Horticultural Globalism

July 5, 2016

We hear the term ‘Globalism’ bandied about.  Some people blame ‘globalism’ for the loss of American manufacturing jobs (and I think they’re right!).  Others ascribe to ‘globalism’ tremendous savings for the American consumer through the availability of cheaper off-shore goods.  (I think they’re right too.)

But what does is all mean for horticulture?

My first experience with Horticultural Globalism occurred in 1976 in Denver, Colorado.  We labored for weeks ripping out carnation plants…long a staple of the Colorado greenhouse industry…because the US Government had loaned money to Central American countries to establish their own flower production.  They utilized slash-and-burn agriculture to grow the plants outside and ship them to US markets cheaper than we could produce them in Colorado.  We switched the benches over to geraniums for a discount retailer.  A couple years later that greenhouse operation was gone.  A victory for American foreign economic policy.

In my experience, ‘globalism’ has to do mainly with labor rates and pricing advantages.  When I was growing up in Lake County, the strikes by labor unions were a regular occurrence.   The strikes led to higher wages and benefits for our local people and thereby benefited our local economies.  We knew third-generation steelworkers from Youngstown and Pittsburgh who pulled down more than Doctors.  But then something happened.  Those companies left.  And the jobs were gone.

The entire ‘garment industry’ on the East Coast disappeared over a single decade.  Who wants to pay $80 for a pair of US-made blue-jeans.  American consumers go to WalMart and get products from Asia for half the American-made price.  We can make the case that those workers in Asia receive lousy wages and their employers pollute the environment…but no one cares.

We can blame big business or whoever we want, but we can’t ‘build a wall’ around our country and charge higher wages than the rest of the world.  The ‘developing world’ caught on and is catching up…it was bound to happen!

That’s ‘Globalism’.

There used to be a fiction that Agriculture could not go off-shore because…because it was Agriculture!  But now we’re learning the reality.  Go into any Supermarket and check out the produce!  We purchase unrooted cuttings from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Israel and Africa.  A customer this week commented that much of the US tissue-culture-propagation of perennials has moved to Asia?  I’ve been hearing disturbing reports for a couple years that tree-liner-production is getting started in China?

Agriculture has required a steady flow of immigrants since the NeoLithic Revolution in 8000 BC, as societies formed around crop production.  That’s a global reality.  Now some in America would shut off our flow of immigrants  (nobody…especially not the nursery industry…wants ‘illegal immigration’…)  Then they plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Didn’t we just go through this with our manufacturing industries?

I’ve been speaking against the minimum wage increase and publishing letters-to-the-editor for a number of years.  There is a rational argument to be made against an increase in the minimum wage.  It is not inhumane.  It does not entail any lack of compassion or support for the ‘working poor’.

Stay tuned.


Mark Gilson