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What’s Inside: The Quest for a Suitable Source of Alternative Irrigation Water for the Green Industry
Building a Partnership with Customers4 Commoditizing a Customized Industry6 Initiative Looks to Ensure the Safety of Pollinators & the Agriculture Industry Picking the Finest Variety Connect: An AmericanHort Member Benefit
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The Quest for a Suitable Source of Alternative Irrigation Water for the Green Industry By Jill Calabro, Ph.D. Water is the most valuable resource we have. Everyone is familiar with the current crisis in California, where the severe drought continues. 2016 marks California’s fifth consecutive year of drought, which is not expected to end anytime soon. The problem, however, is bigger than just the State of California. With a warming climate, 80 percent of state water managers expect water shortages in some portion of their state over the next decade. Agriculture is a big sink for water use. The USDA estimates that agriculture accounts for approximately 80 percent of the consumptive water use, or water permanently removed from available supplies and no longer available, in the US. This figure rises to 90 percent in western states. In 2015, California enacted its first-ever restrictions on water usage for agricultural purposes in certain watersheds, and large farms will be required to report usage. As water supplies become more limited and expensive, there is concern in the green industry
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that agricultural water needs for edible crops will eclipse those of ornamental crops. While some agricultural areas were targeted for water restrictions in California, the focus, up to now, has largely been on urban areas. State officials specifically targeted reductions in the amount of water used for lawns and other landscape plants, citing that these uses account for the biggest share of residential water use. Golf courses were also singled out in California and mandated to use 25 percent less water (as compared with 2013 levels) or water only two times per week (as opposed to daily). With the threat of reduced accessibility to high-quality water drawing nigh and given the necessity of irrigation by all nursery and greenhouse operations at some point in production, the green industry must consider water-saving techniques. Innovative conservation strategies, improved irrigation systems, and alternatives are more important than ever. Pete House, former president of the New England
Nursery Association and current vice president of East Haven Landscape Products, commented that there is no single topic more important to nursery production than water. He added, “Most states regulate water in response to drought, and too many regulations are based on fear and not on fact. We need science and research on graywater to provide the facts. It’s better to be proactive.”
rain collection is far more common than using laundry water, but this is still considered a new technology to residents and landscape architects. The square footage to be irrigated, the plant type(s), stage of development, and water requirements, and the soil type are all important considerations. Choosing the right plant for the right place with the right soil is key. For example, bald cypress is a poor choice as a parking lot tree.” Cammarata has seen first-hand the potential downside of alternative irrigation sources in the form of nutrient load and pH, when an office park solely utilized municipal reclaimed water for the turf and landscape. “Over time, the soil chemistry and physical structure changed, and the plants suffered,” Cammarata reported. The nutrient load of graywater is one of the critical components that Dr. Cabrera is studying.
“Graywater is produced by almost everybody and, in most cases, is wasted. The safe and efficient use of graywater is of paramount concern. Dr. Cabrera’s research addresses these issues in the green industry.” Dr. Raul Cabrera, Rutgers University, is studying the use of alternative, low-quality water sources for landscape and nursery irrigation purposes. Specifically, he is looking at graywater, which is basically all household wastewater not generated from toilets (which is blackwater). Another potential wastewater source is municipal reclaimed water, or former sewage minus the solids. US households generate an average 21 gallons of graywater per capita per day. About 36 percent of this, or 7.6 gallons per capita per day, is from laundry water, which typically ends up in the sewer system. In states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, where drought is commonplace, graywater has gained acceptance for use in urban/ residential landscapes. Potable water savings are estimated at around 5 percent when laundry-tolandscape graywater systems are deployed by 50 percent of the residential population. However, the impact on landscape plants is poorly documented. Dr. Cabrera aims to solve this mystery through a multi-year grant by HRI looking at the long-term effects of graywater on landscape plants, where he is mimicking laundry water with concentrations of laundry detergent, fabric softener, and/or bleach. Dr. Cabrera has also received support for this project through the USDA-ARS Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative. Larry Cammarata, Principle Sustainability Consultant with Certified Consultants Ltd., designs alternative irrigation systems based in the Midwest. Cammarata commented, “I love the idea! Let’s continue to explore alternative water sources. In the Midwest,
