Professional development is paramount for creating a workforce that is competent, forward-thinking and capable of meeting the changing demands of the nursery industry. Research shows that individuals who access continued professional development are more engaged and committed to meeting the challenges of working at a dynamic organization. When supported by the employer, young professionals are more likely to be loyal and apply all their newly developed skills and knowledge to the success of the company they work for.
Cultivating an environment of continued professional development comes in many forms, including active membership in industry-related associations. The International Plant Propagators Society (IPPS) is an association of plant production professionals providing a forum for sharing knowledge with the aim to improve the professionalism and skills of its more than 1,600 worldwide members. True to its mission, to seek and share plant knowledge globally, the IPPS exchange program is a unique opportunity offered to members 35 years old and younger. This collaboration between the IPPS European Region and Southern Region occurs yearly and involves travelling to Europe to attend the annual meeting and tour nurseries and gardens. The IPPS Southern Region provides $2,000 for travel expenses. The exchange delegate represents the Southern Region by giving a presentation at the European meeting. Participants will also give a presentation at the southern region annual meeting the following year to share the experience with the membership.
As a recipient of the exchange in 2014, I had the opportunity to visit nurseries and gardens throughout Denmark and Sweden. This Scandinavian experience provided me a unique perspective into the global business of horticulture. The meeting revolved around the theme “The Digital Nursery,” and the presentations provided many insights into the opportunities and challenges we face as plant producers in a time of rapidly changing technology. The tours included visits to innovative floriculture production greenhouses with automated transplanters and high spectrum lighting at Gartneriet PKM, the world’s largest producer of campanula. New plant varieties in an extensive trial garden at Gasa Young Plants gave insights to the future of the global perennial marketplace, and organic fruit production was the focus at Aqua Vitae Sydfyn, a Danish schnapps distillery. Touring the bio-dynamic farm at Kiselgården was a favorite stop of mine. This family-run operation has a holistic approach to growing edibles. Their produce is sold through a CSA and to exclusive, world renowned Michelin-starred restaurants like Noma and Geranium. The exchange tour is a professional experience that I reflect on frequently, and I strongly encourage all young professionals to consider this opportunity.
In 2016 I had the pleasure of hosting the IPPS European Region delegate, Lance Russell from Fleurie Nursery in southwest England. During his two-week stay we toured 25 horticulture facilities with leading professionals such as Dr. Tom Ranney of the North Carolina State University Mountain Research Crops Station and Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery. We spent time at the JC Raulston Arboretum and learned of the diversity of ornamental grasses at Hoffman Nursery. This was an enriching experience for both Lance and me as we discussed the differences and similarities of the American and British green industries.
During this 1,600-mile journey, I developed a greater appreciation for all that the nursery industry offers. As horticultural production continues to diversify globally, I am grateful to have the network of IPPS members to learn from.
The international exchange program is an ideal platform for continued professional development. IPPS offers valuable resources for its membership to develop their careers with collaborative influences including planting strategies that fulfill ecological needs, food production and urban infrastructure. We all have so much to learn from enterprises around the globe to make our own businesses more efficient and successful. To learn more, visit http://sna.ipps.org.
Brie Arthur is a green industry communicator, IPPS Southern Region board member and author of The Foodscape Revolution; www.briegrows.com.
Features - Grower of the Year
Steve Black of Raemelton Farm possesses a fearless drive to implement unconventional production practices.
Undaunted by words like experimental or uncharted, Steve Black, founder of Raemelton Farm, boldly executes innovative systems at his B&B nursery in Adamstown, Md.
From the road, it may look like a typical nursery, but it’s the antithesis of ordinary. There are trees lined up in rows, tractors parked on site, crew members pruning or scouting – the classic nursery scene. But on closer inspection, the farm is home to several leading-edge procedures, especially Black’s latest endeavor.
In early 2016, he introduced to the market USDA certified organic B&B, landscape-ready trees – a first for the industry.
“Consumers are increasingly interested in how the things they buy are produced,” Black says. “Amazon Prime has a service that tells you what aquifer the water in your baby wipes comes from. Plant production has been behind the black curtain. But now consumers want to know about pollinator protection and water conservation. This all fed into the idea to produce a tree in an incredibly sustainable way.”
He chose the USDA organic certification because it’s recognizable and it’s a confirmation of the steps he’s taking in production.
“If you don’t have a third-party verification, it’s just a statement,” he says.
