The recent late blight problem has huge implications for the garden center business, and home gardening. The idea that one supplier can produce all the vegetable starts for all the major box stores is a bit scary. When things go wrong, as they did in this instance, it can affect millions of people. Of course the box stores have gouged and "pay at scanned" all the other players out of business. So we end up with a few, very large suppliers that can deal with the box stores. The choices of where they can get their plants are shrinking. Because of the late blight Bonnie plants has said they will not grow heirloom tomatoes nest year. You choice of vegetable varieties just shrank, if you shop at the box stores. Web sites should be used for getting information out to the customer. I checked out the web pages for the box stores, and I could not find any mention in their garden pages about the blight. Bonnie plants, where much of the infection occurred just changed a section in their web site this last week to address, "brown spots and yellowing leaves." The link takes you to a Teaxa A&M "Tomato problem solver". No mention of their part in this mess. A huge opportunity to let the gardening public know what Bonnie did, and what it intends to do about this serious problem in the future. Why don't the box stores want to help their customers solve this problem, that was likely spread through their stores? Where are the press releases?
The New York Times article quoted a John Mishanec, a pest management specialist at Cornell , who said, "agricultural pathogens can easily spread when plants are distributed regionally and sold by big-box retailers. Farms are inspected, greenhouses are inspected, he said, but garden centers aren't, and the people who work there aren't trained to spot disease." Now is he talking about box store garden center employees? If the box store garden center employees are not trained to spot disease, what are they trained to do? Makes you wonder what they would tell you when you bring that little plastic bag in with your problems inside.
I think this whole affair proves that box stores work at reducing the choices for the customer. Less choice means fewer suppliers to deal with. Few suppliers that become bigger, and bigger, and find that less choice (no heirlooms next year), means fewer problems. Of course when something does go wrong, it goes wrong in a big way. A huge potential for smaller garden centers to fill a niche. More choice, expert advice, smaller locally owned business, with numerous smaller suppliers.