Opinion: proposed budget cuts threaten green industry programs

If ever there was a time for us to stand up and prove that the green industry isn’t just ornamental, it would be now. Beautiful plants? Yes. Gorgeous landscapes? Of course.

But just another pretty thing, the icing on the cake? Nope. Much, much more than that.

We’ve fought long and hard to earn a reputation beyond that of pretty plants and flowers. And the work is ongoing. There’s sound, solid, scientific proof that ornamental horticulture – as distinct from the production of edibles – contributes to the health of the planet, both ecologically and socially. I’m preaching to the choir here, I know, so I’m not going to start spouting statistics. Just a few little tidbits, though:

  • Remediation of soil, check.
  • Support of pollinators, check.
  • Carbon sequestration, check.

Need I go on?

  • How about social, societal contributions?
  • Reduction in crime, check.
  • Relief from anxiety and depression, check.
  • Community economic benefits, check.

If you think you’ve detected a little impatience in this voice, perhaps even a little anger, you’d be right. But my parents taught me well: There are three things one doesn’t discuss in public. Money. Religion. Politics.

Well, this is about politics, so I’m dancing around it. In private, among friends, I’ll let loose. Here? I don’t want to tiptoe, but I know that Mom and Dad are watching. So, here goes:

Get on the phone. Write a letter. Fax something. Email something. Tell your representatives, whoever they may be, that the budget the White House has proposed cannot be passed.

Thanks to Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort’s Senior Vice President – Industry Advocacy & Research and Man on The Hill, members received a short but to-the-point analysis that shows that some critical programs that support the green industry are in the crosshairs. Proposed significant cuts to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would result in the elimination of the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative (FNRI), as well as ARS support for the IR-4 Program.

Why? They fall into the category: “Low impact or significance to national priorities.”

That’s how the current administration’s proposed budget deems programs that are indisputably of high significance to the green industry.

FNRI is a partnership borne out of the strength of the ARS, industry contributors and academia – and it works closely with both AmericanHort’s Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) and the Society of American Florists, both of which help to determine the direction of its research. In fact, HRI often contributes funds to support the agency’s efforts – dollars that come from industry leaders. You, as a grower, as a landscape professional, directly benefit from this research. So does the country. So does the environment.

According to Regelbrugge, “USDA-ARS support for the IR-4 Program’s minor use pesticide registration efforts would … end. ARS projects are responsible for approximately 25 percent of ornamental horticulture trials at IR-4 that contributed to about 67 percent of the regulatory registration decisions made over the last 10 years. [my emphasis] This will translate to fewer available tools in the future for growers to combat pests.”

I can’t even.

If ever there was a time to stand up and support the kind of sound, scientific research that helps growers, breeders and landscape professionals perform their best, most responsible work, it would be now. If ever there was a time to show just how strong this industry is, and just how much it contributes to the health and well being of our natural environment and our society as a whole, it would be now.

Will this budget pass as written? Probably not. But don’t take the chance that critical programs deemed to be of “low impact or significance to national priorities” slip through the cracks.

OK, sure; we may be pretty. But we’re also tough. And we’re strong. And we’re smart.

And guess what? We mean business.-Sally Benson, American Nurseryman