In addition to his groundbreaking and industry-changing research, Dr. Royal Heins’ greatest legacy has been the generation of scientists leading floriculture today, many of whom earned their doctorates at Michigan State University. It’s certainly the one accomplishment of which he is most proud, as the list of students under his guidance reads like a who’s who of current floriculture academia.
Through his work in private industry at Oro Farms, Fides, and ultimately Dümmen Orange, and throughout his career as a consultant to top grower operations, Heins has guided and mentored countless growers.
The following commentary from academics and growers who have worked directly with Heins and have been impacted most by his contributions and teachings, provides a glimpse of the influence one dedicated person can have on an industry. With their input, it’s easy to see why Dr. Royal Heins was chosen to receive Greenhouse Grower’s Medal of Excellence for Industry Achivement in 2018, marking 40 years in horticulture.
“Royal Says We’ll Be Alright”
“While at Michigan State, Royal Heins’ research ideas and his attention to scientific details were the envy of researchers everywhere. I shared some time there with Royal; it was obvious even in his first year that he was going to build a remarkable program. His research accomplishments are many and his scientific publications legion. That his work was timely and practical was obvious. Not only did he understood the importance of science in academic research, but he also understood its importance at the everyday greenhouse production level. He was in high demand as a consultant to put his ideas and those published in the scientific literature to work on a day-to-day basis. That he is still in high demand testifies to the quality and usefulness of his work. I consider Royal a friend. We met at Michigan State and I, among others, have been following his career ever since. I am proud to be considered his colleague.” – Dr. Allan Armitage, Greenhouse Grower and University of Georgia
“The research Royal Heins made for growers in North America is large. Many of the documents he wrote by himself and with others are still being used in our industry. In the offshore farms he brought in a ‘very simple way’ a lot of his knowledge. Teaching to many of us from how to start a research until how to present the results to the growers in the U.S. and how to implement those in the day to day business. We all learned new techniques from him. New systems and new applications to the existing one where growers in the U.S. did have money savings, less complex systems and the registrations of all the information gained while these techniques were implemented. Royal is a great friend and has always support everybody around him and I am not the exception. I would like to share two of the sayings Royal has that I use also in my life: ‘The worst enemy of excellence is good enough;’ and ‘In God I trust, the rest bring data.’” – Estuardo Arriaga, Plantas Ilimitadas SA, Guatemala
“Dr. Heins’ role in lowering fertilizer on plants, not adding starter charge in the soil, no pinch mums, direct stick/final space plants, full sun propagation, the use of Florel/B9, and wood substrates are just a few practices that have been an important change in the way we grow. He has also created a great banter between other growers that are growing the same products, and oftentimes for the same customers. I have learned that these lifetime connections are priceless within our industry. I am forever grateful of his advice, mentorship, and friendship.” – Chad Cagle, Color Point, KY
“Royal has been the definitive resource bridging academia and commercial production. Through his tenure from university research, commercial stock production, and technical advisor, it is a rarity that Royal has not seen, not documented, or has a recommendation to the many issues we may face in producing plants pest and disease free, on time, and of good quality. Whether it is temperature, light, fertility, media, or plant growth regulators, Royal has a candid way of adapting to his audience to walk through the topic methodically resulting in a clear answer or recommendation. Royal’s impact in the arenas of research, growers, and the industry has been a spectacle and those of us who have had the privilege to work with and know him will always be grateful for his wisdom, insight, and passion to help others in their pursuit in the cultivation of plants.” – Tom Costamagna, American Color, VA
“Royal’s ability to communicate to all levels of growers in a way they understand make his visits beneficial for all. His mantra “show me the data” has made us all better at what we do. The standard of excellence he used in all his work instilled in us a desire to finish that perfect plant. He is a solid person, friend, and a great mentor.” – Leroy De Vries, Henry Mast Greenhouses, MI
“Royal Heins is a relentless force focused on continually challenging himself and those around him to critically think of new and different techniques to grow plants. A 30 minute conversation with Royal never fails to generate a new series of questions and experiments that can be done to answer those questions. Royal poured his soul into the students that worked for him. Always teaching, always questioning, always learning.” – Dr. Jim Faust, Clemson University
“Royal Heins provided me with an opportunity to travel from New Zealand to the U.S., and introduced me to the wonderful industry of floriculture. This changed my life, and I met my wife Rosanna at grad school at MSU when she also came here from Peru to study. He also instilled in me and my fellow MSU students a science culture that we are very proud of and have carried on in our own careers. Some of these tenets are (a) our job as horticulture scientists is to use research to solve problems that are important to growers, (b) to always deliver value to our industry partners and have some new information each time you visit a grower, (c) work with the best cutting-edge growers because we learn from them, (d) take an innovative approach to everything we do, (e) maintain excellence and expect it of others, and (f) our greatest legacy is in the students and growers we develop and help.” -Dr. Paul Fisher, University of Florida
