What’s the Future for Plant Propagation?
If you think the nursery industry has problems you’re not wrong - but 48 years in this industry has taught me that having problems is normal. Everything is constantly changing: new discoveries, new ways of approaching problems, changes to the environment, even economics - all drive that change and impact on what we propagate and the methods we use.
Advances in science i.e. tissue and cell culture driven by the advances in molecular genetic techniques (gene sequencing), new hormonal discoveries, new technology and equipment, a better approach to how we use natural resources (such as water) and alternative ways to power our production facilities, have already changed our approach and will continue to do so - as even newer technologies and discoveries emerge. How we develop our businesses, how we find our way into our industry, how we educate new entrants will also continue to change and impact on the industry.
The most important aspect though is how we keep up with these changes. The one thing that is different today, compared to 48 years ago, is that change is much, much faster; and for many the speed of change is very unsettling, and even disruptive. The internet and other technologies, along with better access to information, have not only changed how we work, but are continuing to change how we work. Realistically you only have two options into the future: either embrace change and adapt and use it to your advantage or reject change and be overwhelmed and fail.
The nursery industry, and horticulture more widely, will continue to prosper and will be more significant than ever. Mankind will never stop needing to propagate and grow plants. Plants are essential to supply us with food, shelter, medicines and most of our daily needs. They are the most important tool we have for managing environmental issues such as land degradation and climate change. The laws of economics are very clear: that whenever there is demand, supply will rise to fill that demand.
The thing which is uncertain is how many of the existing industry players (individuals and organisations), will adapt and fulfill future needs and how many will be replaced by new players. Currently, too many are trying to hold onto redundant ways of operating, rather than inventing new, more relevant solutions.
I hear colleagues express concern that young people are not entering horticulture because it doesn’t pay well. Then I encounter entrepreneurial, enthusiastic young people who have found sometimes obscure pathways into very well paid horticultural careers. I hear complaints that TAFE enrolments are dropping, but I’m also aware of several private colleges, outside of the mainstream, who have double figure annual growth in horticultural enrolments.
Many are worried that garden centres are in decline because of chains like Bunnings, that the advent of Amazon will destroy retailing in Australia and that the internet has all but destroyed horticultural publishing. All of these things no doubt impact the industry, but there are more plants and garden products selling today than ever before and there are certainly more gardening publications on our newsstands than when my career began.
I hear colleagues complain about the lack of government funding. Many have an expectation that the solution to the issues plaguing the industry is more funding from government. In an age where social welfare, security, health and defence costs are constantly expanding, it’s unrealistic to expect government handouts to solve problems. There are other solutions. Some people are finding them and making a lot of money doing so. Others continue to pine for a return to the past. Horticulture is big business - the only question is whether you are going to lead the changes to come, or be destroyed by them.
If we want our industry to function better, we need to work together. Our industry and professional bodies need to be more harmonious - rather than competing among themselves. There is no single peak body. Above all though, future success depends upon the individuals who embrace change and find ways to use change to their benefit.
In conclusion, a very good point was made in a recent lecture I attended by the head of the New York City Parks Department. He suggested that the way to convince the public and the politicians to support parks is simple. You appeal to the things that are important to them, instead of the things that are important to the parks department.
If we want to grow our industry and sell it to the public and the politicians, we need to show them why plants and nurseries are important to them and stop focusing on issues that are important to us.
By John Mason Principal ACS Distance Education, Member IPPS; Board Member Australian Garden Council December 2017