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Conversations for a Changing Future

Posted By Cindy Slone, Monday, February 01, 2016
The year 2016 has begun and ASHS is looking at the trends in horticulture and how we can best serve our membership.

There are many issues circulating in the news and social media about a variety of horticultural-related issues such as the GMO debate, climate change, neonicotinoids on bees–just to name a few. However, the one topic that seems to be at the top of the list is the decline of student enrollment in horticultural programs. This down-swing is occurring while reports such as the one from USDA and Purdue University are showing that job opportunities will be strongest in the plant science market in the next five years. (See the report, Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Agriculture, Renewable Natural Resources, and the Environment, United States, 2015-2020, is the eighth in a series of five-year projections initiated by USDA in 1980.)

Janet Cole, Director of the Landscape Management Program at Oklahoma State University states, “Student numbers are still declining and are critically low in all horticulture programs. This will limit growth of the industry, and also in the extreme instance can eventually affect our food availability.”

Dr. Cole does see a shift among interest to areas such as community gardening, locally-grown foods, and sustainability. Is this a reflection of horticulture in general? Is it shifting in specialty areas? And how is this recognized in education, certifications, and industry?

In discussing the issues of student (and in some areas faculty) decline, Dr. Dennis Ray from the University of Arizona, provides the following insight, “The reality is that students are different, the field (horticulture) is different, funding is different, the problems we address, and the universities are different.” Individual universities are making adaptations to meet the change in student interest. But there needs to be more outreach to get an invested interest in horticulture from a younger age and keep the interest through college.

The USDA/Purdue report will hopefully reenergize us all to work harder to spread knowledge and meet the increasing demand. ASHS President-elect John Dole of North Carolina State University states, “Student numbers appear to be declining at more college and university programs just when the number of horticulture jobs are increasing. Not only will we need national efforts such as Seed Your Future, but we will need local advocacy on this issue as well.”  Of course, the idea of change to address new trends will take time and planning.  There is not an immediate fix to attract more students to meet the anticipated increase in job opportunities.

ASHS efforts for 2016 center around  formulating a remodeled strategic plan to make sure we are working on meeting the trends of horticulture by sending out the Member Survey this past November. By surveying our membership, we are mirroring what universities are doing in getting feedback on what the interests are becoming. This is part of a strategic planning process that will help ASHS craft its vision for a changing future to better serve the membership and horticulture. ASHS President Curt Rom, along with the ASHS Board, will be instrumental in providing great leadership as we tackle the issue of the decline in horticulture programs. ASHS will continue to be involved in Seed Your Future as we look at the many ways we can provide advocacy to develop an interest in horticulture among younger people.

With all of this said, the future of horticulture is evolving at a rapid pace, and we must keep abreast of the many issues while engaging youth to understand what horticulture is and how important it is.

So what should we expect in 2016? We should strive to be proactive and implement new ways to advocate, while sharing the latest science for the greater good. Our issues are global and relevant to all.

This article will be posted in the ASHS Community Blog. ASHS welcomes any feedback on horticulture advocacy and retention in 2016. There is additional information on Seed Your Future initiative on the ASHS website.

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Eric Stafne says...
Posted Monday, February 01, 2016
Great observations, Cindy. I don't pretend to be fully engaged in this issue because I don't work directly with many students, but from what I see we have several different problems. First, the term "horticulture" is poorly understood by most. Second, the marketing to the public of what we do is poor and we all need to do better at describing the unique opportunities that exist within the profession. Several years ago I had a fellow say to me, "If only I knew I could study grapes when I was in school that is what I would have done!" Instead he sells insurance. People are passionate about what we do -- they just don't fully realize it. Third, and really just an observation, there seems to be some backlash against higher education and science. When I was a kid I read a story in the newspaper that said of any profession, the public viewed scientists as the most trustworthy. That stuck with me for a long time. Today, I don't think that is true. We are viewed with skepticism, and sometimes, downright hostility due to changing views. In the end, new students wanting to get into horticulture may think, "I don't need a degree to farm and garden." What should we do? As I tell anyone who wants to sell a product, "What is your marketing plan?" We, as a profession, need to be better at telling compelling stories that resonate with the public. In 1981 my grandparents took me to see "Raiders of the Lost Ark". From that moment on I wanted to be an archaeologist. Now, that didn't happen, but I did become a scientist. So, who is the torchbearer for horticulture?
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Cindy Slone says...
Posted Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Eric, Thank you for your feedback. It is an interesting topic and I would love to hear what approaches are currently being used to respond to this issue.
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