To view the 2017 New Annual Varieties Digest, please click on the cover image after the advertisment, or click here.
Congratulations, you have survived another busy season. I trust you’ve taken time to thank your employees for a job well done and to celebrate their achievements individually and as a team. It truly takes a village to be successful in this industry.
Now that things have slowed down, I hope you’re taking time to refresh, restore and rejuvenate. Just as plants go dormant in the winter so they can bloom again in the spring, it’s important to recharge your batteries when business slows down.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where people are working longer hours, yet leaving more and more vacation days on the table every year. According to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off, 55 percent of Americans didn’t take all their vacation days in 2015, up from 42 percent in 2013.
The study cites numerous reasons people don’t take time off. The top two reasons are the fear that either no one else can do their job, or that they will be rewarded by having to come back to a mountain of work. Others want to show dedication to their company or are concerned that if they do take time off, they will be passed over for a promotion.
As the leader goes, so goes the team. If you’re a workaholic who never takes time off, your employees will be reluctant to as well. Before you start thinking, “That sounds great,” I invite you to consider the long-term costs of fatigue, rigidity, stress, increased healthcare costs and loss of creativity and innovation.
Four things that you can do to help your team refresh, restore and rejuvenate:
- Model that taking time off to recharge is critical to success and well-being. When you come back energized with a smile on your face and new ideas for the future, you strongly signal that you want your team to do the same. State your beliefs and the message becomes even stronger.
- Monitor vacation days. Ensure your full-time staff regularly takes time off by monitoring their vacation days and insisting they schedule time away from work. While you can’t force them to go on vacation and a week might not always be feasible, you can at a minimum require them to take the occasional long weekend or leave work early.
- Cross-train and create a team mindset. No one wants to return to double the work. You can kill two birds with one stone by cross training people on how to do the tasks of other people’s jobs. This ensures individuals can take a vacation without worrying about all the work that will be waiting for them, and that your department and organization have the safety net of having someone in the wings who can hit the ground running on any given day.
- Create a “don’t check in” policy. In today’s hyper-connected world, it can be challenging to truly disengage from email and work. When an individual is on vacation, create the expectation that unless it is absolutely critical, they will not be contacted, and they are expected to unplug from work while on vacation. Record new voicemails and set emails to auto respond with a message that tells them when you’ll be back and whom they should contact in case they need immediate assistance.
While it may be scary to leave, if your people aren’t up to the task of covering work and keeping things running smoothly while you’re gone, you’ve dropped the ball on training and are crippling your staff and organization. No one should be indispensable, not even you!
Sherene works with organizations that want to boost their Leadership IQ so they can enhance effectiveness, increase employee engagement and raise productivity. sherenemchenry.com
The National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association (NGMA) is a professional trade organization for the manufacturers and suppliers of greenhouses and greenhouse components. NGMA members are committed to building greenhouses with a level of professionalism you won’t find elsewhere.
When you become a member, you will receive the following benefits:
Website promotion, information and advertising. An alphabetical listing of each member of NGMA is listed on the website at ngma.com. The listing includes contact information and is available by member category. The website also includes “Helpful Hints,” which may be printed and distributed to clientele, and copies of NGMA standards and guidelines. NGMA offers its members a discounted website banner advertising program as well.
“Members Only” section of website. Members obtain access to the “Members Only” section of the website, which includes copies of past presentations from Spring Meetings, minutes of meetings, photographs from Spring Meetings and other pertinent information that only members can access. This is a growing area of the organization!
E-newsletter. This quarterly publication contains useful information for NGMA members. NGMA Insights also presents an opportunity for you to submit news for distribution to other NGMA members and to write articles about industry trends.
Spring Meeting. NGMA provides an opportunity for networking, education, business and fun at the Spring Meeting. Up-to-date information is available from top-notch speakers and networking opportunities between members abound! Members will find many beneficial reasons to attend the Spring Meeting.
Legislative Awareness. NGMA shares legislative information with members on a regular basis. Members can also find additional information in the e-newsletter.
Public Relations. NGMA and its members are promoted in industry magazines. This activity not only puts our members in front of the readers, but it promotes membership in NGMA. In addition, NGMA provides “Member of NGMA” signs to companies that exhibit at AmericanHort’s Cultivate show.
