How the Horticultural Research Institute is still growing the industry 60 years later

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Editor’s Note: The article below was written by Sally Benson, a freelance writing and editing professional, in recognition of the 60and anniversary of the Horticultural Research Institute, the research arm of AmericanHort, which has provided more than $9.5 million in funds since 1962 for research projects covering a wide range of important production, environmental and business issues for green industry. We invite you to share your own thoughts on the value of the Horticultural Research Institute by commenting at the end of the article, or by emailing [email protected].

Think back, if you will, to 1962:

  • John Glenn became the first human to orbit the Earth
  • President John F. Kennedy was dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Rachel Carson has published her landmark book, “Silent Spring”

And in September 1962, a small group of forward-thinking nurserymen established the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) to provide funds that would support targeted industry-driven research. From a combined gift of $1,300 in the early 1960s to have supported a total of $9.5 million in research grants and fellowships by its 60th year, HRI continues to grow – and expand the industry.

“It is remarkable to imagine that 60 years ago, HRI was just an idea. Today that idea has grown into an incredible organization singularly focused on the research needs of green industry,” says Alan Jones, current President of the Horticultural Research Institute and President of Manor View Farms in Monkton, MD. “Sixty years later, on the shoulders of those who started the work, HRI is a strong and thriving organization with hundreds of volunteers, thousands of donors and millions of dollars invested in research.

The organization’s roots go back to the early 1950s, when the Board of Directors of the American Association of Nurserymen (AAN) proposed a program to solicit financial contributions to support industry research. This first attempt laid the groundwork, but it was not until a few years later that the AAN Board of Directors officially established HRI as a separate organization from, but linked to, the AAN.

Since the early 1960s, through the transition from AAN to the American Nursery and Landscape Association and then to AmericanHort, the Horticultural Research Institute has been committed to prioritizing and funding research that addresses the problems and specific challenges identified by industry professionals.

Where do these funds come from? The money is contributed by industry stakeholders – growers, landscapers, garden center retailers and other green industry professionals – through endowments they have established with HRI.

“It’s a grassroots organization,” says Harvey Cotten, chair of HRI’s ad hoc development committee. “All the money comes from industry; they are individuals or companies who have seen the wisdom of trying to solve our own problems.

All funds are invested, and therefore the money continues to accrue interest over the years; the fund earns dividends, which can then be used to fund further research.

“I’ve often said that you don’t give to HRI, it’s not a charitable contribution in the sense that we make a contribution to our church or even to feed the homeless,” adds Cotten. “It’s actually an investment that will pay you dividends, ie problem solving, so it’s not just a gift. And that research is what will make someone profitable in their own business.

Dale Deppe, president of Spring Meadow Nursery and member of HRI’s investment committee, put it this way:

“HRI does things that we cannot do ourselves. You are better off together than you are as a single person in a nursery or greenhouse. Because you can’t do the research, you can’t fund it at the HRI level.

It’s an investment in finding search solutions to your specific challenge. But it is also an investment in the future of the industry.

Looking ahead, HRI has identified four strategic focus areas that serve as a guide to further prioritize funding for research programs. To examine and identify the wide range of interests within the broader green industry, HRI brought together a broad panel of stakeholders, each representing unique businesses and industry segments.

“We sat down with 50 different stakeholders, representing the entire industry and every segment of it to talk about what we see in the future: what are the research priorities we need to look at, and how would we then prioritize the type of research projects we want to tackle? And that’s where the four areas of strategic focus came into being,” says Cotton.

The first domain is “Quantifying the Benefits of Plants.” The ultimate target is the consumer – those who buy plants and plant-related services – and the goal is to help them fully understand and appreciate the value of plants. But to do that, says Cotten, “we need to give our employees, whether on the greenhouse side, the landscape side, or the retail side, the ammunition they need to show the benefits of plants as more than just something pretty. Whether it’s ecosystem services, attracting pollinators, pollution, erosion, all of those things, including climate change.

Research that highlights the quantitative value of plants — what specifically do plants do for me? What do plants do for the environment? – will provide green industry professionals with the information that will help sell these plants and grow and support the industry.

The second area is “Creating innovative solutions.” A great example of an ongoing challenge, for all segments of the industry, is the workforce.

“When we’ve looked at creating innovative solutions, labor continues to be our biggest issue,” Cotten says. “So how can we, instead of just saying fix the workforce, figure out what innovative solutions will reduce the need for additional labour?”

Is mechanization the solution? Are efficacy studies necessary? The funding of the most appropriate targeted, specific and dedicated research will make it possible to answer these questions and find innovative, useful and applicable solutions.

The third area is “Collecting consumer information.” The growers excel in propagation, hybridization and, of course, plant growth. Landscape professionals are experts in designing and installing built environments that showcase these plants. And garden centers are usually that essential point of contact between buyer and grower.

Cotten says of the stakeholder considerations, “Gathering consumer insights was really about looking at the buying public and the marketing of our plants, which we had never done.” Listening to the end user, assessing the wants and needs of the home gardener, working with professional customers and customers to determine what they are looking for: all of this is necessary to provide the best, most valuable and most valuable goods and services. salable.

The final area of ​​strategic focus identified by HRI’s panel of industry professionals is “Producing practical and actionable solutions.” Ideally, this is the goal of all research funded by RHI grants. Research for research’s sake is commendable, admirable and necessary. But what green industry professionals need from HRI-funded research – the research they have invested their money in – is information and strategies they can implement to solve the problems they have identified.

“Producing practical and actionable solutions,” Cotten explains, “is that easy-to-define category where very specific challenges are addressed. This is where growers get the answers to their unique problems: “There’s the crape myrtle bark scale; how can we solve it? Cotton said. “Or there’s a spotted lanternfly coming, or a box tree moth. We wanted to have an area of ​​focus where those kinds of issues would fit really well.

As the country appears to be emerging from the restrictive grip of a global pandemic, studies have determined that lockdowns, career changes, working from home and other factors have contributed to an extraordinary growth in the number of new gardeners : 16 to 18 million are estimated to have entered the market. Reaching them, educating them, maintaining them as good customers, producing the best quality and most sought-after plants – all of this is quite a challenge. But HRI has already provided financial support for research that will lead them and the industry into the future.



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