Highlights from Cultivate’17

Highlights from Cultivate’17

With more than 100 educational sessions and tours, 700 exhibitors and New Variety and Product Zones, it’s difficult to see everything there is to offer at the July trade show in Columbus, Ohio. Editors from the GIE Media Horticulture Group made the rounds, and share their takeaways below.


Pre-show tours: Before the show floor opened, educational sessions and bus tours to growers, retailers and nurseries were available on Saturday. Find out what attendees saw during some the tours here and here.

Timbuk Farms showcased a new offering that sparked conversation among the tour group: painted succulents.
John Gibson, who owns Timbuk, said his business added painted poinsettias and is developing a line of succulents in the hopes of creating year-round, consistent sales. As he put it, Timbuk doesn’t expect to sell all of its succulents at once - but it does hope to sell them throughout the year. 

Some attendees openly said they were not fans of the painted succulents. But the discussion highlighted an important question currently facing the industry: will growers embracing some non-traditional offerings hook new customers? And will potentially successful practices become widely embraced by growers?
All aboard the energy bus: Sunday morning was energized by Jon Gordon’s keynote presentation about the power of positive leadership. Gordon, who admits he’s not a naturally positive person, told attendees that it’s possible to learn how to lead with positivity. Here are a few takeaways from his presentation: 
  • Focus on the root, not the fruit. Gordon said that if you think of your company like a plant, the fruit is things like profits, while the roots are the people and culture. He told the audience to remember to nurture the roots so that the plant grows strong. 
  • Don’t seek happiness; seek passion and purpose. Gordon said that happiness is a byproduct of passion and purpose, not something to chase. If you’ve lost your passion and purpose, get back to it, he advised. 
  • Be connected to be more committed. Take the time to interact with employees and colleagues to foster deeper connections, which in turn will lead both parties to feel a stronger sense of commitment to the company and each other. 
  • You can’t be both thankful and stressed. In today’s busy, seemingly nonstop world, people are busier and more stressed than ever. Gordon recommended taking a step back and counting your blessings -- it’s nearly impossible to complain while you’re being thankful.
  • Be positive about negativity. While it may seem counterintuitive, great leaders continue to lead with positivity and determination, even through the toughest times. Life is a series of sprints and a boxing match, Gordon said, and much of a leader’s success is due to his ability to keep running and stay positive.

At the end of his presentation, Gordon challenged each member of the audience to choose one word they would embrace for the rest of 2017, such as “serve” or “purpose,” and focus on living out that word. What word would you choose?

Jon Gordon, author of "The Energy Bus," gave a keynote address at Cultivate'17 on the importance of positive leadership.

See a video with more takeaways here.

Garden Media Group unveils 2018 trends - In a workshop session at Cultivate'17, GMG leaders discussed influential practices such as gardening for mental wellness, "flexitarian" food growing and more. (Click the link to read the full article.)

Also watch: 2018 Garden Trends announced at Cultivate’17 [video] - Suzi McCoy and Katie Dubow of Garden Media Group explain why the benefits of gardening on mental health and wellness is the major focus of the 2018 Garden Trends Report.

Looking ahead: GE petunias and what it means for the industry: Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president of industry advocacy and research with AmericanHort, provided an overview and an update on what he called the both surprising and challenging genetically engineered petunias situation during an informal presentation on the show floor. 

As many are aware, it all began in April when a Finnish researcher became suspicious about the origins of an orange petunia. After investigating the plant, it was discovered that there was foreign DNA from maize in the plant, which gave it its unusual orange color. That prompted breeders from multiple companies, who were unaware they were working with foreign germplasm, to test their genetics, as well as an investigation by the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Biotechnology Regulatory Services (USDA-APHIS-BRS,) which regulates genetically engineered products in the U.S. As of the most recent USDA update June 28, there are now 50 confirmed and 9 suspect petunias and in colors other than orange from multiple breeding companies.

Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president with AmericanHort

Regelbrugge lamented the “painful economic losses” in the industry, but noted that despite the terrible timing and drama -- the USDA guidance came out just before Mother’s Day weekend -- retailers were not affected and consumers for the most part were unfazed by the GE plants. AmericanHort’s immediate focus was to work with the USDA and the American Seed Trade Association on testing guidance, and Regelbrugge says it is also working to ensure that this does not impede plant shipments. 

He said although it is still unknown how the foreign germplasm, which originated from experiments at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in the 1980s, got into commercial breeding programs, the important message is that the GE petunias pose no risk to humans, animals or the environment. He said although he is “agnostic” on whether GMO is bad or good, he is hopeful that breeders and the USDA could work together to streamline and simplify the regulatory process to prevent this unprecedented situation, and the “loss of good genetics,” from happening in the future. 

A new home for New Varieties Zone: Find out more about the plants displayed in this section in this video from the show floor. (Click the link to watch the video.)

2017 HILA class honored - Six exceptional greenhouse and nursery leaders were welcomed into the Horticultural Industries Leadership Awards (HILA) Class of 2017. (Click the link to read the full article.)

The 2017 Horticultural Industries Leadership Awards Class of 2017. Photo by Kimberly Rottmayer.

Monday Keynote, State of the industry, and a very special attendee: Ken Fisher, CEO of AmericanHort, discussed AmericanHort’s role in the industry and some key initiatives for the association during Monday morning’s keynote address. He noted some of AmericanHort’s goals, which include working to get more financial resources for horticulture companies to help the industry grow, workforce development and their collaboration with the FFA, and bringing the industry together to improve the overall structure. 

Regelbrugge also addressed the large crowd, but first welcomed industry icon Ernest Wertheim, who has had a 75-year career in the horticulture industry and attended Cultivate’17. He received a warm standing ovation from attendees. I think we speak for everyone who knows him in the industry that we were happy to see him there. Regelbrugge prefaced his address by first talking about the difference between politics and policy, and what the 2016 election means for the industry. “We are in an age of disruption,” he said, comparing the election of Donald Trump as president to the rise of Uber, the ride-share app that has rattled taxi cab companies and drivers. He suggested some reasons why the climate was right for an election of a nontraditional politician, including the fact that leaders have broken promises, and instead of informing and offering multiple viewpoints, news affirms whatever opinions audiences already had. Some other key points from his presentation include: 

  • It’s a difficult climate to get anything done right now on behalf of the industry; regulations are being rolled back but appointments are happening slowly and the distraction factor is high.
  • The next Farm Bill is expected in 2018, and Regelbrugge wants specialty crops to have a seat at the table when it’s being drafted. This representation could make for better research and advocacy.
  • Rumor is that the Floriculture & Nursery Research Initiative will get a funding cut from Trump.
  • He announced an industry-specific tax webinar planned for Aug. 9 (info at www.americanhort.org/webinars)
  • He hopes to keep representing horticulture in Washington with integrity, knowledge and passion. “It’s about policy, not politics,” he said.

Dr. Charlie Hall’s Take on the State of the Industry: The Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University provided an overview of his outlook for growers and retailers, and based on several economic indicators, research and other factors, the current state and future of the industry look good. Here are a few highlights from his presentation:

  • Don’t rely on the media for economic news, as they tend to sensationalize and distort the facts.
  • Shared a few stats: Job growth is slowing, but consumer confidence is holding. Fuel prices remain low, but
  • household debt is at all-time high. International forecast improving.
  • What’s our future growth going to look like? It depends on “MAGAnomics” - Trump’s plan for economic growth. Reducing regulations, lowering taxes and cutting “wasteful” spending will ideally lead to increasing investments.
  • For more growth, we need more workers to increase productivity. “Instead of building a wall, we need charter buses,” Hall said. 
  • He encouraged the industry to make the most of the recovery time we’re seeing. The next recession isn’t too far off (predicts it will be some time between now and 2023), so “between now and next year, put the pedal to the metal."

