In Conversation With The Outgoing President, Scott Mitchell

12.02.01-Scott’s Rick Munro had the opportunity to speak with outgoing WCTA President Scott Mitchell in mid December and got Scott’s thoughts on his year in service...

Turf Line: You were the President for a ‘short year’ with your inauguration in March 2011 at the Canadian Turfgrass conference held in Vancouver and you will be passing on the gavel in the third week of January 2012. What are your thoughts on what seemed to be a very busy year given your term was only 10 months?

Scott Mitchell: It was a busy year for the WCTA as we packed 12 months of work into a ‘short year’ as you put it. The challenges and pressures from the world around us are not our choice nor was my short term and I’m very happy with what our board has accomplished. I would be remiss not to mention that a lot of our initiatives coming to fruition this year were started by previous boards and at the same time, a lot of things started this year won’t be fully integrated and beneficial until sometime in the future. It’s often about small steps and small victories and every once in awhile we can make a big splash like the major change to the Turf Line News launched a couple months ago. As for other thoughts, we can only do the best we can with the information we have at the time while using our combined knowledge and experience to make the best possible decisions considering all the options available to us. Without a doubt, this was a really great year for the WCTA and the fact that we’re holding the line on memberships while other groups see large declines tells me there is tremendous value and pride in being a member of the Western Canada Turfgrass Association.

TL: You will have served on the WCTA Board for six years when your term as immediate Past President ends or even seven if the association moves to a 2 year Presidency term. How has your time changed your attitude towards turf management? (i.e. politically, as a member of the WCTA and as a member of the turfgrass industry.

SM: My time on the board has shown me that we need to remember all of our members, as turf managers, not just one sector or another. We have a wide range of members, and it isn’t easy keeping everyone satisfied. Sometimes issues seem simple on the surface, but once you look at it from someone else’s point of view, they can become very complicated. I think we have a very open atmosphere on the board, everyone is encouraged to voice their opinion and all opinions are considered. This sometimes slows down decision making but in the end I believe it results in good solid decisions.

TL: Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently for your year as President ?

SM: I honestly feel that I have prepared myself as well as I could for my tenure as president. I have been in the business over 16 years now, worked in several provinces, and been an active member in several associations. I have attended many turf conferences, both here and in the United States. I feel that I have received lots of help from this association and wanted to give something back, which started by being able to sit on the board in a two year director position. In hindsight I am glad that I sat on the board for the three years before I became the Vice President. This allowed me to become intimate with the functions of the board, and to be comfortable and confident expressing my concerns and opinions. I suppose that the only thing I would have liked was more time to be able to devote, as a volunteer member it is always hard to devote the amount of time you would like to a position like this.

TL: You mentioned starting initiatives that will need to be finished by future boards. Was there any in particular that you wish would have been finished?

SM: I was hoping to be able to bring the WCTA, the BCGSA, and the NTA to the point where we were really working together, not just on research, but on anything where we could find synergies. I am happy with the way this project is progressing; we have a person that acts as a BCGSA liaison now and have made some good progress in regards to the research committee sharing information with the NTA and they have now appointed a formal liaison which solidifies our relationship even further. I feel that unless these things are put into policy, with the way the turnover is on these boards, it’s easy to forget where we have come from and the reason why we need to work together. I would hate to see us go backwards.

TL: Do you believe the presidency would be better served as a 2 year posting?

SM: I believe there are pros and cons to changing the Presidents’ term to a 2 year posting. On one hand it would help with the situation that I described above, there would be more time to see projects through to completion. On the other hand, it is already a significant commitment, to become a director is two years, then the Vice President position would take two years, then the Presidency would also be two years, and the Past President would also take two years to complete the role. This is a commitment of 8 years at the very least, and it might be too taxing for people who are volunteers. I am thankful for the support I have been given by Target Products Ltd, but not all companies are so supportive, and 8-10 years is a big commitment to ask for.

TL: For continuity what programs or ideas did you carry forward from Dave Duncan and wish to see carried forward by your successor?

SM: As I mentioned before, one of our main focuses has been working with other associations to make us all stronger. I have carried this over and hope future boards will keep this going. We are always stronger together than we can ever be apart. We also started as far back as the Nanaimo conference, by scrutinizing all of our expenditures as an association at the trade show and throughout the year. We could see that in the future there would be some lean years and tried to make the most of our dollars without sacrificing value for the members. We started asking all the members in as many different formats as possible, “What is it that you want from these shows?”, and “How can we give you better value?” The answers we got were plain and simple, two things, education, and networking, and I couldn’t agree more. The show this year has had a number of changes that I feel are all positive and they do two things - they allow the members more time for networking, and education that in turn shows excellent value making it easier for members to justify attending the show whether it’s being paid for by their employer or if they are paying their own way.

