April 17, 2020

Partnership of respect

BY YOUBIN ZHENG

Youbin Zheng is a professor at the University of Guelph School of Environmental Sciences, and a researcher for the nursery sector.

Do you see your research directly benefit nursery growers?
For sure, my research is all applied, involving substrates, irrigation, fertilization — my principle is to discover basic science results that actually benefit the horticulture industry. I do research projects that can be used immediately. I have always been involved with association groups. We discuss issues and I provide results in reports. The growers are smart, and very open to applying my results to their operations.

What do you respect most about nursery growers?
I really like growers; they are passionate about what they are doing. The nursery industry strikes me as people who want to collaborate instead of competing. So many breeders get together to exchange information and help each other. I can see how the collaboration helps the industry grow faster. I like the industry, everyone is so friendly, such good people.

Tom Intven of Canadale is a true leader, he has business wisdom and passion for plants. Bart Brusse from Sheridan is so knowledgeable and always willing to help. While John Bakker of Bakker & Sons is a very busy guy, but he is always happy to host tours of his property to educate the public — and his property is so well managed. His passion is to promote plants in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way to inspire the public to do more gardening with
local plant materials. John and Chris Langendoen from Willowbrook are incredible, their door is always open to sit down and talk about issues, guide you, give you advice. Amazing people.

How do students fit in?
I already mentioned how the growers are always there to support research. If plants in our research plot need water, they get it done, even when they are working hard with their own production, even during the weekend. It makes you feel great, but it also makes a big impression on students who see the passion and dedication. Many of my students are now working in the grower industry, and they are all happy. My research associate Mary Jane Clark is now teaching nursery production to students, as a professor at Niagara College.

My wife and I are avid gardeners; if I do research on any plant, I always put one in my garden, so I know exactly what I am working with. I bring in my students and use my garden for education.

Do you have a mentor?
My mentor was Calvin Chong. That man did a fantastic job for the industry, he was dedicated to improving nutrient and water management. Before he passed away, he told me so many things and influenced me to work in this field. I have all his papers here in my office.

How do you stay connected with growers?
I sat on our provincial Growers Committee. I didn’t have to, but my principle is, you have to listen if you want to do good research. I visit farms, listen to the leaders and their issues, then I go back to my lab, then I report back to them. Talking at conferences is important, and I like to see if growers want me to do research in specific areas. If they want me to, I always make my best effort.

If you have a mentor to recommend, or a question to suggest, please write to editor@landscapetrades.com.