April 15, 2011
A group of 60 LO growers attended a think tank at the Milton office in January to investigate ways to improve the sector’s prosperity. How to promote the value of, and stimulate demand, for Ontario-grown plants, and the best way to coordinate supply with demand, were also discussed.

There have been many negative points of pressure on the Ontario growers, not the least of which was the slowdown in building construction in Canada, due to depressed economy. The recession south of the border has had a big impact as struggling U.S. growers have been dumping cheap plant material in our market. With the high minimum wage in Ontario, growers who have already cut costs to the bone can’t match the cheaper U.S. prices.

Action plan

LO president Tom Intven introduced the six panel members, who each presented their ideas on the subject, then a discussion took place on the presented solutions, followed by the drafting of an action plan.

Speaking from a U.S. perspective, Debbie Lonnee, manager of planning and administration at Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota, said the last few years have been really tough for nurseries. Bailey’s has had a decrease in sales in each of the last three years. She spoke about the nursery’s four-point plan to turn things around, including focusing on sales, marketing, keeping a better eye on production and sourcing new genetics.

Marketing opportunities

Mark Ostrowski, owner of Laurel Forest Farm at Orangeville, looked at the problem from a marketing viewpoint. Ostrowski has a marketing degree and works as a management consultant in the ag industry. He shared some of information culled from the Canadian Ornamental Horticultural Alliance Deloitte report, Impact of Ornamental Horticulture on the Economy. “Growers should take a look at the opportunities for growth in this report (link) and develop or target their products accordingly,” said Ostrowski. He also talked about developing marketing strategies for business development.

Karl Stensson, president of Sheridan Nurseries, Georgetown, expressed frustration with the poor perceived value of nursery stock, and cited prices of some staple items he grows that have remained the same, or increased only marginally in the past 10 years. “Most input costs have increased, but growers aren’t reflecting the resulting increase in wholesale prices they charge,” he said. Stensson suggested that growers form a collective buying group for supplies, and create a website where surplus product can be posted for other growers to source, to prevent product dumping.

Bill Mori, of Mori Nurseries, Niagara-on-the-Lake, suggested that LO invest in creating a television show that would educate the public, and get them excited about plants and garden design. This would increase confidence and help build the garden community – particularly younger gardeners, and benefit all sectors of the green industry.

Green projects

Harry Worsley of Uxbridge Nurseries in Brooklin believes the environment is the ticket to getting out of this slower economy — investing in green infrastructure projects like highway planting with the MTO. “LO and growers should communicate at least once a year with other landscape contractors and architects, focusing on site selection, varieties, planting depths, earth balls, structure, utilities.” he suggested. “Bring up the value and price of plants and increase survivability of plants in municipal setting.”

John Chisholm with SB Partners, an accounting firm in Burlington, said it’s time to get back to fundamentals when the industry is competing under pressure. He works with others in the agriculture community and coaches his clients to have three plans, A B and C. “Some of the biggest problems clients have is not recognizing when it’s time to change plans.

Discounting is not a long term strategy – it is a short term reaction. Develop a proactive strategy to respond to someone else’s short term strategy,” said Chisholm.

LO executive director, Tony DiGiovanni moderated an ideas session, which resulted in 21 action items to help growers develop opportunities for growth and improve their prosperity. The action plan can be found at www.horttrades.com/sector/growers.