Social Networking. In addition to the Spring Meeting networking opportunities, NGMA provides its members with a virtual networking opportunity on its Facebook page.
Industry Leadership. As a member, you have the unique opportunity to serve on the NGMA Board of Directors and chair the committees that steer this organization and guarantee its future as a leader in the greenhouse industry.
To learn more, visit ngma.com
2016 NGMA Members:
ACME ENGINEERING & MANUFACTURING
ADAPTIVE PLASTICS, INC./SOLEXX
AGRA TECH, INC.
ALBERT J. LAUER, INC.
ALLIED TUBE & CONDUIT
AMERICAN COOLAIR CORP.
AMERICAN TUBE AND PIPE
ARGUS CONTROL SYSTEMS, LTD.
ATLAS MANUFACTURING, INC.
AUTOGROW SYSTEMS LIMITED
B&K INSTALLATIONS, INC.
BERRY PLASTICS CORPORATION
BWI COMPANIES, INC.
CALIFORNIA POLYTECHNIC STATE UNIVERSITY
CLACKAMAS COMMUNITY COLLEGE
CONLEY’S MANUFACTURING & SALES
GREAT AMERICAN MEDIA SERVICES
GREENHOUSE MANAGEMENT/GIE MEDIA
LOCK DRIVES, INC.
LUDVIG SVENSSON, INC.
LUDY GREENHOUSE MFG. CORP
MEISTER MEDIA WORLDWIDE
MICRO GROW GREENHOUSE SYSTEMS, INC.
MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY
MODINE MANUFACTURING COMPANY
ROUGH BROTHERS, INC.
STUPPY GREENHOUSE MANUFACTURING
THE GREENHOUSE COMPANY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, LLC
TOTAL ENERGY GROUP (FORMERLY RIDDER USA)
UNITED GREENHOUSE SYSTEMS, INC.
UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT
UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING
VAN WINGERDEN GREENHOUSE COMPANY
VOSTERMANS VENTILIATION/MULTIFAN, INC.
WADSWORTH CONTROL SYSTEMS
WHEATLAND TUBE/WESTERN TUBE, A DIVISION OF ZEKELMAN INDUSTRIES
WINANDY GREENHOUSE CO., INC.
As a child growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Dr. James Rakocy did not plan on a career in aquaponics. While his family had a home garden and he enjoyed fishing and raising fish in an aquarium, his life took him in other directions. First, he joined the Peace Corps and served in Africa by teaching at a secondary school. Then, he was a teacher in Poughkeepsie, New York, before getting a master’s degree in environmental biology at the University of North Carolina. Finally, he took a job in environmental consulting with a focus on water quality.
Rakocy, now retired and living in Thailand, says he didn’t really like any of the jobs he had before his career in aquaponics started. While working at his consulting job, he came across a magazine about aquaculture, an article detailed a program at Auburn University where the students helped save a pond's ecosystem by using an aquaculture system. This sparked his interest, and as a result, he applied to Auburn’s Ph.D. program. He embarked on studies that would ultimately lead him to a 30-year career at the University of the Virgin Islands and a lifetime of studying and advancing aquaponics at events like the recent National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association Spring Meeting, where he was a presenter.
“I never had a plan B,” he says with a laugh.
An unexpected career
In 1980, when Rakocy graduated from Auburn with his Ph.D. in aquaculture, the timing was perfect. A job opening at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in aquaculture seemed to fit exactly what he wanted to do next, so he accepted the position. Unknown to Rakocy, a professor already working at the university had built an aquaponics system in his backyard.
“It was a really basic system,” Rakocy says. “It was one of the first tries at an aquaponics system. [The previous professor] was growing tomatoes in it and raising tilapia in a swimming pool. He had some pretty good results, and the university wanted him to begin incorporating that work at the [research] station.”
That professor, however, quit right around the time Rakocy started at UVI. Upon hearing the news, Rakocy proposed taking on the aquaponics project, as he knew the university wanted to continue it even as the professor who had built the rudimentary system had left.
“It helped that I knew that supervisor, who also had a degree from Auburn,” he says.