Wastewater in general (and especially laundry water) is known to have high concentrations of Na+, Cl-, and B. Too much Na+ can negatively impact plant health and growth; this is well documented. In a study published in 2005, researchers from Colorado State University reported needle burn of ponderosa pine after four years of irrigation with recycled wastewater, likely related to a Na+ concentration of 11 times that of pines treated with surface water. Preliminary data generated by Dr. Cabrera show that plant growth and quality lessen when bleach is a component of the graywater. An undesirably high pH is also a common trait of graywater. Dr. Cabrera’s study is in early stages of development. So far, growth and quality data have been collected from twelve different ornamental plants irrigated with graywater for six months in Texas. A similar study will be initiated in New Jersey this year that will continue at least until 2018. In addition to growth and quality ratings, leaf tissue, and soil samples will be collected, and a survey will be prepared to assess the current use and interest of alternative irrigation in the green industry. While graywater has greater application in residential landscape settings, nursery and greenhouse operations will have greater use for reclaimed water from municipal sources. Graywater and reclaimed water are similar in their composition; the main difference being a greater presence of Cl- and surfactants in graywater. Soil structure and soil microbial populations will be evaluated in Dr. Cabrera’s project. Based on the study design, results will be relevant to both residential landscape and greenhouse/nursery settings. Jill Calabro, Ph.D. AmericanHort & Horticultural Research Institute Research & Science Programs Director JillC@AmericanHort.org
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Building a Partnership with Customers By Jennifer Noble
One of the core components of customer engagement is a high level of customer service. Traditionally we have trained staff to be sure to greet a customer with a warm smile and positive attitude, understand what their needs are and extend an offer of assistance. Today’s consumer is looking for all of those things and more. They are looking for a partnership in their purchase. Through the SHIFT research, we know that consumers don’t understand how plants grow. We also know that customers want to be taught, but don’t want to feel as though they have been lectured. This is where the partnership begins.
Customers are building a perception and looking for partnership before they arrive The first step comes before they ever visit your store. Prior to visiting your store customers are learning about you, your products and your approach to customer service online. They are going to Google your web page, scour your social media and check out what the reviews say about you on Yelp. They will form a perception of your business before they ever leave the house. They will also be armed with information, hopefully, provided by you, that will assist them in their purchase and also in their understanding of the product and what to do with the product. According to Google, over 88 percent of consumers research something before they purchase, consulting an average of 10.4 sources. Google refers to the online decision-making moment as the ZMOT—Zero Moment of Truth. In the book, ZMOT-Winning the Zero Moment of Truth, by Jim Lecinski, Bob Thacker, Gravitytank Strategic Advisor and former CMO of OfficeMax is quoted as saying: “Engagement with the customer today isn’t just pouring a message down on their head and hoping they get wet. It really is understanding that you must be 4 | AmericanHort.org
present in a conversation when they want to have it, not when you want to. Pre-shopping before buying has become a huge, huge part of customer behavior. In the past, it was pretty much confined to big-ticket items like cars, or expensive electronics or homes. Now people engage in discovery before shopping on very small things. It’s crossed all categories of shopping behavior. It’s just the way people buy today.” Take a few moments and look at your sites and pages—what does your online presence say about your ability to be a partner to them? Are they able to pre-shop your website? Do you feature valuable how-to videos on your Facebook? Photos of finished projects on Instagram? Idea boards on Pinterest? How quickly do you respond to inquiries on your social media page? Keep in mind as a customer is looking at your online presence, they are looking at not just what you are saying about your business and product, but what others are saying. They are taking note of reviews, shares, and conversation. We’ve known for years that word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising and what others are saying online is the word of mouth for today’s consumer.
So They Made It to the Store…. Now What? Now that your customer is at the store, you have the opportunity to change their perception of your customer service and willingness to be a partner into reality. From the moment they arrive until the moment they leave, what you and your staff do matters. It matters in their willingness to purchase and also in their willingness to return to your store in the future. So what do you do?
Get everyone on board—No matter what role an employee has in your business, customer service is their responsibility. For example, during your busy times do you have someone in the parking lot collecting carts and returning them to the store? Are they engaging with the customers, welcoming them offering them a cart? Walking to their car to help them load and take the cart back. Your arriving customers will notice the level of service they can expect from you and your departing customers will leave with one final moment of engagement.
