Horticulture and Horticultural Education in the New Millennium

If you learn to identify at least 1,000 plants; and understand how plants grow; your chances of getting work in horticulture will boom.
Courses and qualifications in horticulture are shrinking! Educational Institutions world-wide are narrowing their course base, lowering course content, absorbing horticulture into other (often non-related) departments and offering their students far less in the process. The rationale for this shrinkage is that there is less demand from students for places (because in general) students are not seeing a great future in horticulture. In reality this is a no-win situation; offer less and students will perceive less scope for opportunity. To look at it another way - with fewer courses offered, student interest will also be lowered (especially when they cannot specialize). And once you also lower the actual course content of those left (on offer) you also lower the value of the qualification – especially in the eyes of the industry. 
Horticulture is of great economic and social importance globally. It is a considerable contributor to global physical and psychological health - through the constant and reliable supply of safe foods and also through the production of ornamental plants, for social activity and to enhance our environment.
With a world that is growing in population and also facing enormous environmental and economic changes, the need for experts in all sectors of horticulture will increase not decrease. The real change is a shift in needs, rather then ‘no need’. Change is actually bringing about newer and broader opportunities for well qualified, general and also specialized horticulturists. This is apart from the fact that current lower graduate output will create a shortage in the future in all sectors including environmental horticulture, crop growing and the nursery trade. This will be a world-wide shortage!
Examples of shifts in the industry include:
In the nursery trade –
  • a greater demand for plants that tolerate more extreme environmental conditions: with weather patterns changing, and more extreme weather events, a hardier plant is more likely to survive into the future.
  • a greater demand for vegetable seeds and seedlings as people become more interested in growing their own food. Many people want to grow their own produce to help the environment by lowering the ‘food miles’ (if you lower the distance the food travels before it is on your plate – it lowers the negative impact on the environment). They also have a far better understanding of nutrition and the benefits of organically grown produce.
These and other changes lead us to new areas of opportunity:

a)      The supply of dry or heat tolerant plants and also of seeds and seedling.
b)      The opportunity to offer services in ‘organic growing’.

c)      The opportunity to offer services in developing ‘sustainable gardens’.

Another area of opportunity is the shift in amenity horticulture towards environmental horticulture.  As the trend shifts away from traditional gardening - it is moving towards sustainable gardens and in a broader sense landscapes.  The future for people educated in environmental horticulture is therefore very positive.
As a tutor and academic working with ACS Distance Education, I am proud to note that ACS has not followed the ‘shrinking’ trend – in fact each year ACS is offering more rather then less. The range of courses on offer (across all industry sectors) is broad - and will remain so. New courses are consistently added consistently to the curriculum. These plus existing courses are also under constant review - not to ‘shrink’ them - but to ensure that all ACS courses reflect current industry needs and also meet the demands of the future.

  • ACS courses also focus on things that really matter ‘on the job’:
    They develop a broad capacity to solve problems and adapt to change in the horticulture industry. In other words you are taught to think rather then just to follow orders.
  • They develop a range of practical skills in areas that are now so overlooked or reduced in many other courses - for example plant identification and the ‘basics’ of horticultural practice.
  • They help students to become experts who offer a positive contribution to society ie. without plants we would not have life.
    I believe that if you educate with ACS Distance Education you can grow in the industry!

Adriana Fraser (ACS Academic Officer)

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