“Royal Heins has raised the level of excellence in research by working to quantify the relationships between plant growth and the associated physiology, and then work to apply it in real work production settings. He has come up with original ideas through research, not by accumulating information from existing sources. He has shared this vision with his graduate students how carry on this legacy today. He has helped significantly improve quality, reduce costs and all associated other efficiencies. He is an unassuming gentleman that genuinely loves what he does and cares about the people that he deals with. In all my years in the industry and my over 35 years of association with him, I have never heard anyone say a negative word about Royal.” – Brian Gold, Pineae Greenhouses, UT
“I consider Dr. Heins to be a fantastic mentor. He is so knowledgeable about the science of horticulture yet able to relate to the real world of greenhouse business. He has helped me develop as a grower to focus on reliable production of crops. He has helped us take a crop and create a program that will result in predictability of growth and timing. It also should be said – his photo library is absolutely impressive. If there is a plant or a problem, let him run it through his photo library filter, and he probably has a picture of it from somewhere! Dr. Heins is definitely a scientist who has vast stores of knowledge, but he is always willing to teach and better other individuals in a down-to-earth manner.” – Julie Iferd, Catoctin Mountain Growers, MD
“Royal Heins is a wealth of information and brings new ideas to the table each time he visits our operation. He has been a key ingredient to the success of our business. We always look forward to his visits. He motivates and inspires us to improve. I enjoy his friendship and appreciate all the help he has given us over the years.” – Mark Richins, Pineae Greenhouses, UT
“Royal Heins and his graduate students generated unbiased, research-based information that helped growers reach their production goals. Outcomes had immediate application for a broad range of growers, especially large commercial growers of ornamentals. Examples include producing plants with fewer growth retardants, managing stock plants better for cutting propagation, increasing success of propagating plants (higher quality with less shrinkage), producing crops in flower for particular market dates (complete, rapid, and uniform flowering of a crop), and increasing the quality of floriculture crops, such as by increasing flower count. Royal instilled the importance of generating data and then making interpretations and decisions based on that data. He also emphasized the importance of controlling and monitoring environmental conditions to ensure that responses under a treatment were not confounded by another environmental or cultural factor. His relentless work ethic made his students want to work even harder. As a result, the skills and expertise I gained as his graduate student enabled me to obtain my academic position, obtain tenure, and be promoted to professor.” – Dr. Erik Runkle, Michigan State University
“Royal Heins’ contributions have helped Metrolina Greenhouses’ team and me personally to grow and develop as a premier supplier with superb and consistent quality across the annual and perennial sides. His innovative thinking, quick to react and execute manner, and the way he is always looking for new and better ways to master the art of growing made him a valuable member of our Metrolina family. In my journey to become a better grower and a leader in the profession, I have used his advice and guidance many times, and I can say with pride that over the last 15 years, and I hope many more, I have learned and applied a great deal of his knowledge and vision into our day-to-day routines. Scheduling, media, and fertilization regimes are the three that are worth mentioning. What I value the most is Royal’s pattern of thinking: What are the outcomes of a trial and how to put data together to be useful to our growing team now and for the years to come.” – Ivan Tchakarov, Metrolina Greenhouses, NC
“Royal’s attention to detail and the information that he has cataloged over the years is invaluable. I don’t think we have ever had a question that he didn’t have a picture, spreadsheet or article about. Royal has helped us to stay focused as we made changes to media, fertilizer, and chemicals used to grow crops. As we made the transitions in each of these areas, he would follow up on progress during visits and continue to push us forward. When Ed Van Hoven (American Color), Estuardo Arriaga (Plantas Ilimitadas), and I started a hydroponic tomato greenhouse in Guatemala to support Mission projects with National Pastors, Royal was right there alongside of us, giving us advice and bringing people in who had expertise producing tomatoes. His help and partnership in this project allowed us to support multiple mission projects for several years.” – Ron van der Hengst, South Central Growers, TN
“Royal has been involved in so many things. He has helped me and the growers at Battlefield Farms, and my colleagues at other greenhouses, be better growers. Did you know he just finished scanning more than 1,800 reports/articles that were lost or not digitized? It’s really amazing that he wanted to make sure that this information did not get lost!” – Marc Verdel, Battlefield Farms, VA
“Probably his greatest accomplishment was the quality students that came out of Dr. Heins’ program. They are leaders in horticultural research and have kept floriculture research going during times where many programs were being eliminated. His legacy is now in his academic ‘grandchildren,’ students of his students who are leaders in the industry. The hundreds of his undergraduate students who were forced to learn what a mole of light is became better prepared to be growers and grower managers. Dr. Heins has worked as a consultant for Metrolina for the past 11 years. His monthly visits have helped Metrolina become the successful company it now is. His ability to make observations at other growers and combine that with his years of research knowledge often results in best practices that are used throughout the industry. His enthusiasm for plant growing is always contagious and his ability to explain complicated processes always amazes me. Personally, Dr. Heins has been a role model in my career and has helped me be a better researcher and crop advisor.” – Dr. Mark Yelanich, Metrolina Greenhouses, NC