Inside View: May 2018
By Gary Jones
Questions, questions, questions
By Gary Jones
It’s survey time of year again. It’s always interesting to hear the views and thoughts of those in the industry. ‘Inside View’ of February last year looked at the scope of such a survey: what is the geographic scope (provincial, national, global), how do we now define the production systems in ‘greenhouse’ (conventional greenhouse, controlled environment agriculture, rooftop protected structures, micro-green production), and what are watershed moments the industry is experiencing?
Production horticulture seems to be changing at an ever increasing pace. Who was it who said that ‘the only thing that is constant is change’? I’m not even sure that that statement is true anymore, as change seems to happen faster all the time, not remain constant. Certainly feels like things have moved on a lot in just the past 12 months.
So, I got to thinking. Surveys always come from someone, a business, an organization, and ask the respondent questions. I suppose that’s the definition of a survey. But what if the survey simply asked the audience what their questions would be? Which made me wonder what questions I would like to ask. I came up with a few.
Looking back, what do you think was the single biggest technology change that moved our industry forward? The switch to hydroponics. Climate control computers. Heat dump tanks and on-site CO2 generation. Screens, new glazing materials, LEDs?
Along similar lines, what do you think will be the next big technology advance for greenhouse production? Robotics perhaps, or automated pest scouting and management. Drones. ‘Green’ energy sufficient to take a large-scale greenhouse ‘off-grid’.
What do you think will be the challenging issues for the industry over the next five years? Today, five years is a long time away, and much can change in that timeframe. That said, some of our issues have been around for decades and show no signs of change – finding enough new growers for example.
Why/how did you get involved in the greenhouse industry? Of course, there will be many who continued in the family business. But if we learn what brought newcomers into the industry, we might find valuable information as to how to attract more new entrants to be the future of the greenhouse sector.
Given the dramatic and sudden impact on our industry of the legalization of recreational marijuana, what do you envisage as other crops achieving the same influence? Maybe there are other ‘watershed crops’ waiting in the wings. What do you think they may be? A new food crop perhaps, or nutraceutical, or algae for food even? Maybe this will be affected by climate change, with new climatic zones presenting new crop possibilities. Or salt-tolerant crops/varieties? Or changes in attitudes to GMO’s or new advances there. Talking of GMO’s…
What is your attitude to GMO’s in our sector, in particular with respect to food crops? Perhaps now is the time for obligatory labelling of GMO crops in foods.
If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you’d like to change about the greenhouse industry in general? Government policy perhaps. International trade barriers. Bureaucracy, paperwork. Hours. Energy costs. Public perception. Prices. Pests or diseases that keep battling away at your profits.
For anyone starting in the industry, what’s your one piece of advice to help them succeed? Work hard? Enjoy what you do. Learn something new every day?
What keeps you doing what you do – why do you love being a greenhouse grower? If nothing else, most growers exhibit a passion for what they do like few other business sectors. They are also some of the most skilled business managers, required to be masters of multiple practical trades while at the same time learning academic details about such disciplines as crop nutrition, entomology and plant pathology. Oh. And trying to make a profit to stay in business.
Anyway. Those are a few of my questions. What would be the questions you’d like to ask of industry colleagues? Maybe we should have you send them in to Greenhouse Canada?
Gary Jones is co-chair of Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Langley, British Columbia. He sits on several industry committees and welcomes comments at Gary.Jones@kpu.ca.