"Growing trees is as much an art as it is a science." - Becky Thomas
"When you plant a tree, you plant a legacy," - Pepper Provanzano
"The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Impact Washington hosted by American Hort brought together growers from around the country for a 2 day event filled with advocacy & education. We heard from lawmakers about key issues that affect our industry, and we had the opportunity to meet in congressional offices and have more intimate conversations about how these issues impact our businesses. The experience was informative, productive, enlightening and quite frankly INSPIRING!

I wanted to summarize a bit of what we experienced and touch on the key points I feel are important to share with my fellow nursery growers. Critical issues are at play right now in Washington, and as an industry to need to be aware, be educated and mostly be united in conveying our message to both lawmakers and the public. This may be important now more that ever.

To start out just some background… American Hort hosted Impact 17 and 25 states were present representing a range of nursery operations and suppliers. Together we had over 150 congressional appointments scheduled. Illinois led the largest delegation with 15 of us attending. From IL we had the following companies represented:

  • Hortica – Traci Dooley
  • Home Nursery – Elvin Martinez, Ann Tosovsky, David Bender, Dennis Molitor
  • Midwest Ground Covers & Midwest Trading – Peter Orum, Christa Orum-Keller, Gary Knosher, Joe Hobson
  • Doty Nurseries – Ken Doty
  • Darwin Perennials – Mike Klopmeyer
  • Ball Publishing – Jennifer Zurko
  • Ball Horticultural – Marvin Miller
  • Spring Grove Nursery – Becky Thomas & Maggie Thomas 

There were 3 main issues we learned about and then advocated on behalf of our industry: Horticulture Research, Tax Reform and Immigration Reform. I think it is important to share some of the key points on each of these issues.

Horticulture Research

Nursery & greenhouse crops represent 15% of agriculture in the US, yet we receive less than 1% of total USDA research dollars. The research dollars we do receive are critical in allowing our industry to innovate and produce healthy crops. We specifically advocated for continued support of research dollars through USDA-ARS and the new Farm Bill. Read more about this issue here: Horticultural Research & Innovation

Tax Reform

Boring topic… maybe? Hard to fully understand sometimes… probably? Critical to our operations… ABSOLUTELY! Tax reform is front & center right now in Washington and there are several key items being tossed around which can directly impact our industry – both good & bad. It is imperative that we stay on top of any new reform proposals to insure our industry is protected. Most importantly we advocated for cash accounting & interest expense deductions to remain in place. We conveyed our support of repealing the Estate Tax. Read more about this issue here: Tax Reform

Immigration Reform

This is a hot button issue right now and will take the most work as an industry to push for. We need to become educated and convey our story. After attending Impact 17 it became obvious that there is a huge disconnect between the reality & the perception of this issue. But on the flip side, it became obvious that there is an incredible opportunity RIGHT NOW to make some progress on real immigration reforms.  I think our industry in particular has an important story to tell and one of the best things we can all be doing for our employees and our communities is to step up and work together for true labor reform. Here are some key points we learned which need to be shared:

  • Our industry is experiencing a labor shortage across the board – and the Senators & Representatives we met with said they are hearing that from other industries as well.
  • Our workforce is aging and the demographics in both the US & Mexico point to an aging workforce for years to come.
  • Unemployment in the US is currently 4.4% which is low
  • The US Dept of Labor released new numbers this week showing there are currently 6.17 million un-filled jobs in the US
  • Estimates show that over 50% of the current Ag workforce in the US may be illegally present. Some estimates show up to 12 million undocumented workers are currently in the US.
  • Every H2B seasonal worker creates & sustains 4.64 full time American jobs.
  • The lack of labor is inhibiting growth of business in the US

So those are a few key points to understand and convey. Through the conversations and talks we had these few days we heard over & over that a comprehensive immigration package which addresses all of the issues at once might be unlikely. We may have to look at the individual pieces of this separately to make some headway. And we may have to be willing to compromise on things to be able to move forward. There are some reform bills on the horizon and it is IMPERATIVE that as an industry we stay on top of this so that our concerns are heard and understood. We all know the green industry workforce is already tight If we want to keep the one we currently have and possibly grow it more, we need to be at the table when new programs are being designed. Read more about this issue here: Securing the Workforce

American Hort also put together some intelligent & relevant speakers for us to address these issues. The highlights were:

  • Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan – Mexican Ambassador to the US 2007-2013
  • Representative Rodney Davis – R-IL serving as Chairman of the House Ag Subcommittee on Biotech, Hort, & Research
  • Ray Starling – Special Asst. to the President for Ag, Trade and Food Assistance. He works directly with Sec of Ag Sonny Perdue
  • Senator Thom Tillis – NC Senator on Judiciary Committee working on immigration & visa programs

We also met with Senate & House offices. The IL team met with both Senator Durbin’s & Senator Duckworth’s aides. The meetings were extremely productive and well received. Then our team divided into two groups to meet with Representatives Rodney Davis, Shimkus, Bost, Lahood, Bustos, Roskam, Hultgren, Schnider, Danny Davis, Quigley and Guitierrez. In some cases we met the Representatives and in others their aides. Again all of the meetings were productive and it was apparent that more education about our industry was helpful for them to hear & understand. 

Going forward as a green industry in Illinois, we should all create opportunities to invite our Senators, Representatives and their staff into our operations. They want to understand these issues and see how their work in Washington affects our communities & businesses here in Illinois. Together we need to be united and involved in our state association, the Illinois Green Industry Association. The IGIA represents nurseries, greenhouses, landscapers, garden centers and green industry suppliers from across the state. Beyond that, American Hort represents our industry on a national level. Together our voices are more powerful in both Springfield & Washington. Through these associations you can also find access to the education and updates you need to stay on top of the issues that are going to affect your day to day operations and your employees.

I would be happy to talk more about any of these issues or the Impact event in general. Please feel free to call me at the office at 815-448-2097 to find out more about advocacy and how you can get involved.

I hope that you will join me in working together to make an IMPACT!

Becky Thomas

Below are a few pics from the Impact 17 Event – Enjoy!

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Advocating for green industry businesses is at the heart of what AmericanHort does for our green industry. The year 2017 has brought with it a new administration and new challenges and opportunities that impact the horticulture industry directly: immigration, labor, tax policy, pesticide regulation, among others.

In this new environment, our collective advocacy success will depend upon the horticulture business community paying attention to what is going on and taking action when needed. All politics are indeed local, and your voice can indeed Impact Washington.

Impact Washington is a two-day advocacy summit where green industry business owners and leaders can take action in Washington, D.C. Providing a united front, this is an opportunity for the landscaper, plant grower, garden retailer, and entire green industry communities to personally and collectively advocate for decisions that help us continue the growth of our $163 billion industry.

Over the course of two days, participants will hear from elected leaders, their staff, and other policy experts on issues of great impact on green industry business success. Our attendees will share their experiences directly with policy makers, providing real-world context and influence to the decisions being made.

Spring Grove Nursery is proud to be attending the summit next week. Along with a team from Illinois, we will represent our state and the issues important to us here in the Midwest. We will bring you an update on the latest from our Capital when we return next week.

Feel free to contact us for more info on how you can get involved in advocating for the green industry!

Impact Washington