Black dedicated about 3 acres of his 100-acre nursery to organic production, with another 1½ acres currently in transition. And Black is ready to add more organic production once it transitions from a niche market.
The market speaks
The reception has been positive overall – a large amount of enthusiasm mixed with a few furrowed brows.
“My senior staff were all for it. They’re 20-something and 30-something. Millennials get it right off the bat,” he says.
Black and his team have targeted their marketing efforts for the organic trees to landscape architects, landscape contractors and IGCs.
“Landscapers have that one customer set who would jump at this product. Contractors who offer organic lawn management programs have been a good target. And consumers are going into independent garden centers and asking, ‘Where are your organic products,’ and they’re not only talking about edibles,” he says.
An organic red maple or an organic redbud must look exactly like the one grown conventionally. There can’t be any aesthetic sacrifices, Black says.
“I’m really happy with the product we’ve produced in the organic fields,” he adds. “You won’t find any ‘Charlie Brown’ trees in those fields.”
Montgomery County, Maryland – where the use of pesticides and herbicides have been banned in residential settings – presents an excellent market opportunity for the nursery’s organic products, says Angela Burke, sales and marketing manager at Raemelton.
“A customer from that county was happy to hear they could get a tree that, from the onset, was produced organically,” she recalls.
It’s a new way of thinking for much of the supply chain, Black admits. But it’s not a new idea for Black and his team. They’ve been using many of the practices required for organic production for years, such as using cover crops and compost, or having an integrated pest management program. Taking the few extra steps to become certified organic wasn’t difficult, he says. The nursery instituted some additional record keeping – there’s a lot of paperwork involved with organic production – and worked in a few more required production practices.
The production process
Multiple steps must be taken before the land can be used for organic production. Once those requirements are met, fields must be managed organically for three years before they’re certified, and the plants growing in that field must be managed organically for 1 year before certification. At that point, a USDA certified organic label may be used. The nursery will renew its certification annually.
The certified organic program requires growers to look for organic seed or liners, but if they’re unavailable, non-organic liners are permissible.
“I have to make sure I can’t find a Red Sunset organic liner, I have to do a search for one each year, and I have to document that search as part of our inspection and certification, or recertification, process,” says Black.
Although organic production is most often associated with edibles, organic production of ornamentals is included in the national regulations. However, most research and extension work supports organic food production.
“We’re not growing corn and soybeans. We’re not an orchard. The things we’re doing as an organic B&B tree grower are slightly different, and it took some time to figure out what fits into the letter and spirit of organic production and certification requirements,” he says. “Crop rotation is a tick box for organic production. I can’t do annual crop rotation as a tree nursery, but I can rotate cover crops in the tree rows.”
Weed control is one of the toughest parts to tackle in organic production, he says.
“In conventional production, if you see some pigweed, you can make a note to spray some Roundup a week or two later. But most organic weed control products are only effective when weeds are very small. You have to spray the weed when the seed is turning green or just germinating, and you have to know when that’s happening. Lawn people look at soil temperatures to see when crabgrass is emerging, and we can use that data stream.”
In organic vineyards and orchards, farmers often use tillage to help combat weeds, but that’s not an option in a B&B tree farm. Black uses a succession of cover crops such as daikon radish, crimson clover and forage radish which prevent most winter weeds to germinate, allowing the nursery to go into the spring without weed pressure.
There are some herbicides on the market approved for organic production with ingredients that include vinegar, an oil that’s derived from citrus peels and some long-chain fatty acids. Sodium chloride can be used as a spot spray on dandelion, if necessary.
“Because it’s a pest control application and because we’re using it in a commercial ag setting, I have to buy a special bag of herbicidal sodium chloride, and it’s much more expensive than a bag of Morton salt,” he explains.
And hand weeding is not an option because with any production, there’s got to be an economy of scale, he adds.
Black found that he and his crew aren’t spending more man hours in the organic field versus the conventional field, but they spend a lot more time thinking about the organic production and “just figuring out things.”
“We’re having to learn the germinating temperature for foxtail, or how thick a layer of compost is needed to kill that seed. There’s a lot of problem solving going on,” he says.
Nutrient management in organic production does not pose the same challenges as weed control. Compost makes up a big part of Black’s nutrient management program.
“It’s not hard to supply a woody plant’s nutrient needs with a top dressing of compost,” he says. “For every 1 percent organic content in your soil, you get 30-40 percent nitrogen.
