Bob Terry Digger magazine’s editorial team has long observed that the people in the nursery industry are … well … amazing.We wanted to take a closer look at the incredible people who make this industry not only successful, but also a leader among business sectors. This issue launches a new series, called Meet the Leader, that examines the lives of the “movers and shakers” within the Pacific Northwest nursery community. For our inaugural story, writer Elizabeth Petersen spent some time with OAN’s incoming president, Fisher Farms owner Bob Terry.
E FACES OF TH
NUR S ER
President, Fisher Farms
BACKGROUND: Formerly the financial industry and manufacturing. Primarily focused on corporate workouts, getting large corporations out of trouble. GUIDING PRINCIPLE: Integrity is everything. PHILOSOPHY: “It’s important NOT to be important” and “You have to have fun!” MENTOR: Larry Belt, president of Borg Warner Financial Services (today known as TransAmerica) FAMILY: Married, two children and 5.5 grandchildren PROUDEST MOMENT: Seeing my first child for the first time
Bob Terry is sowing seeds of change for Oregon’s nursery industry, and his upcoming term as president of the Oregon Association of Nurseries promises to bring a healthy harvest of progress.
BEST BUSINESS DECISION: Buying Fisher Farms TOUGHEST BUSINESS DECISION: Years ago, deciding to let a company go into liquidation. I hated to let that happen because it impacted so many people’s lives. GREATEST CHALLENGES FOR THE NURSERY INDUSTRY TODAY: Making changes to deal with the immigration issue and becoming more of a marketing industry than an order-taking industry.
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MEET THE LEADER
meet the leader
“Bob is a strong voice for the OAN and the state of Oregon on the national level,” says Jerry Brown, marketing and new business development director at Fisher Farms. “He is willing to roll up his sleeves and get right into the issues; he will even tread where others will not go. I think it is amazing that Bob has the energy to wear all his different hats.” Indeed, the yield of success from Terry’s dynamic leadership is already evident everywhere he has chosen to dig in.
On the plains of politics One example of Terry’s work for Oregon’s green industry is the important piece of political advantage recently harvested in the restructured and renewed USDA Farm Bill. To make farm policy more equitable, the updated bill includes language that
addresses the needs of specialty crop growers directly. The new legislation will include support to address market promotion, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, nutrition and targeted research. “Historically, the farm bill favored row crop growers,” explains Terry, “but now for the first time, a section has been added that supports growers of specialty crops and the nursery industry. The OAN worked hard on the bill and provided impetus for adding language that is specific to the nursery industry. “It was a real coup,” Terry acknowledges, “and we (the OAN Executive Committee and Executive Director John Aguirre) intend to continue leading.” Such success feeds Terry’s passion for the industry. In addition to legislative work at the national level, Terry encourages his employees to become
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actively involved in their local communities and the association. “Almost every committee in the OAN has someone from Fisher Farms serving on it,” says Terry. “Fisher Farms puts in time and provides leadership as well as supporting funds for research and development to benefit Oregon’s nursery and agriculture industries.” In addition to involvement with the OAN, the company’s staff serve with related organizations including the AgriBusiness Council of Oregon, and the American Nursery & Landscape Association. Terry believes that when members of Oregon’s nursery industry work together, they can implement changes that benefit them all. As incoming president, Terry seeks to “provide leadership and guidance in changes that will ensure that Oregon is the leading state in the industry.” “A stronger OAN means that each of us in the industry is stronger; what benefits the OAN benefits the state of Oregon,” he asserts.
In the field of business Another example of Terry digging into the green industry is the growth of Fisher Farms. When the nursery industry captured the heart and imagination of then-financial executive Bob Terry, he decided it was a place to set down roots. He bought the 180-acre Fisher Farms 11 years ago and set out to completely restructure, redirect and grow the operation. His efforts have reaped significant rewards. Fisher Farms has quickly emerged as a leader, boasting an annual inventory of over 7 million plants on 300 acres. “I establish a vision for improvement and stay open to change,” explains Terry, whose new direction for Fisher Farms involved an increase in plant selection and a focus on developing a new customer base. Since the competition for producing commodity crops such as juniper and conifers for the mass market had increased in the area, Terry and his team established a new mission: to provide a value-added
meet the leader
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product that distinguishes Fisher Farms from other growers. As a result, the nursery currently supplies independent garden centers and landscape distributors across the nation with over 3.5 million high-end specialty plants a year. More than 1,600 varieties of plants, many of them branded, are in production at three Fisher Farms sites in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. “Our goal is to find varieties that are compact and maintenancefree with strong visual appeal,” Terry says. Fisher Farms partners with and grows plants for several national marketing networks, including Novalis Plants that Work, Proven Winners and ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs, Easy Elegance Rose Collection, Biltmore For Your Home and Encore Azalea brands. Terry believes that branded plants offer reliable value to consumers and help distinguish independent retail businesses from big-box competition. The acquisition of acreage and careful division of operations has been an important part of the business. “We are able to maintain the integrity of our plants by distributing operations to different sites,” Terry says. By designing each site to service a different geographical area, Fisher Farms has eliminated plant transferring, enhanced the quality of the product, and saved money. The Gaston site houses company headquarters, with facilities for propagation and for growing new introductions, perennials and softer woody plants. The Sherwood site grows plants that thrive in higher elevations and serves as a transfer site, where incoming plants go into quarantine to ensure their safety. The fields in Dayton produce a host of woody ornamentals. Together, these locations serve customers in dozens of states, as well as in Canada, Japan and China. The changes at Fisher Farms were no small feat. The management team had to weed through countless issues, including how to add new inventory, when to move into new products and
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Production manager Terry Menninger, Bob Terry and assistant production manager Adan Avalos-Gomez survey a crop of roses at Fisher Farms’ Gaston site, one of the nursery’s three growing locations.