Rakocy also notes that other fortunate circumstances bolstered his ability to spend his career researching aquaponics. When he needed funds for new research endeavors, he rarely faced any pushback — resulting in 30 years of uninterrupted funding. And after seven years, Rakocy found himself in charge of the entire University of the Virgin Islands research station. At other land grant universities with more competition, he feels he may have never had a chance to study aquaponics for as long, and as thoroughly, as he did.
“Although [the director job] did cut into my research time because of all the administration work,” he says with a laugh.
The Virgin Islands also proved to be an ideal place for the research. Rakocy says the island is fairly dry and there aren’t many ponds or much running water in the area to draw water from.
“What we were trying to do was create an industry from scratch,” Rakocy says. “I was forced to use something that utilized very little water, and aquaponics was it.”
Now, he sees more people interested in it both as a hobby and commercially. The benefits he learned about back the 1980s are going mainstream.
A pioneering career in research
At UVI, Rakocy’s work focused on vegetables and herbs; his previous forays into aquaponics focused on water chestnuts and some edible plants. The first aquaponics system he and his team at UVI constructed used three and half oil barrels — a production setup Rakocy says has become more widely used in recent years. In four and a half months, the first system produced 100 pounds of food.
“We made a ton of mistakes, but we reduced it,” Rakocy says. “We had no idea how to design it, how many fish we needed or what kind of plants would work.”
Next, he and his team built six systems for controlled experiments. According to his notes, each system contained two hydroponic tanks with a total growing area of 154 ft2 (14.3 m2), and a 3,000-gal (11.4 m3) fish tank. After experimenting with those tanks, Rakocy and his team built another system with two hydroponic tanks with a total growing area of 768 ft2 (71.4 m2) with a 3,000-gal (11.4 m3) fish tank.
Years of trialing ultimately lead to UVI developing the first-ever commercial scale system in 1999. It contained six hydroponic tanks and had a growing area 2,303 ft2 (214 m2) and four fish rearing tanks, each with a water volume of 1,320 gal (5.0 m3). Per Rakocy’s notes, the goal was to stagger fish production in the aquaponics system to keep nutrient generation relatively consistent. After more long-term trialing — including one trial that lasted three years — larger fish tanks were installed.
It was this initial commercial system that is the basis for the current commercial-scale UVI aquaponics system.
“I had three professional researchers working for me,” Rakocy says. “I wasn’t able to do as much of the field work once I started directing the research, but I was still involved.”
While at UVI, Rakocy authored or co-authored 96 papers on aquaponics research. He also co-edited Volumes 1 and 2 of the Tilapia Aquaculture in the Americans and wrote “Aquaponics Q&A,” a 235-page book primer with basic information for those interested in aquaponics.
At the time Rakocy started his career at UVI, he says there was not much aquaponics research being pursued by universities in the U.S. or elsewhere. He remembers there only being a small trial and paper from Southern Illinois University and another paper from a small university in Germany. According to Rakocy, the work he was doing was back in 1980 was not understood the way it is now.
“It was absolutely in its infancy,” he says. “No one knew what aquaponics was. In fact, no one called it aquaponics. We just called it an integrated system."
Rakocy says he isn’t sure what he would have ended up doing had his career in aquaponics not manifested itself in the way and time that it did. All he knows is that he wouldn’t have been happy in any of his jobs before his job at UVI. He goes as far as to compare his career, and ultimate success studying aquaponics, to the 2005 Woody Allen movie “Match Point.” The film examines the impact of luck and circumstances on life.
“You know how a tennis ball could fall on one side or the other?” he says. “The whole premise of that movie is that a lot of what happens in your life has to do with luck. And I lucked out.”
Looking at the future
From his base in Thailand — he says he retired there because he didn’t want to retire in Florida like everyone else — Rakocy now works on a project called The Aquaponics Doctors. Along with Dr. Wilson Lennard, an Australian with a background in biology who started research aquaponics in the mid-2000s. Together, they offer consulting on everything from how to set up an aquaponics system to what crops to grow to what system components might be cheaper and more efficient. Their goal is to help make aquaponics a larger part of the growing community. On the research side, UVI no longer has a dedicated program as when Rakocy ran it, but there are six universities in North America with fully functioning aquaponics programs.
