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Since November of 2016, with almost every vendor from abroad, whether they’re a greenhouse builder from Holland, an orchid breeder from Taiwan, or a ceramics salesperson from Canada, there comes an awkward pause in the conversation. Sometime it comes out of nowhere and the conversation might restart “So . . . Trump . . .”. Other times, some piece of business conversation might lead to the same place. Either way, there I am looking at someone I’ve been doing business with for years, and this person is looking at me wondering if I can explain the chaos in our national government.

Well, I can’t, and I don’t think my first column for In Greenhouses is the best time or place to lay out my feelings on the matter (maybe some other time over a beer!). But maybe I can tell you how business is in Trumpland.

I think the main thing to understand is that, largely, it’s business as usual. The United States economy continues to chug along as it did at the end of the Obama administration, with slow but steady GDP growth and low unemployment. The stock market, after a roaring start in 2017, has been flat this year. There is neither the boom that the president’s cheerleaders crow about nor the impending collapse that some of his detractors would have you believe. 2017 was a good year for us. A little better than 2016.

What we do have is uncertainty. Past administrations took great pains to telegraph their intentions and policy change, when it came, was deliberate. While controversial and costly to employers, Obamacare was the result of a legislative process and a long rollout. This president, however, seems ruled by impulse. A clear example is the possible trade wars caused by unilateral declarations from the White House against not just China but Canada and the EU as well. The resulting tariffs will hit us directly and will not be easy to pass on to our customers. Also, rising budget deficits from tax reform continue to drive up interest rates, creating very real uncertainly when it comes to long-term investments.

Where does this leave a humble orchid grower? I’m not sure. Ask me again later on.

Toine Overgaag.
Orchid grower in the USA.

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Water. It’s essential for everything that grows and blooms anywhere in the world. And of course greenhouse horticulture is no exception. But with the advent of new, improved cultivation techniques and innovations, our sector is perfectly placed to use the good quality water we have at our disposal sparingly and carefully.

Columnist Herbert Stoker in South Africa has already written about the water problems in the Cape Town area in the south-west of the country, which are forcing growers to revisit the way they use water. As a result, drip irrigation is very much on the up. And even though there is plenty of rain in other parts of southern Africa, filling farmers’ reservoirs and gardeners’ water butts, attention needs to be focused on water there too. The burning issues are: How do you handle water flows to which nutrients have been added and which contain crop protection residues? And how will this impact on the soil, flora and fauna, and human health?

Here in the Netherlands, water treatment is one of the key issues facing greenhouse growers. As of 1 January this year, all Dutch growers are required to treat their water before discharging it into surface water. They can do so using their own fixed water treatment unit or a mobile unit, or they can use shared facilities. The third option is a closed system in which the water is reused and not discharged at all. This government measure currently only relates to crop protection products, but fertilisers are due to be added over the next few years.

In the European Union, environmental commitments such as these are still not harmonised but every member state will have its own targets and regulations in this area. Some countries have gone quite a bit further than the Netherlands and others are set to follow soon. Although the 1 January 2018 deadline was known about for some years, many growers only took action at the last minute. Researchers, advisers and suppliers delivered a masterpiece which growers on various continents can benefit from. After all, as Bob Dylan once said, “The Times They Are a-Changing”.

text: Roger Abbenhuis.