Also watch a video interview with Charlie Hall during Cultivate’17.

Women in Horticulture: 13 women who hold various roles within the horticulture industry participated in the Cultivate’17 panel discussion “Making Strides: Women in Horticulture.” Among the main topics of discussion were:
  • The unique roles of women in the industry. Suzi McCoy, president of Garden Media Group, says the end consumer often fits into the demographic of 45- to 65-year-old women. “We know what we’re looking for, we know what women want, we know what we’re all about,” she says. “Women bring to the table what the companies need to provide products and services and the plants to fill those needs of the customer.” Although she recognizes that the end consumer is often women, Marta Maria Garcia, marketing director at Costa Farms in Miami, reminds her fellow panelists that business-to-business professionals in the industry need to remember that they are often still dealing with men. “I think that if you just commit, and you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you can sell anything to anybody,” she says.
  • The gender wage gap. Anne Leventry, president of PanAmerican Seed, began her career at Ball Horticultural in human resources. Having a background in HR, she has seen that men often start new jobs receiving higher pay than their female counterparts, and then continue to get paid more throughout their time at a company. “The most important time to negotiate anything related to your salary is when you take the job the first time,” she says. The wage gap is not only present in horticulture businesses, but in academia as well, says Dr. Bridget Behe, professor of horticulture marketing at Michigan State University. “In academia, our salaries are a matter of public record, and it is a fact that women in academia earn less than their male counterparts,” she says.
  • Why there aren’t more women-owned businesses? Barbara Jeffery, president of Jeffery’s Greenhouses in Ontario, Canada, makes the observation that, with family-run businesses, there is often a tradition that the oldest son takes over. “Quite frankly, I can think of a couple [examples],” she says. “Even my father, George Jeffery & Son Greenhouses — that was one of our names at one time.”

Generally, men dominate the business world, McCoy says, but she notes that the cannabis industry is seeing an influx of women business owners. “I think that things have changed now,” she says. “I think there are opportunities for women to own their own business. There are opportunities for women to do anything we want.”

What drives Millennials to the industry: Mark Sellew, president at Prides Corner Farms in Lebanon, Conn., interviewed 20 Millennials who work at the nursery to get a feel for what motivates them. Here are some of the main lessons he learned:

  • Millennial employees at Prides Corner enjoy working in a “family business culture,” in which they help each other as part of a team. Pride Corner’s team includes managers, whom Sellew encourages to regularly acknowledge and interact with employees, as well as employees who speak various languages and hail from diverse cultures.
  • Millennials want their managers to get to know them as people and understand their interests outside of the workplace. “This is a wise one I heard from a young woman: ‘Ask questions of me so I can question myself,’” Sellew recalls. “Wow. That was cool.”
  • The respondents at Prides Corner wanted to be challenged, and never bored. Many of them requested new challenges and to grow each day. Contrary to many Baby Boomer’s and Generation X’s beliefs concerning Millennials, Sellew says, those at Prides Corner want to have the freedom to create their own solutions to problems.
Finding laborAmericanHort's Craig Regelbrugge addressed concerns about labor shortages and answered questions about the H-2A program. (Click the link to read the full article.)
 Vertical farming is still finding its place in the horticulture world. During a presentation from vertical farming consultant Henry Gordon-Smith, attendees learned that the field is less than a decade old and that it is still in the process of widely being embraced.
Gordon Smith, though, added that some vertical farming companies are receiving investments worth millions of dollars that are pressuring companies to be successful now. So far, that has yielded mixed results. Additionally, major cities in the U.S. - including Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles - are embracing urban agriculture while trying incorporate local food into the city’s DNA. So, while the technology and business still has growing pains to grow through,.there are people trying to make it work right now.
Find more information in this video.