One area of the world Rakocy says he hopes embraces aquaponics fully is in the Middle East. He and Lennard have consulted on projects in Abu Dhabi and Rakocy says that region of the world is perfect for aquaponics because of its relative lack of water. Not unlike the Virgin Islands, Rakocy says, the Middle East lacks the water necessary to produce food in the quantities it needs.
“They don’t have any water and aquaponics is very conservative on water,” he says. “The only water we lose is from vaporization and some from removing sludge. But there are techniques where you can get water back into the system.”
“All you do is harvest your plants and feed your fish and plants,” he says. “It’s a very stable system.”
In addition to his work consulting and helping plan projects, Rakocy travels the world and speaks on aquaponics at different conferences while also squeezing in some well-deserved travel time for himself. To date, he has been invited to speak on aquaponics in countries like Canada, Norway and Saudi Arabia. He has also given presentations in Brazil, China and Thailand. In short, Rakocy has been all over the world lecturing on aquaponics. His hope now is for aquaponics to expand beyond hobbyists and smaller growers producing one or two bays of crops. Currently, he says commercial growers using aquaponics are confined to niche markets and specialty crops. Most aquaponic food sales, he says, are direct, local and in relatively small quantities.
“What’s so appealing about aquaponics to people — especially to home gardeners — is that you can raise plants easily and incredibly productively,” Rakocy says. “There’s no weeding. And if you follow the UVI method, there’s very little monitoring.”
One day, Rakocy hopes, bigger commerical growers will also adopt aquaponics and more researchers will take on the challenge of improving the technology. But he’s also happy to have gotten this far.
Dr. Charlie Hall, professor and Ellison Chair at Texas A&M University, was one of the featured speakers at NGMA’s Spring Meeting. He gave presentations discussing the economic trends affecting the industry and provided his outlook on the economy. Hall discussed many of these points with Greenhouse Management in June.
Greenhouse Management: Which economic factors are affecting the industry right now?
Charlie Hall: Well, of course, there’s a number of them. I think one of the key economic indicators that we’re looking at right now is, what’s going to happen to the interest rates? This week, the FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee] met and increased interest rates by only about 25 basis points. We are likely to get another one or two increases before the end of the year, but they too are likely to be small increases. Interest rates are important because they affect CapEx [capital expenditure] investments on the part of growers. And part of those CapEx investments, of course, are greenhouses and greenhouse equipment. So that’s why that indicator is of particular importance to the greenhouse manufacturers.
Some of the other factors — obviously we’ve got a keen eye on what’s going to go on in terms of tax reform, particularly in terms of any value-added taxes and how that may influence imports, because right now, we don’t have a value-added tax, or border adjustment tax, on very many imported goods that we use in the green industry. Of course, our industry uses quite a bit of stuff that is imported from other countries — peat moss [being] one of the primary ones. So honestly, we’re keeping a close eye on that, as well.
One of the good things is that the leading economic index — it’s a foretelling of the economy in the next nine to 11 months — is usually a good indicator and that’s still going up. As I said back in April [at the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association Spring Meeting], that’s a good thing, and we should look at the rest of the year and probably next spring, to be kind to us economically. But — is it going to be kind to us weather-wise? That’s a good question.
GM: How will the weather affect the economy?
CH: That’s where the climate change discussions right now come into play, because President Trump just said we’re going to leave the Paris Agreement (against the wishes of many prominent manufacturing business CEOs), so we’re going to be rolling back some of the environmental regulations that have been put into place over the last decade. It may help alleviate some costs on the part of the industry, but who knows what that’s going to do in the long-term. That’s the issue. The reason many manufacturing businesses wanted to stay in the Paris Agreement is that they at least knew the rules of the game. Now, there is more uncertainty and making CapEx investments in the midst of uncertainty is not an easy thing.
GM: The current political situation has had a widespread effect on the economy. You presented your view in a presentation slide during the Spring Meeting as a “non-partisan paradigm.” Can you explain that a little bit?
