2017 has been nothing if not eventful — that’s an obvious statement relative to the mainstream events happening in our world. But it applies to our market, as well, so let’s take a more focused look at some of this year’s developments.
Varieties. Benary shook up the industry in April when it announced it was developing its own sales force to sell Volmary’s vegetative varieties in the North American market through a new effort called Benary Plus, while still maintaining its connections in the broker network to distribute its seed. More recently, Dümmen Orange’s acquisition of the long-independent brokership, McHutchison and Vaughan’s Horticulture, caused another big stir. It’s clear that the entire broker network and variety distribution is in for some changes in the coming years.
Production. Neonicotinoids continue to be phased out of production due to consumer and retailer demands. With big box retailer mandates to be neonic free in effect starting in 2018, growers are adapting to these changes with integrated pest management and broader adoption of biological controls.
Management. In September, the Department of Labor reported 6.1 million jobs across all industries are currently unable to be filled by domestic workers, which means the government is starting to catch on to what we’ve always known: there’s not enough labor available — or willing — to do the kind of work our industry requires. Meanwhile, it looks like E-Verify is going to be a non-negotiable part of any immigration reform effort, and while only about 5% of the market is using guestworker programs, more growers are starting to look that way.
Technology. Advancements in LED lighting, automated sticking machines, and now even artificial intelligence have taken the market by storm. Growers are automating rapidly to alleviate labor pains. That’s not a trend that’s about to slow down, since early indicators from our 2018 State of the Industry survey show growers are continuing to invest.
Emerging Markets. Hydroponic vegetable production is not new, but vertical farms are making news almost daily with new, big-name investors. We’ve talked with some good sources that question how long it will be before these types of businesses are truly profitable. But with growers in our market taking more interest in greenhouse produce, we’ll continue to stay tuned. Cannabis is another area that’s garnered serious attention from suppliers and some growers in our market. With more states coming on line with medical and recreational production, this is another area that we’re all following with interest.
With all of this change happening, we know there are different opinions about how good or bad some of them are for the health and future of our industry. A few months ago, I wrote about how horticulture is built on relationships — it’s a unique aspect of our market that keeps us connected and collaborative. But it also can be a drawback. The industry is so small and interconnected that sometimes we trip over ourselves to be politically correct and refrain from commenting on an issue that comes up in order to remain neutral and not burn any bridges.
My request for 2018: please stop being so damned polite! Let’s open up the dialog and keep it real. Differing opinions are healthy — not for the sake of being controversial, but for the sake of keeping the industry honest. You’ll see some new developments in 2018 along these lines, so get ready to speak frankly, for the record.