"US: "Horticulture industry’s age problem bigger than you think"

As older plant growers, nursery managers and groundskeepers reach retirement age, there are too few youngsters arriving to replace them.

“There’s an age gap in commercial horticulture, a drastic and obvious lack of people under the age of 40,” said Cole Mangum, vice president of production at Bell Nursery in Burtonsville, Md. The company furnishes millions of plants in the spring to almost 300 Home Depot garden centers in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.

“Our largest concern,” Mangum says, “is in finding that next generation of greenhouse growers.” The grandson of the company’s founder, he is, at 32, an outlier in his own field.

“We have more employers calling us than we have students to fill the jobs,” said John Dole, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. “We aren’t meeting the needs of the industry.”

According to a 2015 study, nearly 58,000 jobs become available each year in agriculture-related fields, but only 61 percent are filled by qualified graduates.

The gulf between jobs and takers is so obvious and alarming to insiders that more than 150 green industry employers, colleges, ­botanical gardens and others in April launched a national ­initiative seeking to reverse the decline.

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