CH: Whenever you read a forecast by an economist, it helps to know which side of the political fence they lean because it can affect what they say. All I meant was that I try to talk about policies and stay away from specific mentions of one platform versus another. For example, one of the things I mentioned there at the meeting was that Trump had a six-point platform during his campaign, and he just can’t do all those things at the same time, in spite of the promises he made, because we don’t have the money for it. How do you justify a tax cut, and then turn right around and spend $1 trillion on infrastructure spending? It just doesn’t work. You can’t have money not coming in, and then send more money going out than what you can afford. So that’s pretty much the situation we have. It’s going to be interesting to see which ones of these policies win out.
GM: You mentioned CapEx investments. Can you explain how what happens with those could affect the greenhouse industry?
CH: Growers have a certain amount of money in terms of retained earnings, or excess profits, that they spend on buying inputs. Or they can use some of that to purchase equipment and long-term assets. That’s what’s referred to as capital expenditures, or CapEx. Growers, when they’re evaluating whether they’re going to build a new greenhouse or implement some new greenhouse technology — maybe a new climate control system or maybe a new piece of equipment that automates various greenhouse functions — they’ve got to weigh the long-term benefit in terms of either added revenues or reduced costs, against the cost of the money.
It’s called a net present value analysis. If the net present value of all the discounted streams of revenue or reduced costs is greater than zero, it makes sense, financially, to pull the trigger on that investment. Interest rates have a lot to do with the discount factor — that is that we’re putting into today’s dollars — because when you build a greenhouse, you don’t just use it for one year and then build a new greenhouse. You use it over 15, 20, 25 years. And so the value of the dollar 25 years from now is not the same as the dollar today. We use a discount factor to put that into today’s dollars. The interest rate affects that discount rate. That’s why that’s important, because if the interest rates start increasing, then obviously the expected revenues — or the additional revenues, or the expected cost savings — have got to be greater, because you’re discounting them by a larger factor to put them into today’s dollars. That’s why the interest rate matters.
GM: At the Spring Meeting, you presented information regarding housing starts. Is that a major factor in this outlook?
CH: Well sure, because when people build houses, they put landscapes around them. When they have a landscape, they’re going to plant flowers, shrubs and trees and so forth, and if they’re not building houses, obviously that affects the final demand for plants, which then affects the derived demand for greenhouses, because if we’re not selling as many bedding plants, we don’t need as much greenhouse space.
That final demand is pretty critical in terms of selling greenhouses indirectly. That’s why I call it a derived demand versus a final demand [when describing the end consumer]. Derived demand is derived from final demand. So as consumers go, we tend to go.
The good news is that the housing industry has been building houses left and right, and part of the problem now is the shortage of houses. The supply of existing homes is less than four and a half months worth of supply, where it was 14 months at the height of the recession. So we don’t have as many houses for sale, as what we used to have. And part of it is because of the speculation market in housing, but be that as it may, builders can’t quite keep up.
Of course, one of the drags on the housing market has been the fact that the Millennials now have $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, so a lot of first-time home buyers have not been able to [buy homes] because they saddled up with too much debt, and they couldn’t get a mortgage. But there were three policies that Fannie Mae just passed for first-time homebuyers, which may help alleviate some of that concern.
GM: What else should growers know about the economy right now?
CH: Well, the big thing is that the current growth rate isn’t anything to write home to mama about, but it is growing steadily. The economy is kind of like a plow horse — it’s kind of slow and steady and plodding along, versus the racehorse that is racing off at 8 to 10 percent growth. It’s just not going to be at that level anymore. The new normal is the plow horse kind of economy. At any extent, as we used to say back in the days when I used to work in the hayfield, “It’s time to make hay.”
There aren’t a lot of economic headwinds in front of us, so we’ve got to take advantage of this time period, because at some point, there is going to be another economic downturn. We are pushing the law of averages. We usually have a recession every six and a half years, but it’s been well beyond that now, pushing eight years. It was June of 2009 when our recovery started. The law of averages says that we’re kind of pushing the envelope, and so when that downturn does occur, whether it be next year, or the year after, we need to be ready for it. In my mind, it’s about managing your working capital — you’ve got to manage that. You can’t be overinvested, you can’t be overleveraged with the bank having too much skin in the game. The best thing for growers to do right now is to focus on what they do best — their value proposition. Focus on what you do best and don’t worry about the rest.