In today’s ever-changing climate, both corporate and environmental, an increasing number of arborists and green-industry professionals have questions regarding plant health care (PHC) and its potential benefits for their business. What better source to seek answers from than two seasoned arborists who also happen to be popular podcast hosts?
The “Discovering Forestry” podcast recently celebrated its 100th episode, yet it stands alone as the sole platform dedicated to all-things tree and landscape. We reached out to these forestry experts to delve into their backgrounds and explore prevailing trends, concerns and opportunities related to PHC in forestry, arboriculture and the broader tree care industry.
History and tree preservation
Joe Aiken has 35-plus years’ experience in the tree care industry and he’s worked in all phases of the business, both as a licensed applicator and an ISA Certified Arborist. Aiken, whose “day job” is regional technical manager of the Great Lakes region for Arborjet | Ecologel, says he knew from a young age that he was meant for the green industry. “In the early years of my career in arboriculture, I didn’t even know the term arborist existed. I was doing tree work with other tree workers. I went to a small tree care company in southeast Michigan called Alpine Tree Care, and that’s where I was introduced to trees in a whole different light. The owners, Steve and Paul, took me under their wing and showed me the exciting and fascinating life of these living organisms, not to mention chain saws! I’ve since developed a hobby of collecting vintage chain saws.”
One of Aiken’s strong beliefs is in tree preservation and the importance of educating others on the benefits of environmentally sustainable solutions for maintaining and caring for the world’s urban forests. He routinely conducts product seminars and presentations on various arboriculture topics, both to share his expertise and to hear from other arborists about their challenges and concerns. Aiken says there are many factors at play that have other arborists talking about PHC, including “changes in climate, poor planting practices and the never-ending introduction of non-native insects and diseases. The conversation is shifting; PHC is really just the next evolution of the practice of preservation.
“This industry is aging out and shrinking. Meaning, we’re starting to have a difficult time replacing the workforce. Believe me, the younger you are when you get into the business, the better, especially if you’re a climber. As companies look to grow, one way to support that growth is to add PHC services. Believe it or not, you’re probably already closer to providing this service than you think. It’s about education, keeping up with industry trends and keeping up with the latest technology that will allow your business to prosper, while at the same time being a good steward of the environment.”
Aiken, who is a founding member of the Arboriculture Society of Michigan Foundation and curator with its Arboriculture Historical Society, is helping spearhead the first-ever arboriculture museum in Detroit, in Belle Isle State Park. He has seen a lot of change in the industry. “One of the biggest shifts I’ve seen in the last decade is regional climate change. It doesn’t take much to put an ecosystem on its edge. Arborists need to focus on what’s below their feet, in soil. We need to spend more time in the dirt. Yes, I said dirt! Also, the world will continue to get smaller, and more and more insects and diseases will spread from continent to continent. This isn’t just an issue in North America, this is a world issue. Moving forward, we need to support tree care intelligently, emotionally, scientifically and financially.”
Helping businesses grow
Korey Lofy produces and co-hosts “Discovering Forestry” along with Aiken, and is the Rocky Mountain territory manager for Arborjet | Ecologel. As a young boy growing up in Wisconsin, Lofy loved playing outside in the woods. “I started looking closer at the trees we were always playing around in, and I became interested in the different varieties of trees and how to tell them apart. For a high-school project, we were tasked with putting together a leaf collection, with a goal of 20 trees. I started on my parents’ property and had the full collection within an hour.”
Lofy went on to work at a tree nursery and took every environmental and agricultural class he could, ultimately motivating him to attend the University of Wisconsin to study arboriculture and tree physiology. He graduated with a B.S. in Urban Forestry, Forest Recreation and Interpersonal Communication. He is an ISA Certified Arborist and the ISA’s Rocky Mountain Chapter’s 2021 Arborist of the Year. Lofy strives to help tree care companies and municipalities in the Rocky Mountain region grow their plant health care programs and discover new trends in the industry.
“What currently keeps me interested and passionate about trees is the fact that I love learning. Our business is always evolving – producing new ways to treat new pests while working to save the environment. I also enjoy solving problems and helping tree care professionals not only learn how to save trees, but also how to grow their book of business. This is so rewarding to me, to see the progression.”
“I believe plant health care is becoming more commonplace in the overall tree care conversation for many reasons. For one, industry professionals are learning more about plant materials as well as the pests affecting the landscape. Additionally, social media, workshops and networking events are helping to spread the word. They are showing the effectiveness of integrated pest management (IPM), which allows the use of pesticides and environmental manipulation to increase plant health and vigor.
“I also think arborists are starting to realize the economic benefits of PHC and the benefits and sustainability of chemical treatments,” Lofy continues. “For example, let’s say you have a three- to four-person crew, a chipper and/or a bucket truck, and you’re bidding against a dozen other contractors for a service that you can complete only once (in terms of a removal) or on a five-plus-year rotation (pruning). What if you could take just one person with a relatively small equipment investment and produce just as much as a three-person crew – and have greater than 70% margins?! Effective treatments can save trees, and the process is repeatable every one to two years. To me, this is what PHC is all about.”
As colleagues at Arborjet | Ecologel, Lofy and Aiken have an extensive range of plant-health-care solutions at their disposal. They acknowledge that many traditional arborists face barriers in fully embracing the concept of PHC. Lofy adds that arborists typically prefer working in the field where they see immediate results, rather than focusing on long-term business strategies. In light of this, Lofy suggests starting small by incorporating products that integrate tree health with overall plant health. Recognizing the benefits of invasive-species mitigation in preserving trees is also crucial. By gradually incorporating additional services with minimal investment, arborists will see increased revenue without placing additional strain on labor. Given the industry’s labor shortage, this approach is certainly worth considering.
To learn more, listen to the “Discovering Forestry” podcast.
This article is sponsored by Arborjet | Ecologel
Arborjet | Ecologel provides effective, reliable, and sustainable solutions and technologies from water conservation to pest management. Working with customers worldwide, Arborjet is a leader in environmental stewardship: protecting trees, reducing overall water usage, and providing products with people and planet in mind. For over 20 years, Arborjet has saved more than one million trees from pests and disease. Innovative plant health and sustainability are at the root of everything Arborjet does.