TL: Aside from the pesticide issue, what do you see as the most pressing issue facing the turfgrass industry now and within the next 10 years? What can we do to prepare or prevent these issues from adversely affecting the industry?

SM: The biggest issue on the golf side is the lack of rounds, or the lack of real revenue being made by golf courses. Golf, for the majority of clubs, is a business and no one in their right mind can or will continue to run a business in these times of economic downturn and lose money. The biggest issue on the sportsfield side is a little harder to pin down but it always seems to come back to the high demands of user groups that put pressure on the limited number of facilities and the limited resources available to maintain these facilities. In either case, we’re talking about a product that we’re trying to deliver that needs to perform to the expectations of the end user. That’s why we educate ourselves, go to seminars and conferences, read the research reports and magazine articles, talk to our neighbours and continually improve as turf managers. I do believe we have to become more focused on our target market, and figure out new ways to provide what is needed while still adhering to strict budgets and in the case of private business, still bring in a profit. This may mean cutting back on any number of things depending on your own situation, but not cutting back on the value. Yes, that’s easier said than done but you asked me what the issues will be! As for solutions, maybe golf course greens don’t need to be running at high speeds in order for players to enjoy their round of golf and maybe we need to develop a better system to help sportsfield managers work with council and user groups to ensure overuse is at least recognized. There are lots of other suggestions I could make but there probably isn’t enough room in the magazine. The point is, there is no single solution and the issues will always be there and they will always be moving targets.

TL: Many sportsfield managers have already lost the ability to use pesticides and are dealing with the situation in a variety of ways. With the looming pesticide ban, what can golf superintendents learn from them and do you foresee a day when all turf managers will be growing grass without pesticides as a tool in the toolbox?

SM: I honestly don’t know how to answer this one. I am cautiously optimistic that we will escape the ban this time. I think there may be more stringent regulations and controls put in place and obviously whoever is already working under these limitations will have a head start on those who are not. Even if the situation isn’t the same, ie. soccer field versus golf green, there will be lessons to be learned. What we know for sure is that pressure from activists will not stop and it’s foreseeable that pesticides, as we know them today, will not be something a turf manager will be able to turn to in the very near future. I feel that this issue has become one of politics, and that certain interest groups are using it to try to raise their profile and in the end make a profit from it. I know that the facts have been lost in the shuffle. The popular opinion is that pesticides are bad and cause cancer. While this is absolutely incorrect when we are speaking about pesticides that are used today in the proper manner, it is still the popular opinion. It is one being spread and supported by some pretty powerful organizations, regardless of the facts! I am hopeful that like any other popular opinion it will eventually swing more to the middle, where facts and logical, level headed thinking will eventually come into play. There are already cases where weeds are getting out of control, and pesticide bans are coming under fire in other parts of Canada and having holes poked in them by “exemptions” for certain cases. So in the end, no I don’t think we will ever be completely banned from using them as long as we continue to fight for research, education and discussion. Because of all the hard work of all of our members who have taken the time to help get the facts out we have a chance to escape this ban, so by no means should we give up, without all that hard work, a complete ban might have already been passed.

TL: If you could ask the members to do one thing to improve the Association what would it be?

SM: Promote it, ask your neighbour to join, bring your boss, owner, pro or whoever you’re accountable to, to the show and introduce them to the track for non turf managers. The association lives and dies by the revenue made at our conferences, and I think we give excellent value to those who attend, so if there is someone you can think of that would benefit from being involved, ask them to join or attend.

TL: What’s the single most important thing we need to do so succeed?

SM: The biggest thing we can all do is work together. Determine the common goal, then break it down and be willing to compromise and help each other. We have a lot of golf course members, a growing number of sportsturf, parks and school board people, several with design, construction and consulting backgrounds, some landscapers and the list goes on. The point is the days of segregation are over and in order to succeed, all sectors need to recognize we’re all speaking the same language, just a slightly different dialect. One thing that may help every turf manager, is to look at things from a business point of view. What would you do if this was your business? This is equally important for both golf course and municipal sportsfield people. Do what makes sense from that point of view. Let’s face it, we all have a vested interest in the industry. It’s about the small steps and small victories.