Just looking isn’t just looking
How often do you ask a customer if there is anything you can help them find and they respond, “No, I’m just looking.” Oftentimes this is code for, “I want something, but I don’t know what it’s called, where it’s found and I’m afraid to tell you so I’ll see if I can find it on my own so I’m not embarrassed.” What you do next is crucial to building a relationship with your customer. Do you respond with “Ok, let us know if you need any help” or do you embark on a dual mission of fact-finding and relationship building finding out if they have been there before, do they have experience with plants, are they shopping for a gift? The key here is to be conversational and let the information come out in the conversation. Based on their responses, make recommendations or offer to show them something that you think they will like. As they continue to shop, be sure and check back with them.
Walk with them
When a customer asks a question of where to find something or if you have something, don’t just point and tell them walk with them, show them and stay a moment. Talk to them, find out what questions they may have and help them get what they need. The moment that you spend with them in the aisle is what will set you apart and build a relationship with your customer.
Use your store as a workshop
Encourage customers to not just purchase in your store, but create. For example, invite customers to bring in their containers, help them select the plants for the container and have an area with soil ready for them to put it together on site. Your customer is going to be excited at how nice their container is and how it exceeded their expectations, they are going to walk away with new skills and a better understanding of what do and they will also love the ease of having it all done and ready to go when they leave the store—there’s no take home work to create it or guesswork at what they need to do. You may also see that by offering the opportunity to create in your store they will purchase more than if they were going to take it home and create. No matter who your customer is, remember to take time to build a relationship and partnership that will keep them coming back and keep them choosing your business first. Do you have a success story or idea for building a partnership with your customers? We want to hear it! Drop me an email at JenN@AmericanHort.org.
Jennifer Noble AmericanHort JenN@AmericanHort.org
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Commoditizing a Customized Industry By Scott McAdam, Jr. wants to miss their opportunity to take advantage of them. While technology has become a way of life and has greatly improved our ability to access data or services, sometimes it develops before the industry is ready for it. Enter, the new wave of lawn care and snow removal apps, a.k.a. Uber for the green industry.
First, there was Facebook in 2004. Then, two year later, Twitter arrived, followed by Pinterest in 2010, Instagram in 2010, and finally Snapchat in 2011. And thus began the social media craze. In 2011, at the former ANLA Management Clinic, I remember one of the hottest topics was the impact of social media and why you should be a part of that “unexplored frontier.” While many industries and individuals utilized these media outlets for either personal or professional benefit, the green industry lagged behind, as there was no real need (or so we thought) to immerse ourselves in the world of technology and apps. After all, this industry comes from humble and traditional beginnings with a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic running through our veins, so technology is just another distraction, right? So, why should we change what we are doing or how we are doing things when we are getting by “just fine” going about our day-to-day operations the same way we always have? As a millennial, my entire life has been molded by the ever-changing technological landscape where there is now an app for seemingly everything, including the green industry. Whether it be a website for bidding government and local contracts, or one of the countless “on-demand” lawn care and snow removal apps, there has been a large influx in “green technology” in recent years.
These apps offer great increases in ease and efficiency for contracting and servicing new clients. Some benefits to these apps include: On-demand service capabilities for the client and the contractor, it is a new technology, allowing competition against fewer contractors (being the first to take advantage of the platform), payment is received 24 hours after a job is completed, there is no invoicing or administrative work thereby minimizing overhead (it is done through the app platform), and it is operated through a mobile/cloud based platform.
You may very well be thinking, “How great is it that I can perform work and be paid within 24 hours? No more waiting for payment and I don’t need to pay someone to sell work for me. This is easy!” Unfortunately, trying to commoditize a highly-customized industry seems counterproductive to growth and success. Some concerns with these apps are:
The app-platform dictates the selling price for jobs. The contractor receives 80% of the sold job price. Where this becomes a problem is a) how are they determining the market price? b) how are they accounting for all factors including, but not limited to: turf length, previous week’s weather, temperature, ground moisture, snow weight, snow consistency, bed edge linear footage, etc.? All of these factors can cause large changes in the actual price of a job due to labor and time inputs.
