A few months ago, June to be exact, Cornell University sent
a call to the industry — a call to deal with one of our most pressing
issues — a call to discuss profitability.
Approximately 100 growers, academics and allied
manufacturers responded to the call, including yours truly, and sequestered
themselves in a small lecture hall for two and one half days to examine where
our profitability problems came from and what we can do about them. It was a
difficult meeting for me, and I’ve been thinking about it for the past
four months, which is why I’m only now covering it in GPN.
You see, there was a lot of potential in that room —
so many “thinkers,” so much hope, such high expectations. We all
wanted to hear tangible suggestions, to devise a plan, to get some answers that
would “fix” our industry. But the answers never came.
The Seeley Conference, held on Cornell’s Ithaca, N.Y.,
campus, was established in 1986 in honor of Dr. John G. Seeley after his
retirement from Cornell. According to its published philosophy statement, the
annual conference is “intended to promote discussion of issues important
to the future of commercial floriculture…The program is intended to
analyze the latest developments, provoke conversation concerning the underlying
issues and significance to an extent not usually achieved, and thereby,
stimulate advanced thinking…The expected outcome of the Conference is to
have the attendees better prepared to make decisions on issues that have great
impact on their business and/or the industry as a whole.” Past topics
have included “Floriculture’s Changing Business Structure: What
Lies Ahead in the 90s,” “How Consumer Behavior Drives
Floriculture” and “Keeping the Family in Floriculture.”
Since the Seeley Conference is known as a think-tank
involving many of the country’s largest growers, I was excited to attend
my first Seeley Conference — “Floriculture’s Profit and
Market Crisis: Charting a New Course” — and more excited about the
topic. Frequent readers of my column know that I often crawl up on the soapbox
of profitability to rail against anyone standing on the other side, so I was
anxious to hear the views of some of the leading growers in our industry.
At a “normal” industry tradeshow or conference,
success is measured by the number of orders received or the amount of
applicable pointers collected, but not at the Seeley. It’s not that
immediate. Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not bashing the Seeley
Conference. I’ll be first in line next year to pay my registration fee.
So what’s the real value of the Seeley Conference? I
don’t think we can know, at least not yet. Building and maintaining
relationships is certainly a vital part of this small conference, where
attendance is capped at approximately 100 people. Immersing yourself in a
single topic certainly helps focus your own thoughts. And ample opportunity to
voice questions, producing an interactive experience that other conferences
only dream of, can’t be overlooked.
But I guess I see the real value of the Seeley as what we do
now. Those of us who attended the Conference and those of us who didn’t.
A crisis like profitability cannot be solved by a single industry leader or a
single, 3-day conference. This Conference was not meant to crown one person to
take the lead and save us all; it was meant to inspire every grower; every
trade magazine; every plastic, media and chemical manufacturer to become active
and fight against the problem that threatens the best part of our industry:
people, large, small or otherwise, making a decent living doing what they love.