The nursery receives horse manure and horse bedding from area farms at no cost to make compost.
“Compost gives you all the nutrients and micronutrients you need, plus you get all that biological activity that’s inoculating the tree rows with life,” Black says.
The crimson clover cover crops also help with nutrient management.
“If we get a good stand of crimson clover in the row, we get 90-100 pounds of nitrogen for the price of the clover seed,” he explains.
Black suspects the soil profile in the organic field has changed.
“In each organic field, the soil profile some 10 inches down is darker than in the conventional fields,” he says. “It will be a couple more years before we can take soil samples and show the trend line of what’s happening in the organic field versus the conventional field. But I think we’ve changed the nature of that soil for the better.”
Pest and disease management has been the easiest to implement, simply by proper variety choice. For instance, Black grows Freedom and Liberty eating apples, which are extremely resistant to foliar and fruit diseases found on other varieties.
“We stay away from amelanchier in the organic fields because it tends to get a lot of foliar disease,” he says.
Black also found a way to decrease pest pressure in the organic field by reducing the monocrop nature of the standard nursery block. For instance, instead of planting rows and rows of eating apples, he’ll alternate by planting a tart cherry next to an apple. He does the same with shade trees, planting a red maple next to an oak.
“We still see potato leaf hoppers on red maples, but not as many,” he says. “My crews that plant the field that way call it ‘campo loco,’ or ‘the crazy field.’”
While Black and his team may have to spend more time planning and thinking about the organic production processes, he’s able to charge about 30 percent more for the product.
“The 30-percent price bump for our organic trees is about the same as what the market supports for organic fruits and vegetables,” he says. “I get to charge more, the landscaper gets to charge more, and the IGC gets to charge more.”
Kermit called it more than 30 years ago. In his song, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” he came to appreciate that being green is a beautiful way to be.
It's not that easy being green;
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold-
or something much more colorful like that.
It's not easy being green.
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles
in the water- or stars in the sky.
But green's the color of spring.
And green can be cool and friendly-like.
And green can be big like the ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree.
When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder? Why wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful.
And I think it's what I want to be.
– Lyrics courtesy of MetroLyrics.com
The experts at Pantone agreed, picking “Greenery” as its 2017 Color of the Year. The company that touts itself as the global authority on color, calls Greenery a “fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when nature’s greens revive, restore and renew. Illustrative of flourishing foliage and the lushness of the great outdoors, the fortifying attributes of Greenery signals individuals to take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate.”
Keywords: spring, nature, foliage, great outdoors.
Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said in a released statement, “Satisfying our growing desire to rejuvenate, revitalize and unite, Greenery symbolizes the reconnection we seek with nature, one another and a larger purpose.”
A major marketing opportunity just landed at our feet. News regarding the color of the year is picked up by major lifestyle, design and home magazines, as well as most major newspapers and national television newscasts. Millions of people just heard a message about a color that is synonymous with our industry. Think of the marketing material and POP we could piggy back with this announcement. This is followed by last year’s picks, Serenity and Rose Quartz, which were inspired by a hydrangea. Let’s figure out a way to partner with these folks. This year, Pantone teamed up with Airbnb, whose Facebook page invites users to “live in a world surrounded by the Pantone #ColorOfTheYear2017 with these homes and experiences.” It’s brilliant marketing, and we can use this to our advantage.
Clicks and bricks
Features - Q&A // Online Sales
Amazon will likely change the way you sell plants through the supply chain. Industry consultant Sid Raisch helps guide you through the uncertainty.
It’s becoming increasingly simple to buy everything online, and although live plants have been a partial exception to this rule, that may be changing.
Online plant sales form a rapidly developing segment of the market, with retail giants like Amazon looking to deliver in-demand plant varieties to customers across the country. GIE Media’s Horticulture Group talked to Sid Raisch, CEO of online plant retailer Bower & Branch and industry consultant, about the current and expected direction of plant sales on the web as a business model.
Q: How would you describe the current state of online plant sales?
A: These are pioneer days for selling plants online as compared to selling say, books online. What that means to us is much different than what it meant to pioneers of the West. The acceleration of acceptance of buying online is underway and is on a steep trajectory as mainstream sellers are reaching mass media. The biggest trend of online buying is happening on mobile devices multiple times each day with food, and the adoption rate is growing faster than smart phone sales. People already have the device to buy online in the palm of their hand and now they have a reason to use it to buy practical stuff – like lunch at their favorite place and to pick it up or have it delivered. Try Dominos, Starbucks, Panera, McDonald’s and the list goes on and it’s growing fast. Yes, plants are different, but consumers who want to buy stuff online is not the problem.