It relies on the homeowner to search their address, map their site, and submit a Request for Service with an associated timetable on when it should be completed. Ultimately, the contractor does not have any say in the initial contracting between client and app.
It requires the contractor to have a crew(s) waiting and on-demand for services that may never come.
There is no guarantee that you will be provided with work. If you are in a market saturated with companies who are utilizing the app, it operates like Uber where the app will notify a driver that a job is available which a company can then accept or decline. There could be the possibility that you may never receive a job due to other competition.
I foresee a negative effect on client service expectations. This will create a market where clients have the “gotta have it now” mentality. They will no longer want to wait for someone to put them onto a weekly schedule, but rather have someone there within hours after they request a service.
I also foresee a negative effect on market price. Since the app is dictating the market price, without proper knowledge of the industry (and the other factors involved in estimating), they could potentially drive the overall market price down. This may also de-value the service and eventually cause contractors to lose profitability and market share with existing markets.
There could be a complete lack of users of the app. If only contractors are utilizing the app, but the residential sector is not, the app is of no value due to there being no market.
I leave you with a simple challenge. Although the technological landscape may be daunting, do not try to be involved in every platform; pick one that works for your business and become an expert in utilizing it. Like social media, technology and apps can be new and exciting, but be sure to do your research to ensure the business model can sustain itself in your application. Just because other businesses are utilizing these methods does not mean that it will result in success for your business. Scott McAdam, Jr. McAdam Landscaping 2001 Des Plaines Ave, Forest Park, IL 708-771-2299 email@example.com
No invoicing for year-end financial statements. Income reporting for tax purposes becomes more complex.
Just like with social media, there is excitement about these new ways of contracting, and no one 6 | AmericanHort.org
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Initiative Looks to Ensure the Safety of Pollinators & the Agriculture Industry
production of plants like poinsettia and indoor foliage crops, the use of neonicotinoids shouldn’t be an issue at all because pollinators aren’t being exposed to these plants.”
By David Kuack
Horticultural Research Institute is funding research that can be used to develop and implement a pollinator stewardship initiative program to improve pollinator health and to enhance and expand their habitat.
received myriad responses,” Regelbrugge said. “The taskforce reviewed the proposals and determined the five projects chosen had the best scientific collaboration and were really getting at the heart of what the taskforce members wanted to understand.
The Bee and Pollinator Stewardship Initiative, which was launched in 2014 by the Horticultural Research Initiative has three primary components.
Figure 2. For the production of some ornamental plants like indoor foliage crops, the use of neonicotinoids shouldn’t be an issue because pollinators aren’t being exposed to these plants.
1. Developing a bee and pollinator stewardship program that aims to improve pollinator health.
Photo by Jennifer Bierer
2. Funding research that will help answer key scientific questions that support the stewardship program. 3. Partnering with other organizations and groups that have a common interest in augmenting pollinator forage and habitat. An example is the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (http://millionpollinatorgardens.org) launched by the National Pollinator Garden Network (http://millionpollinatorgardens.org/partners). A task force was formed to develop the bee and pollinator stewardship program, including the development of best management practices for plant production. “A pollinator taskforce has been assembled that has engaged in conversation with scientists and environmental groups, including some with which our industry doesn’t have much common ground like Friends of the Earth,” said Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president for industry advocacy and research at AmericanHort. “There has been a core quest among taskforce members, predominantly growers, to determine the facts related to pollinator health. The taskforce is not going to dig in and be defensive about the use of certain pesticides. Nor is it going to capitulate and accept that current practices are bad if scientific evidence doesn’t support such a conclusion. The research agenda the taskforce has been advancing has been driven substantially out of a yearning to understand.”
HRI Funding Pollinator Research HRI is currently funding five pollinator research projects. “HRI did a request for proposals and 8 | AmericanHort.org
Citing “Good” Science Figure 1. HRI is currently funding five pollinator research projects, including determining the concentrations of neonicotinoid insecticides in nectar and pollen under field conditions. Photo by Richard Cowles, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
“There are fundamental common threads among the proposals. One of them is the need to know the concentrations of systemic insecticides, specifically the neonicotinoids, in nectar and pollen under field conditions. Questions the taskforce hope will be answered include: What is actually happening in the real world based on how these products are used? And what is the actual exposure to pollinators that are ingesting nectar and pollen?
