From left to right: Greenhouse Management editor Karen E. Varga, Mike Gooder, Mark Foertmeyer, Gary Hennen, Tom Demaline, Terry Hines, Nursery Management editor Kelli Rodda, Skeetter McCorkle
Photo: Kimberly Rottmayer

Industry leaders

On Sunday evening at Cultivate’17, Greenhouse Management, Nursery Management and Syngenta proudly welcomed six exceptional greenhouse and nursery industry leaders into the Horticultural Industries Leadership Awards (HILA) Class of 2017. We also honored Jim Zampini, a beloved nurseryman who we lost earlier this year. His memory will live on through his many contributions to horticulture during his long career.

This year’s HILA Class of 2017 includes:

  • Mike Gooder, Plantpeddler
  • Mark Foertmeyer, Foertmeyer & Sons Greenhouse Co.
  • Gary Hennen, Oglesby Plants International
  • Tom Demaline, Willoway Nurseries
  • Terry Hines, Hale and Hines Nursery
  • Skeetter McCorkle, McCorkle Nurseries

Get to know these remarkable leaders by reading their stories in the July digital editions of Greenhouse Management ( and Nursery Management ( Do you know a leader who deserves to be part of the HILA Class of 2018? Email Karen Varga at with the person’s name and how their leadership has impacted the industry.

Photo: Patrick Williams 

GE petunia update

Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president of AmericanHort, provided an overview and an update on what he called the both surprising and challenging genetically engineered petunias situation during an informal presentation on the show floor. As many are aware, it all began in April when a Finnish researcher became suspicious about the origins of an orange petunia. After investigating the plant, it was discovered that there was foreign DNA from maize in the plant, which gave it its unusual orange color. That prompted breeders from multiple companies, who were unaware they were working with foreign germplasm, to test their genetics, as well as an investigation by the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Biotechnology Regulatory Services (USDA-APHIS-BRS), which regulates genetically engineered products in the U.S. As of the most recent USDA update on June 28, there are now 50 confirmed and nine suspected petunias and in colors other than orange, from multiple breeding companies. Regelbrugge lamented the “painful economic losses” in the industry, but noted that despite the terrible timing and drama — the USDA guidance came out just before Mother’s Day weekend — retailers were not affected and consumers for the most part were unfazed by the GE plants. AmericanHort’s immediate focus was to work with the USDA and the American Seed Trade Association on testing guidance, and Regelbrugge says it is also working to ensure that this does not impede plant shipments. He said although it is still unknown how the foreign germplasm, which originated from experiments at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in the 1980s, got into commercial breeding programs, the important thing is that the GE petunias pose no risk to humans, animals or the environment. He said although he is “agnostic” on whether GMO is bad or good, he is hopeful that breeders and the USDA could work together to streamline and simplify the regulatory process to prevent this unprecedented situation, and the “loss of good genetics,” from happening in the future.

Photo: Patrick Williams

Leading with energy

Sunday morning was energized by Jon Gordon’s keynote presentation about the power of positive leadership. Gordon, who admits he’s not a naturally positive person, told attendees that it’s possible to learn how to lead with positivity. Here are a few lessons from his presentation:

  • Focus on the root, not the fruit. Gordon said that if you think of your company like a plant, the fruit is things like profits, while the roots are the people and culture. He told the audience to remember to nurture the roots so that the plant grows strong.
  • Don’t seek happiness; seek passion and purpose. Gordon said that happiness is a byproduct of passion and purpose, not something to chase. If you’ve lost your passion and purpose, get back to it, he advised.
  • Be connected to be more committed. Take the time to interact with employees and colleagues to foster deeper connections, which in turn will lead both parties to feel a stronger sense of commitment to the company and each other.
  • You can’t be both thankful and stressed. In today’s busy, seemingly nonstop world, people are busier and more stressed than ever. Gordon recommended taking a step back and counting your blessings — it’s nearly impossible to complain while you’re being thankful.
  • Be positive about negativity. While it may seem counterintuitive, great leaders continue to lead with positivity and determination, even through the toughest times. Life is a series of sprints and a boxing match, Gordon said, and much of a leader’s success is due to his ability to keep running and stay positive.

At the end of his presentation, Gordon challenged each member of the audience to choose one word they would embrace for the rest of 2017, such as “serve” or “purpose,” and focus on living out that word. Which word would you choose?

See a video with more takeaways here:

Ken Fisher, CEO of AmericanHort, recapped the past year and discussed the need to bring more people into the horticulture industry.
Photo: Karen E. Varga

Female perspectives

Thirteen women who hold various roles within the horticulture industry participated in the Cultivate’17 panel discussion “Making Strides: Women in Horticulture.” Among the main topics of discussion were:

  • The unique roles of women in the industry. Suzi McCoy, president of Garden Media Group, said the end consumer often fits into the demographic of 45 to 65-year-old women. “We know what we’re looking for, we know what women want, we know what we’re all about,” she said. “Women bring to the table what the companies need to provide products and services and the plants to fill those needs of the customer.” Although she recognizes that the end consumer is often women, Marta Maria Garcia, marketing director at Costa Farms in Miami, reminded her fellow panelists that business-to-business professionals in the industry need to remember that they are often still dealing with men. “I think that if you just commit, and you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you can sell anything to anybody,” she said.
  • The gender wage gap. Anne Leventry, president of PanAmerican Seed, began her career at Ball Horticultural in human resources. Having a background in HR, she has seen that men often start new jobs receiving higher pay than their female counterparts, and then continue to get paid more throughout their time at a company. “The most important time to negotiate anything related to your salary is when you take the job the first time,” she said. The wage gap is not only present in horticulture businesses, but in academia as well, said Dr. Bridget Behe, professor of horticulture marketing at Michigan State University. “In academia, our salaries are a matter of public record, and it is a fact that women in academia earn less than their male counterparts,” she said.
  • Why there aren’t more women-owned businesses. Barbara Jeffery, president of Jeffery’s Greenhouses in Ontario, Canada, made the observation that, with family-run businesses, there is often a tradition that the oldest son takes over. “Quite frankly, I can think of a couple [examples],” she said. “Even my father, George Jeffery & Son Greenhouses — that was one of our names at one time.” Generally, men dominate the business world, McCoy said, but she noted that the cannabis industry, for instance, is seeing an influx of women business owners. “I think that things have changed now,” she said. “I think there are opportunities for women to own their own business. There are opportunities for women to do anything we want.”

Cultivate'17 boasted 8 acres of booths, 155 new exhibitors, 125 educational sessions, and more than 1,600 new varieties, according to Ken Fisher.
Photo: Michelle Simakis

AmericanHort’s goals

Ken Fisher, CEO of AmericanHort, discussed AmericanHort’s role in the industry and some key initiatives for the association during Monday morning’s keynote address. He noted some of AmericanHort’s goals: work to get more financial resources for horticulture companies to help the industry grow, workforce development and their collaboration with the FFA, and bring the industry together to improve the overall structure.

Politics or policy?

Craig Regelbrugge also addressed the large crowd. Regelbrugge prefaced his address by first talking about the difference between politics and policy, and what the 2016 election means for the industry. “We are in an age of disruption,” he said, comparing the election of Donald Trump as president to the rise of Uber, the ride-share app that has rattled taxi cab companies and drivers. He said there are several reasons why the climate was right for an election of a nontraditional politician.

The next Farm Bill is expected in 2018, and Regelbrugge wants specialty crops to have a seat at the table when it’s being drafted. This representation could make for better research and advocacy.

Regelbrugge hopes to keep representing horticulture in Washington with integrity, knowledge and passion. “It’s about policy, not politics,” he said.