Q: What are your thoughts on e-commerce giants like Amazon expanding into plant sales?
A: This is underway in a serious manner. They have a team working on signing up growers and brands and they’re doing it. The problem isn’t that they can’t deliver, or that people aren’t ready to buy. They need the sellers, and they’re working hard to sign them up. Many think they won’t succeed because plants are different. I get that, but once you understand how they think and how they work, the game changes. Amazon Services already bought one of the “Uber of” companies that mows lawns [companies that use a mobile app to send landscapers directly to users’ homes]. Amazon will be selling, delivering and planting every plant that can be sold to every buyer for it and it won’t take long. Amazon’s mission has always been to sell everything to everybody, including services and stuff that doesn’t ship. Amazon Local will be the platform where you buy merchandise and services from other local independent businesses from the Amazon website, which is picked up in the local store or delivered or installed by them or others. Amazon was never about the books – that was only the point of entry.
Q: What are the pros and cons of a wholesale grower using Amazon as a sales outlet?
A: We won’t know some of this until after it actually happens. I’ll cover what I see as the biggest opportunity and the biggest potential negative impact. Let’s start with the downside.
One of the problems we already have with growers who sell retail is that they sell too cheaply. While it seems logical that growers who retail would make more money, the numbers from our industry have never supported this. The attitude that the grower can charge more than wholesale and they can sell cheaper because they grow it does not play out well because there are additional costs of retail that have to be paid, and if you sell retail you deserve to make a profit on both the growing and the retailing. Otherwise the grower is cheating themselves, plus they are interfering with the retail market pricing. This has already been a plague on our industry and selling cheaper than retail on the internet will only exacerbate this. It is not cheaper to sell on the internet so much as it is more convenient for customers to buy from the internet. It is only cheaper when sellers fail to ask for a price that supports their business and unfortunately, just like with brick and mortar, too many sellers sell too cheaply on the internet just because they think they can.
On the positive side, more consumers will be able to access our industry’s products on their terms. Whether that product is on Amazon, Jet, Craig’s List, eBay, or direct from the retail growers’ website, if it is accessible when the consumer wants to buy and they can find out about it, more plants will be purchased. The way the consumer wants to buy is shifting rapidly. BOPUS (Buy Online Pick Up in Store) is becoming mainstream and a large percent of those orders are being placed after retail stores are closed for the day and before they open the next morning. It’s actually a very old concept moving from buying by phone and having something delivered, but now the internet can assist, making it easy with automated processes.
Q: Some independent garden centers are either already involved or are considering getting involved with online plant sales. How does this affect the horticulture supply chain?
A: The ability to sell stuff online has come down in cost, but the time required is more expensive. The local garden center with a website can sell online, but we feel strongly that they will need a larger network and greater capabilities to do it well and sustainably. And to keep current business going while investing and building online capability – it’s a crash course. That’s why we feel the Bower & Branch network is essential for both retailers and growers to thrive in the future and is the best opportunity to take back the 83 percent of plant sales that box stores have garnered. Fighting for the 17 percent that independents get is not the scale we can be satisfied with.
Q: Any final thoughts on where online plant retail is going?
A: Yes, fasten your seatbelts. Learn fast. Make lots of mistakes as fast as you can. Let go of the past mistakes, the wrong lessons that were learned, and quit resting in that bed of laurels of the past because they are turning to compost.
Zappos, the online shoe company, now owned by Amazon, is famous for attentive and thorough service. They are simply better at it than 99 percent of brick and mortar independent businesses in any category, and they’re getting better by using predictive analytics and artificial intelligence integrated with human systems. This is all doable and is becoming cost-effective and much more profitable. I believe brick and mortar retailing is a viable long-term strategy, but not by itself in many instances. The multiple front (omni-channel) opportunity means adding to that the clicks to bricks for in-store pickup, and online value-added “Uber of” types of services to deliver and install.