Determining Which Plants are Pollinator Attractive Regelbrugge said a second major thread in regards to pollinator research HRI has funded is the need to advance the industry’s understanding of which horticultural plants are pollinator attractive. “The industry wants to enhance forage and habitat so growers and retailers need to know if the plants they are producing and selling are pollinator attractive,” he said. “We may need to encourage more use of pollinator attracting plants by the horticulture industry. If growers are producing plants for use in the outdoor environment that are pollinator attractive, the question becomes what management practices do growers need to embrace to ensure that pollinators are protected? For the
locked in when it comes to pest control practices. “The reality is that we also have to deal with invasive pests. Many times these are introduced from other parts of the world. Roughly a billion vegetative cuttings are imported annually, including geraniums and petunias and other plants that end up in landscapes. We are well beyond everything being domestically produced. In that environment we need the tools to be able to deal with these threats.” Regelbrugge said a major concern when growers tout their operations are neonicotinoid-free, is that this suggests there is a fundamental problem with these chemicals, which he said the science doesn’t yet bear out. “It also comes down to the question of if our industry loses the neonicotinoids, what are the rest of the tools in the tool kit? “I’ve talked to growers who have told me that they have reduced their use of neonicotinoids by a certain percentage. Part of the answer is that they are working more with biological controls and predators. But there is always this “and” which means they are using other chemistries like synthetic pyrethroids. Synthetic pyrethroids are under a special EPA registration review for a different set of concerns. It’s all about the tools available in the tool kit.”
Regelbrugge said he is encouraged by the initial studies and findings of the pollinator research projects HRI is funding. “Looking at the research that has been done so far, I feel like we are on the high ground,” he said. “Some of the pollinator research that activists groups are promoting appears to be driven by a “ban pesticides” agenda first and then we’ll discuss the rest later. One Harvard study that has been cited by anti-pesticide activists has been widely discredited, including by the beekeeping community. There hasn’t been much conversation about that work because it was so flawed that it generally has been discredited. “One research project that has been the most damning of our industry in its conclusions was conducted at the University of Minnesota. This research appears to have major flaws as well. I have spoken with numerous researchers who informed me that this particular study would be very difficult to replicate. The threshold of good science is that someone else who is skilled in a particular field could read a scientific research publication and replicate the study and end up with the same results.”
Looking at the Big Picture While some criticism may be leveled at the “real” purpose of the pollinator research projects, Regelbrugge said the purpose of the research is “not about the defense of neonicotinoids or the defense of anything else.” “What is important is that we have a series of tools in the tool box that we can reach for to solve our pest control problems,” he said. “There is a lot of excitement in the grower community about biological controls, predators and the softer chemistries. Increasingly growers are not
Figure 3. More growers are looking to expand their pest control practices with biological controls, predators and softer chemistries. Photo courtesy of Syngenta Bioline
Regelbrugge said the horticulture industry needs to be responsible in its ability to curtail the movement of invasive pests. “Should our industry become, whether real or perceived, the vector for the next insecticideresistant whitefly strain that then moves into the cantaloupe and cotton fields and wreaks havoc in our agricultural systems, then all that pressure comes down on us. We have to be responsible and that involves having tools in the tool kit.” David Kuack Freelance Technical Writer Ft Worth, TX firstname.lastname@example.org For more: Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort, craigr@americanhort. org; http://americanhort.org. Horticultural Research Institute, (614) 487-1155; email@example.com; http://www.hriresearch.org. Grow Wise. Bee Smart, http://growwise.org. AmericanHort Pollinator Project, http://bit.ly/2bjuZHe 2016:9 | 9
Picking the Finest Variety By Nick Chaney
