By Ward Peterson, Davey Resource Group and TREE Fund Trustee
Research can be fascinating in itself. It’s rewarding to identify a need and see it solved. However, for research to be valuable, it needs to be used. Often this is called ‘technology transfer.’ The real return comes from using new technology or information to solve problems that will benefit trees, arborists and public safety.
There’s often a reluctance to try new processes in any industry. For business owners, it can be expensive to make the changes that new ideas require. Existing equipment may have to be replaced before it has depreciated. Arborists and staff may have to be trained in the new process. Clients may have to be educated. Systems — and possibly the entire culture of the organization — may have to change. So why would a successful business want to adopt a new process or practice?
The benefits of the new research have to outweigh the costs and someone has to prove to us that they will. The benefits of new information or technology are often proven or promoted by someone outside of the existing company. Sometimes, it may be market pressures that force the issue. A new process or practice may be adopted by writing it into contract specifications. Regulations (with penalties to enforce them) are a powerful motivator because, when they change, everyone has to adapt — or find a new service to provide!
As an industry, we need to generate new ideas through research. New ideas can make our work safer, more profitable, easier, more effective, less expensive or easier to market. Adopting the new idea should make us feel good about being the best and will differentiate us from our competitors who are slow to change.
From Research to Implementation
There are many steps to take before a new idea is implemented. First of all, each one of us has the power to identify problems that require research to solve, but how many of us express that concern to the people who can start the research process? One place to start is the TREE Fund who plays a role in identifying arboriculture industry problems that require research. The foundation then grants money to qualified, objective researchers who can study the problem and hopefully, find solutions. Researchers usually publish their findings in journals such as “Arboriculture & Urban Forestry.” Other researchers and practitioners then review the new ideas and decide whether they are viable and effective.
Now comes the hard part – how do we implement or use the research? The new information has to get to the right people and they have to be convinced to use it. Implementation occurs through:
■ Presentations at conferences (TCI Expo, ISA, etc.)
■ Pilot or demonstration projects
■ Discussions among peers
■ Success stories that illustrate the benefits of the idea
■ Proof that the new idea is more profitable and effective
■ Standards or Best Management Practices (BMP) incorporate the new idea
■ Manufacturers investing in developing related equipment and materials
■ Training to implement the processes
■ Educating the public and clients that the new approach is better than the previous one
From Research to Results
An example of the process — from identifying the problem to research and on to implementation — may help us understand it better. Let’s use Plant Health Care. Before the concept was created, the accepted practice was to use a large, powerful hydraulic sprayer with a mixture of pesticides to treat all trees and shrubs on a property with the idea that the treatment would control any disease or insect that could potentially be present.
The approach did work as no pests survived the treatment. Unfortunately the “soup” that was applied included large quantities of pesticides that were unnecessary, expensive and potentially harmful to the environment. Regulators recognized the problem and pushed for change. So let’s look at the process and see what we did:
Identifying the problem – How to manage pests without unnecessary pesticides and comply with regulations
Researchers – In this case, a broad range of researchers including Integrated Pest Management specialists, plant physiologists, equipment designers and operational managers
Funding – The funding for basic research came through academic and university funding. The applied research funding (how to use the solutions in the field) came from the industry, including tree care companies, equipment manufacturers, material suppliers and industry associations. This is where our support for the efforts of the TREE Fund make such a significant difference.
Publishing articles – If you look back at the discussions at the time, Plant Health Care was a controversial idea.
Agreeing – This took years. The public and our clients resisted paying for a full treatment and only receiving the materials (pesticides) that were required. It took success stories of the early adaptors to start changing the views.
Presentations — One of the most effective methods of illustrating and discussing the idea
Regulations — Materials considered to have a greater negative impact on the environment were limited or removed. These were often the materials with the longest residuals.
Profitability — This took longer to prove. Plant Health Care required better trained and more expensive technicians. It took more specialized equipment and materials. It particularly relied on educating the public that we could simultaneously improve plants’ health and reduce pesticide usage. We also had to educate them that it may cost a little more.
Best Management Practices — The concept was accepted as proven and became more widely used.
Equipment and material manufacturers continue to develop more effective tools. Training – initially, a major cost – is still expensive, but it has become accepted as worth the cost. Educating the public has taken years. Arborists, media, government agencies and our industry associations have worked hard to get Plant Health Care accepted as the way to care for trees.
Critical Steps in this Process
Which steps will make the most difference in fixing problems in tree care and work processes? Certainly, it’s important to identify specific problems that will make the most difference if corrected and then, fund the research to do so. The researchers and early adopters have to prove that the new idea is an improvement and more profitable. The public has to be educated through all forms of media and advertising, as well as arborists in face-to-face meetings and client advising.
What can we, as an industry, do to speed or improve the process?
■ If you have an idea for a research project, don’t keep it to yourself
■ Fund more research and fund the best research
■ Personally evaluate and test the ideas
■ Discuss the ideas among ourselves and with the public
■ Invest in the best, most current solutions and recommend them to clients
The bottom line is that people, trees and the environment will benefit if we support more research through the TREE Fund and other funding opportunities. Donations, sponsorships and planned gifts are vital to moving our industry forward. And once the research is done, each of us must also commit to evaluating the solutions developed, discussing them with fellow arborists at TCIA and ISA conferences, and putting them to work as soon as possible.
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Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund
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