INSIDE THE BOX — Vanishing Research
Before you turn the page and ignore this column take a couple of seconds to consider the following questions:
Where would your business be today if you did not have soilless mixes to use for growing purposes? Or better yet, you did not have the knowledge to use growth regulators to control and improve the products yougrow? Or maybe even had some of the basic production techniques that growers use today?
These are all things that we take for granted today. These are all areas that have come to the industry over the past 30 to 40 years that we might not have if it weren't for research.
I am not a researcher or a scientist but an individual involved in our industry who is very concerned about what is happening in the world of horticulture research. You as a grower or business owner need to become concerned as well.
So what am I talking about? Let's first take a look at the definition of research.
Research is the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. Synonymous with words like investigate, exploration, study, search and inquiry.
Focus on the words investigation and study. One additional casualty of the last four years of economic downturn in the United States is federal and state monies to fund university research. What funding that has been available for agriculture has gone towards projects related to food and fiber.
Just as with your business, the overhead cost for universities has continued to rise while funding for research has decreased. We have several horticulture university research centers reporting that they have had their budgets cut by more than 30 percent from where they were just two years ago.
Another challenge with university research has been the lack of staff to do the research. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has been around even a short period of time that college faculty members (professors of horticulture) are not being replaced as they retire or move to the private sector for employment. Pathologists and entomologists who have historically done work in our industry are now being directed to support the vegetable and other food segments of agriculture. With fewer researchers to do the work, less work is getting done.
The bottom line question I have for big growers is where will you get the needed information you need to make your production operation successful and profitable in the future?
A Commitment to Avoid a Crisis
During the recent Big Grower Executive Summit that took place in San Diego in February, we had the opportunity to talk with Ken and Deena Altman at Altman Plants regarding their feelings on this very subject.
The Altmans are extremely passionate about what is happening in our industry today. One of their major concerns is the state of horticulture research. To quote Ken, "the industry is in a crisis situation when it comes to research. We have incredible people at the universities who are doing great research. But many of them are getting to a certain age and are retiring or moving to private companies and the universities are not replacing them."
While at the conference I became very much aware of the challenges as we toured the Center for Applied Horticultural Research (CfAHR). The Center is "a non-profit organization with the purpose of addressing, through research, the practical issues the nursery and floriculture industry is facing."
The center has been developed and heavily funded by the Altmans along just a small handful of other companies. The research information generated by CfAHR is being made available to the industry at no cost. In my opinion the Altmans have made a serious commitment to address the problem.
How are other growers going to address the need they have for the most current cultural information possible? In doing some homework, I found there are several large growers who have made a decision to hire and bring in-house for their own private use, PHDs and other educated researchers. Be assured their research most likely will not be available to other growers.
Other growers are banding together to form small groups to support research programs. Production consultants are becoming more and more used as a conduit for up-to-date information.
Lastly, there are several large multi-faceted horticulture companies who are doing product-focused research and using the information as a part of a customer service strategy.
Do You Have a Strategy?
But what will you do? What will be your strategy to best serve your company and its needs?
I wanted to make sure you understand that there will continue to be university research being done by very qualified researchers. There just will not be as much as what our industry has been used to or will require as time goes by. You will not be able to depend on getting all the help you need when you need it and that should be concern for you and production teams.
It is time for all growers to seriously consider pledging monies to make sure that the research that the industry requires will be done. I also would suggest that you take a few minutes and do some of your own investigation into what is happening at the university research centers. It's scary and as member of the industry you need to become involved financially and vocally to draw attention to these issues. Here are just a few of the groups that you may want to consider getting involved with — the Center for Applied Horticultural Research; the Society of American Florists; the Center for Applied Nursery Research; OFA; American Nursery & Landscape Association; the Horticultural Research Institute; and the American Floral Endowment.
This is a just a small sampling of organizations. There are many others that you can and should check into but pick one and get behind the research projects.
Invest in your future now while you still can!