OAN executive sees change in attitude

Mitch Lies/Capital Press Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, believes the nursery industry is slowly recovering from the effects of the recession.

Tough times have forced industry

to adopt lean, efficient mentality

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

WILSONVILLE, Ore. -- Large and small nurseries alike have suffered from the effects of an economic downturn edging into its fourth full year.

But the end may be in sight, according to Oregon Association of Nurseries Executive Director Jeff Stone.

"We're starting to hear that there are shortages out there," Stone said, "and Oregon is very well poised to be the one that would be a quick and quality responder to needs in the marketplace.

"As the East Coast recovers, you will start seeing overall health spread westward," Stone said.

Still, Stone believes the recovery will be slower than most would like.

"The slow ride out of this recession is going to be exactly that," Stone said. "It is going to be slow and steady."

And, he said, the recovery will come too late for some.

"There are some really good folks who didn't make poor business decisions, but got caught in the downdraft, and just didn't make it," Stone said.

With the start of the annual Farwest Show just around the corner, the Capital Press sat down with Stone and talked about the state of the nursery industry.

Stone said the economic downturn has reduced the size of the industry and, consequently, the association.

"I think people are a lot more cautious now, not only people who are growing the plants, but people who are buying them," Stone said.

"You just can't plant 100,000 of something and know you will sell it," Stone said. "You have to have a much more honed ability to see what the market is going to do, which is a tricky thing, because you never know what consumer tastes will be five and 10 years out."

As for the association, Stone said it mirrors the industry.

"We are down at least 20 percent in staffing," he said, "but that is to be expected. When the industry has to tighten their belts, we do, too."

Stone said the association is now focusing on "a core set of things we do for our members."

"We focus on the two trade shows, marketing the nursery brand, our communication effort with The Digger (the OAN magazine), and the advocacy side of the equation," he said.

In addition to the annual Farwest Show, which draws thousands of industry participants from around the globe to Portland each August, OAN hosts the Yard, Garden and Patio Show each year.

Both shows are held in Portland.

In recent years the association has added a sustainability initiative, in which it works to promote best management and sustainable practices on Oregon nurseries, and a "lean" program, designed to increase production efficiency on nurseries.

On the advocacy side of the equation, Stone said OAN continues to work with USDA on changing a prenotification rule that requires nurseries in Washington, Oregon and California that ship product susceptible to certain pests and diseases to prenotify destination states of the shipments.

The requirement is cumbersome and can be expensive to comply with, Stone said, and unfairly stigmatizes West Coast nurseries.

"It is a hassle and it impugns the integrity of our growers, who do really good work and run clean operations," he said.

"We want a system that is fair that actually reduces the opportunity for pests and disease to spread," Stone said.

"We want to make it so any nursery in any state that has infected plant material should have to prenotify," he said. "But you should not punish someone who runs a clean nursery just because they reside in the state of Oregon, Washington or California."

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