November 2001

We will have to officially name October "Education Month" for the nursery industry. Last month was an incredible time for catching up on information concerning our industry. I only sampled a little of what was offered but I am at information overload. I will try to share a few things with you that stand out if I can remember or decipher my notes.

One item that has jumped out at several meetings has been our concerns over water. We have been watching water regulations affect other states for several years. Alabama is blessed with abundant water and a political climate that avoids regulation. However, last year's drought gave us a quick, sobering glimpse at what could happen even in Alabama. When water became a real issue and choices had to be made, it was the nursery industry that was targeted first. They turned off the spigot in Birmingham for landscape irrigation. That decision rippled all the way back to the nurseries as plant orders were cancelled or postponed. Our industry was selected as being frivolous water users as compared to car washes or restaurants or other more crucial businesses. Frantic activity by the local nurseries and landscape industry, along with the required lawyer, eased the pain but it opened our eyes to the need for some proactive educational efforts.

On November 15, 2001 there will be a landscape educational program at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens that will partially highlight these concerns and efforts to deal with future problems. The Alabama Nurserymen's Association in cooperation with Alabama Extension Service and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management developed a brochure to be used by retail garden centers and extension offices across the state to help educate the gardening public on proper irrigation practices during good times and bad. These efforts are also designed to raise the awareness of our city and state leaders as well. You can get some of these pamphlets by calling the Alabama Nurserymen's Association (334-821-5148) or your local Extension office. Help spread the word. The meetings have revealed that landscape and nursery businesses are under attack all across the United States. The message presented is: get involved.

The Southern Plant Conference was hosted by the University of Georgia in Athens and by SNA. It was a beautiful backdrop for the conference. Three days of plants are too many to review but activity in plant searches, breeding, selection and new releases was at a fever pitch. The take home message here and at the other meetings is that demand for diversity, new and improved and collector specials is on the rise. The plants are exciting and the competition is great. At one time, I thought that the landscape industry was the best outlet for new products but with the tremendous growth of our mass markets, I think this may be a better outlet to expand our horticultural pallet. The mass market's large marketing budgets and the uninhibited minds of the less knowledgeable gardening public may make them more receptive than our industry professionals to try something new. Industry professionals, whose living depends on success, may be more timid to try an unproven product. This makes good business sense. For an individual to take a chance on a few plants for their own homes is much less risky than a professional taking a chance on a client's property. So, a great place to go with all this new and exciting plant material is directly to the gardening public. Cultivate and fan the flames of their enthusiasm for enjoying the pleasure of plants.

The debate on patenting and trademarking continued to be a hot topic at the meetings. Most people agreed that true intellectual property and active breeding efforts should be rewarded with patent protection. But, some felt the patenting of the chance find of a different attribute in a plant may be abusing the law of protection. There were great discussions in this area. True ownership of a plant and rights to a plant patent goes to the finder, which can get confusing when the finder is the employee of a company who is patenting the plant or if the plant is discovered on someone else's property. It was also debated that the current practice of trademarking a cultivar name goes against the intended use of trademarks. The discussion will continue on these points and patents will receive more discrimination in the future.

Mergers and acquisitions are increasing. Twenty years ago we had business soothsayers predicting the nursery industry would go the way of pharmaceuticals, poultry and other industries. It took longer than they expected but we are seeing big nurseries getting bigger, mostly due to the mass market explosion. We are seeing the first nurseries dedicated to producing for only one retail or landscape outlet. The term "vertical integration" was used to define this trend. It is a trend that will apparently continue to expand. Our industry is so diverse and opportunities abound, so it is tough to corner the markets as easily as the chemical and container companies that service our industry. There is still room for the little guy but they need to be aggressive, versatile and quick in order to continue to compete. These are good times in our industry and I think they can only get better. I have been inspired by the enthusiasm and opportunities I have seen at these meetings. It is a fun time to be in horticulture.

Examples of a few things I learned at these meetings are listed below. They come under the heading of "I heard this at a meeting..." but reader please beware that notes sometimes misinterpret the meaning of the speaker or the whole story may not be told. Be sure to always go by the Label! Offering that disclaimer, I heard that……………………….