One of the biggest issues on the minds of growers today is the lack of young people coming into the horticulture industry. For anyone concerned about the hort industry's future, Trevor Jones can offer hope.
One of the newest members of the ICL Specialty Fertilizers Turf and Ornamental sales team, Trevor is part of the generation that the industry's future seems to rest on. He joined ICL in late September 2019 and serves as our Territory Manager for the Mid-Atlantic region, a part of the country close to his heart.
Born and raised in Mechanicsville, Virginia—just outside Richmond—Trevor's connection to the Mid-Atlantic has stayed strong. We caught up with him just an hour before he was closing on a new house in his hometown. "I'm a small-town boy, so there's nothing like home," he says. "I do like to travel, but I always find myself back here."
Like many of the team members at ICL, Trevor's attraction to the industry started early in life. As a teenager, he worked on farms in the area near his home. The people he met solidified how he wanted his life to look. "I just loved the industry. I kind of roll horticulture and agriculture all into one," he says. "The people in it were just so friendly and welcoming, especially to me being someone of a younger generation coming in."
He learned early on that he's not an "8-to-5 desk guy," and that he thrives on variety, self-motivation and the belief that hard work pays off. The support he received from the industry's older generations in those early years helped him set his course.
Trevor solidified his career path with Agricultural Management studies at Virginia Tech. His emphasis was crop production, but he had his sights on sales even then. He realized that his strong soil and crop background, paired with his love for the industry, could make a difference. The idea of helping growers improve their operations and succeed helped drive the career choices that eventually brought him to ICL.
Though it's only been a few months since Trevor joined the team, he's had a chance to meet many of the nursery and greenhouse growers that make up the bulk of his Mid-Atlantic territory. But with spring coming fast, he's looking forward to meeting many, many more in the next few months.
While he has sales goals in mind, he's more focused on people goals and building strong, lasting relationships with existing and new customers. "The relationships are what really drew me to sales," he says. "I'm not trying to impress anybody, but I want to have a good relationship with anybody I possibly can. That's kind of the challenge every day."
As one of a new generation of horticulture professionals, Trevor shares the concerns many growers have about who'll step up to fill their shoes. Many of his ICL customers have leaders approaching retirement age fast, and he asks about their plans for succession. "Most of them don't have anybody taking over, which isn't a good sign," he says.
From Trevor's perspective, part of the problem is a lack of horticulture and agriculture programs in high schools. Another part of the problem rests with the younger generation itself. "I think the high school programs have really gone downhill. I was taking turfgrass and farm management in high school," he says. "I think some of this generation, they really don't care about that stuff. I feel like they're not looking ahead to the future."
Even so, Trevor believes that being exposed to more programs related to the agriculture and horticulture industries could reverse those trends. If high schools can't or don't offer those options, it may fall to the industry to initiate programs to let kids know what's available and how important our industry is to the future.
When he's not at work, you'll most likely find Trevor hunting, fishing, or spending time with friends and family. "I hunt in the winter and fish in the summer and go to the beach every now and then to do some more fishing," he says, with a laugh. Most weekends are spent on the river at his family's river house, playing cornhole and enjoying time with the people he cares about.
"A lot of times, it's just hanging out with friends and family," he says. "We have a pretty tight group around here, being a small town. It's nothing for us to get together at a local restaurant or bar, and hang out with 20 of us to eat and listen to music and have the time of our life. We really enjoy that."
The grounded nature of small-town life that helped mold Trevor's personality sets him apart from much of his generation in his eyes. "Some of my generation kind of gets looked down on for their work ethics," he says. He doesn't challenge that thinking or offer excuses for why today's youth are misunderstood. Instead, he says he just does his best to let his customers, co-workers, and everyone else know that those preconceptions don't apply when it comes to him.
"I feel like I should have been born in a different time. Just with the way my lifestyle is and my work ethic, I feel like I belong to another era or something," he says. And when you and Trevor meet and get the chance to know each other better, you'll understand what he means by that—and that it's a very good thing.