGrower.com, arguing a full-blown weather spread across the Northeast was a poor argument. The specialists also conducted their own Late Blight retail search in Maine and found Bonnie tomato plants infected with Late Blight at every store visited.

So what are we to conclude with the back and forth between Bonnie and its critics? The facts don’t seem to add up in Bonnie’s favor, and because they don’t, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a second, third or multiple vegetable suppliers introduced at the box stores as early as next year.

Today, more plant programs are lining up at the Home Depots, Lowe’s and Walmarts waiting for their program to get the call. Considering that, there must be some form of change in store for Bonnie, as well as the commercial greenhouse vegetable landscape as we know it.

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.

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