how to allocate space on the farms. According to Brown, part of Terry’s ability to sow seeds for political and civic change comes from the way he runs his business. “Bob’s style allows managers to
manage,” Brown says. “He gives managers power and flexibility to make decisions, which gives us all greater freedom in our roles and more responsibility to carry out the business.” OAN Executive Director John
Aguirre says, “Bob Terry is the epitome of the ‘can-do’ attitude. When he is focused on a goal, he pursues it relentlessly, which is why he is so successful in business and why he is a great leader.”
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meet the leader
Bob Terry (second from right) watches as Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski signs a bill that seeks to curb metal theft, a growing problem for the nursery industry.
them sell to their retail customer base,” explains Brown. That involves taking the information about new plants directly to the consumer, which is why Fisher Farms participated in the OAN’s 2007 Yard, Garden and Patio Show.
In the farmland of social conscience Committing to sustainable business operations is another high-yield product of Terry’s efforts. “Fisher Farms is synonymous with 26
Part of the new direction for Fisher Farms was to expand the traditional role of wholesale grower to include more marketing support. “We support our garden center partners by creating displays and providing research to help
“We displayed our line of Novalis Plants that Work and created a brochure directed to consumers. It promoted the plants and listed garden centers where they are sold,” says Brown. “It is important to get into consumer shows, so we are involved in plans for the 2008 show, and we expect to display other lines at the Seattle Northwest Flower and Garden Show, too.” In addition, Encore Azaleas will be featured at independent garden centers during Le Tour des Plants, sponsored by the OAN Sept. 15-23.
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meet the leader
sustainability,” says Terry, whose concerns about the health of the environment translate into action at the nursery. Examples include the reduction and selective use of pesticides, the use of biofuel in all tractors and a policy of “100 percent recycling,” including reuse and nonchemical treatment of irrigation water. Fisher Farms is one of only five certified nurseries in the country participating in the phytosanitation program by the USDA (the U.S. Nursery Certification Pilot Program). The program requires nurseries to establish their own protocols for ensuring the health of their products. The approved policies employed at Fisher Farms went into effect in August, when the nursery launched its new information technology system. It is a “strenuous and strict program for shipping intra-state and for
Bob Terry (right) posing with OAN’s Director of Government Affairs, Jeff Stone.
exporting out of the country. I predict that within the next five years, this kind of program will become an industry requirement,” Terry says.
Another move to keep crops healthy is a switch from using gravel to a recyclable geotextile ground cover at the nursery. “This product works better than gravel, which has to be continually reapplied,” says Terry. “Trimmings that can cause contamination in gravel are easily collected and put in the compost pile,” he says. Water travels through the porous material, but weeds and debris stay out, and it is expected to last for 20 years before replacement.
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A new computer system at Fisher Farms “allows extraordinary levels of support for the business,” Terry says. “We use technology to grow the plants, to communicate and to manage operations. The quality-control program has drastically lowered sales losses and returns from harvesting or shipping damage,” among other things. “It is part of a move to a paperless system,” Terry says of the new programs, which back up all information instantly. “We make complete, detailed records of where all our product comes from and where it goes. We have ‘trace forward and trace back’ built into the system.” Terry explains that everything is done in accounting modules, which work by transferring information
meet the leader
directly into the general ledger. “It is a total accounting system,” he says. “Everything is recorded immediately, and soon it will allow our customers to check on inventory and availability. Customers will be able to see live order status and plant availabilities and to place online orders.” Doesn’t such a system involve a huge upfront cost? Yes, says Terry, but the investment will allow him to double his business by redirecting, rather than adding employees. “As we continue to upgrade over the next four to five years, we will be able to move 1.5 to 2 full time employees from administrative positions to proactive sales and marketing positions,” he predicts. That will help recover the cost of the system. Other technological innovations include the Voice-Over-Internet protocol (VoIP) phone system, which is producing “savings, even better than I expected,” says Terry. With VoIP, a computer hooks up to a phone line, activates a wireless signal and is routed onto the Internet. “We can call all over the world for just pennies,” explains Terry, who used the system from the PANTS trade show for this interview. The nursery industry is certain to grow and to reap additional rewards from the dynamic leadership of Bob Terry during his term as OAN president. “Bob Terry doesn’t let convention or the fear of change prevent him from identifying and pursuing ambitious goals,” says Aguirre. “His priority is to help OAN members succeed in the marketplace, and he won't be content to only address minor issues and problems. He revels in the pursuit of big ideas and ambitious goals.” What will Terry plant and grow in the fertile field of the OAN? Just wait and see. Elizabeth Petersen writes for gardeners and garden businesses; she coaches students and writers; and she chairs the Oregon Plant A Row for the Hungry project. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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