As everyone knows, plants will react down to the cellular level in different growing conditions. As everyone knows, plants will react down to the cellular level in different growing conditions. Every greenhouse is different. Different water, different substrate, pH, nutrients, humidity, sunlight, and so on. So why would you choose your crop variety based on the performance of another’s greenhouse or field production? In ecological restoration, particularly in the West, it is very important to know where your seed is sourced from. Sagebrush isn’t just sagebrush. Depending on where it originates from will reflect how it will grow. Growing performance will be most predictable when you match the conditions of the origin. Not that different conditions won’t be better or worse, just not as predictable. The forest service in Idaho specifically collected large quantities of seed from exact locations for this very reason. If a fire comes through, as it did shortly after the collection was completed, the scorched land could be reseeded with exact genetics from the area. This ensured healthy restoration and predictable results. Had it been reseeded with the same species of plants sourced from Arizona, the restoration may not have been as successful. This is important to understand the regional genetics within a plant. This holds true for food crops as well. A beautiful red leaf lettuce that has had its genetic profile honed in on over several generations may be perfect for a production field within that region, but is it the best variety for a greenhouse that is 1,500
miles north? The best way to find out would be to test it. Rarely does a producer trial their genetics in different settings and advertise it. A specific variety may look one way in winter in zone 4 in hydroponics, but very different in summer in zone 6 in soil. In addition, those vibrant reds in the summer time might be a dull green in the winter. Can the right variety be found that has great performance year round or find seasonal crops and rotate throughout the year? When a production field or greenhouse has particular issues, like unusually high humidity or hard water, that is an area of focus when looking at trials. Make it advantageous and grow the crops or varieties that do best in those conditions.
There is much produce in the grocery lately that is disappointing and driving people to find unique seeds and grow them in their backyard because they remember that backyard tomato that grandma always grew. There are many different aspects to look at when trialing the right variety. This is where marketing and growing come together. A few characteristics to look for would be color, growth rate, tolerance to change, shelf life, flavor, market viability, and ease of production. If it looks great and the customer
loves it but it’s a pest magnet and grows at half the rate, then maybe it’s not the variety for you. When working in hydroponics, trialing is very important. Many crop varieties on the market are grown and designed in soil. There may be issues that were not even considered in the selection of stock because it does not come up in the field. A basil trial across
to the next level. A new Greenleaf-iceberg hybrid or purple sweet tomato could be the product that gets recognized over everything else on the shelves. Over time we as a society have moved away from high-quality local produce with selection based on flavor and moved towards hardy tasteless varieties that travel well and look and feel nutritious. It’s time we get back to regional produce that has been selected for quality and flavor. There is much produce in the grocery lately that is disappointing and driving people to find unique seeds and grow them in their backyard because they remember that backyard tomato that grandma always grew. Bright farms is one of the first companies to really push this local idea nationally. Local fresh produce is chosen for flavor and the health and satisfaction of the consumer. The right product will sell itself. Extensive research and trialing combined with consumer feedback are crucial in identifying a variety that appeals to both the growing and sales side of production. It’s that product that will draw in today’s consumer and give color to an otherwise gray product line.
30 varieties in a hydroponic greenhouse may bring forth a perfect variety that field production recommendations may have advised against.
Nick Chaney Head Grower Bright Farms CHI firstname.lastname@example.org 208-421-0637
Bright Farms currently has three locations and trials varieties of tomato and leafy greens throughout each region. Different facilities get different results and cater their specific product line to the growing facility and that customer base. In an early basil trial, the varieties of basil were analyzed for leaf/stem ratio, color, flavor, aroma, height, growth cycle, cooler tolerance at different temp, downy mildew resistance and customer feedback. It provided a wealth of data that allowed us to identify which variety of basil would be best for seasonal conditions. The growing data combined with the customer feedback made for the most educated decision when choosing which basil variety was best for our greenhouse. Basil might not always thrive and might lead to the discovery that a whole new product is a better direction to take the product line. If a customer is open to new ideas, run with it. Sometimes it’s that outside the box idea that takes a product line
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© 2016 AmericanHort. All rights reserved. This material may contain confidential information and it is for the sole use of AmericanHort members. The information contained herein is for general guidance and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. It cannot be distributed, reprinted, retransmitted, or otherwise made public without prior written permission by AmericanHort. Please contact the editor at (614) 487-1117 for permission with acknowledgment.
Editorial Staff Michelle Gaston Laura Kunkle, Editor Jennifer Noble Gina Zirkle
AmericanHort Connect 2016:9
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