A different kind of horticultural career

A different kind of horticultural career
January 02, 2019
Written by Gary Jones
It’s finally happened. Wednesday October 17th 2018. A momentous day. The world celebrated the 5th anniversary of when Ashrita Furman balanced 100 ice cream scoops on a single cone.1 Oh, I nearly forgot: that same day the Canadian greenhouse industry was changed forever and the first ticket for ‘driving and toking’ was issued one hour into the new era of legalized recreational cannabis production in this country. In Winnipeg, if you’re interested. So, now what?

Frankly, I have pretty much no idea. Do you? I am probably not as qualified as many (maybe even most) in our industry to comment on specifics on the marijuana sector. I’m not operating a commercial greenhouse business. I am not producing cannabis products. I have no shares in marijuana companies – medical or recreational. But what I do know is that in all my career in horticulture I have never seen one crop change the industry so dramatically, so profoundly, so quickly. And I suspect I am not alone. We may never see the likes of this scale of ‘game changer’ again. But that’s getting too far into the future. This whole chapter seems to have made the future completely unpredictable anyways. Back to now.

One of the most significant effects we are all too aware of already is this crop’s effect on the horticultural labour market. There are simply not enough people to do the work. One company has already claimed to have destroyed a crop because they didn’t have enough people to finish the job. This affects me personally. In the world of education and training, cannabis is making conversations in a number of ways. Firstly, pretty much every post-secondary teaching institution is deciding (if they haven’t done so already) whether they should deliver a cannabis-specific crop production program, and if so, what format that may take. KPU has been offering Continuing Professional Studies (CPS) courses in the business and licensing of cannabis operations for some time. These are delivered online and are reaching a wide (global) audience. Some post-secondary institutions do already, and others may in the future, offer ministry-accredited (for credit) hands-on marijuana-specific production courses either standalone or as part of formal certificate, diploma or maybe even degree credentials.

Secondly, and very much aligned with the first topic, education at the school district level (particularly in BC) is itself undergoing a significant change. Learning is moving wholesale into ‘Project-Based Learning’ (PBL) methods. This will no doubt filter up through the educational establishment in the near future, and has potential to produce a different ‘type’ of high school graduate with different expectations of learning methods and outcomes. Some post-secondary institutions are reviewing their policies and procedures in the area of qualification through prior experience (‘competency-based’) rather than through formal credentials. This too opens up new opportunities for teaching and learning. But how will this affect the definition of ‘qualified horticulturist’ when it comes to obtaining production licences?

And thirdly, given the huge sums of dollars being invested into the greenhouse sector right now from companies who have, to date, been outside our sector, and the associated inflated grower salaries that are being talked about, how does this all shake down for the ability of those growing ‘regular’ food and ornamental crops to attract the next generation of growers and managers? I think, sadly, we probably already know the answer to this.

“Ashrita [Furman, of the ice-cream cone fame] has set more than 700 official Guinness Records since 1979 and currently holds more than 200 standing records – including the official record for the most records held at the same time by an individual.”2 One thing is for sure. When, or is it ‘if’, the greenhouse sector ever comes back to some kind of normal, it has potential to be a very different kind of normal. The journey thus far has been a roller-coaster ride of Kingda Ka or Formula Rossa record-breaking proportions. It’s unlikely the ups and downs of October 17th 2018 are going to be any less up, down, slower or record breaking in the near future.
  1. ‘The Old Farmer’s Almanac’, www.almanac.com/calendar/date/2018-10-17
  2. www.ashrita.com

Gary Jones is co-chair of horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, BC. He sits on several industry committees and welcomes comments at
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