With Bower & Branch, we’re experimenting with extreme services to supplement those of member garden centers. Our online chat is used by both consumers and member garden retailers to assist in making choices and getting purchases made, delivered, installed – whatever it takes. We’ve done FaceTime walk-arounds with consumers to help them decide where to plant and what to plant. Those efforts don’t always scale up to a big operation, but we see that the market demands them and we’re aligning plans and resources to provide plants in the way consumers want to buy, with high levels of consumer engagement on a consistent basis.
Sid is a consulting service provider to The Garden Center Group and serves as President/CEO of Bower & Branch. He is a board member of AmericanHort and Come Alive Outside. Contact Sid at 937.302.0423 or email@example.com.
Conner Howard and Kelli Rodda contributed to this article.
The mastermind concept came from an admirer of industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Napoleon Hill described the idea in his 1937 book, “Think and Grow Rich,” but the mastermind plan adapts to many forms of business networking, not just entrepreneurs, as originally foreseen. The principles of a mastermind group can apply to any employee or workplace group aimed at continuous improvement and personal development.
A mastermind is a group of individuals devoted to mutual support, a sort of mentorship in the round, where each member plays both the role of mentor and mentee. The focus is on enabling the success of others, while in turn drawing on the resources of the group for oneself. As Hill saw the concept, he applied it to business owners who were otherwise on their own. This remains an effective application for broadening knowledge and experience horizons.
Applied to the workplace, the mastermind structure suits groups of supervisors or department heads, those facing similar challenges yet with differing circumstances. The philosophy of the mastermind suggests a new approach to group dynamics over traditional workplace units. However, for those devoted to gaining a competitive edge, membership in an effective mastermind provides a fast track to success.
What can I really expect to gain? This is the critical question – the “what’s in it for me” factor. While that might seem cynical, there really isn’t a point in being involved if you don’t feel you can gain from the experience. But the point on which many such groups falter is not the taking, but the giving. Before you look at how to invest in a mastermind, look at four distinct takeaways an effective alliance can offer.
1. Community: The most effective masterminds bring together people with both like and unlike backgrounds. Each member is after increased success, but comes from a different industry. That’s the model behind the typical business club mastermind. The group is connected by a desire to progress, but not undermined by direct competition. The key factor is a new and diverse community that wouldn’t exist otherwise. It’s a community of intent, not chance, with members invited in for the strengths they can offer as much as for the benefits they can receive.
2. Collaboration: Being the captain of a small business can be a lonely position. It’s all on you. If you’re an entrepreneur by nature, you’ll relish that feeling most of the time, but humans are social creatures, so there are times you don’t want to be the lone wolf. Managers and supervisors face similar isolation. When everyone is looking to you to run the show with confidence and authority, to whom do you turn to express doubt or bounce ideas? When you can’t show weakness before clients and staff, a mastermind collective presents a safe sounding board for expressing concerns, doubts and options, while providing input, feedback and advice.
3. Consolidation: Networking is generally accepted as a key to business growth, yet processes required from typical networking opportunities are often uncomfortable and consequently many of us don’t do them well. It’s the “first date” syndrome – there’s not enough time to relax and be yourself. A mastermind alliance checks that in a couple ways. Everyone is there by strategic invitation, and everyone around you is interested in your success as well as their own, for the good of the mastermind group. Opportunities to build effective cross-promotions don’t have to develop on the fly. When you connect with a network partner on a deeper level, you’re closer to their network now too, in a way a business card exchange just can’t match.
4. Continued motivation: Inspiration and motivation may be the two biggest takeaways a mastermind has to offer. There are probably other sources for the new information you’re learning through your mastermind group. Consider the mastermind concept itself came from Hill’s book. But to get really excited about an idea, direction or plan that’s then reinforced a week later at the next meeting of your alliance, that is something so intangible yet so essential to your personal and business growth. Think of it as an inspirational pep pill, keeping you nourished, nurtured and invigorated on a regular basis.
No matter if you are joining or starting your own group, whether you succeed or fail, there is experience to be gained and lessons to absorb. Each mastermind can be enriching, even if it’s not what you were expecting or doesn’t achieve what you want. Part of the process that’s most valuable is that you’re opening yourself up as a person, to other people and other experiences. Ultimately, while a mastermind is a group experience, you will find the rewards are deeply personal.
Elizabeth McCormick is a keynote speaker, author, and authority on leadership. A former U.S. Army Black Hawk pilot, she is the author of “The P.I.L.O.T. Method; the 5 Elemental Truths to Leading Yourself in Life.” www.YourInspirationalSpeaker.com