Having Friends In High Places
By Dave Harrison
May 2015 – Confidence. If we were to sum up the findings in this year’s Greenhouse Canada Grower Survey in a single word … that would be it.
Anecdotally, growers were quite upbeat throughout 2014. Products were selling, prices were generally fair, and the weather was largely co-operative. There was some expansion. Trade show banter was positive.
How do we maintain that confidence? From this soapbox, the question we always ask ourselves in assessing industry fortunes is, “do we have friends in high places,” i.e., the decision-makers in government. We can’t control the weather, and energy prices often have a mind of their own. But we can work with politicians and agencies to help grow our industry.
The industry has been effective in promoting that dialogue. Robert Bierhuizen of Sunrise Greenhouses received this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award from Flowers Canada Ontario. He was one of the early visionaries who pushed for closer ties with governments at all levels.
The overall economy in Canada is slowing a bit, and that’s not good. In a February 2015 report, the Conference Board of Canada says that “despite the effect of tax cuts and lower gasoline prices, consumer spending is expected to slow.”
However on the plus side, our neighbours south of the border are expected to have a better year. And given that so many of our products journey south, that’s good news for those who export.
“The U.S. economy is gaining momentum,” notes the Conference Board in that same report. “The strong economic performance south of the border and a weakening Canadian dollar will allow our trade sector to make a solid contribution to economic growth.”
As for our survey, growers offered a number of concerns in the write-in section.
“We are a discretionary household expense,” said one grower. “The average family has more choices but less money to spend. Keeping floral purchases popular will be a challenge.”
Indeed, getting more consumers to buy plants will need creative programs, such as the popular PickOntario and Foodland Ontario programs. What’s needed across Canada is more government attention to “Buy Local” initiatives, and that’s been a definite trend.
But “labour” may be the biggest challenge over the next few years The offshore labour program is a key resource for the industry in providing a large pool of enthusiastic workers. The program works for both employers and these employees, many of whom have returned for many years.
Governments have been keen supporters of research initiatives, and that’s commendable. And the Ontario government, as another example of support, went out of its way to work closely with grower associations in drafting its new Greenhouse Nutrient Feedwater Regulation.
The closer our ties to government, the more sensitive they are to industry concerns, and the more supportive they will be in fostering continued growth.