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When Dan Herms was a youngster, he had visions of following in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.
That didn’t work out and after a failed stint as a pre-med major, Herms went to work for his uncle in the family greenhouse business.
“I looked at greenhouses as a place where I was forced to work,” he said. “It was hard work, hot. It was labor. I dreamed of being a marine biologist.”
But a career assessment and a nature walk changed his perspective.
“I scored the highest on agriculture,” he said of the assessment. “I was like ‘What?’ I had no interest in cows, corn or anything like that. I didn’t recognize at the time that our greenhouse business was agriculture.”
His father took his son for a walk in the woods.
“This is in your bloodline,’’ Herms recalls his father telling him during a heart-to-heart discussion as they walked through the woods of southern Ohio. “Maybe you should follow the path of your uncle, grandfather, great grandfather.” It was about more than flowers and dirt, but also shrubs and trees. It was horticulture.
“It clicked then,” he said.”The greenhouse was more than a place to shovel dirt and fill up trucks.”
He listened to his father’s suggestion, coupled with his own love of science, and forged it into the career he enjoys today.
“Once I started thinking about horticulture, I took botany. I always knew I wanted to do something with science,” he said, noting that a high school biology teacher helped foster that idea in him. He eventually entered Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences plant protection specialty.
Protecting plants is the essence of virtually all that has happened in Herms’ career ever since.
Herms earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Ohio State University in horticulture and a master’s degree in entomology. While completing his master’s degree, he conducted research at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Upon graduating in 1984 he was offered the job of director of pest management, research and public education at The Dow Gardens in Midland, Mich. While there, he earned his doctorate in entomology at Michigan State University.
It wasn’t long after that Herms realized his true calling was in the laboratory and classroom and not back in the family’s greenhouse in Portsmouth, Ohio.
“My focus has always been in the tree care industry,” Herms said. “I didn’t have a goal set out to be a professor, but I felt like I was serving the horticulture industry. I felt that that’s where my heart and soul was.”
He was recruited to a faculty position in 1997 in the department of entomology at Ohio State University. He worked there 21 years, including five as department chair. In 2018 he was recruited to the Davey Tree Expert Company as vice president of research and development.
The offer included the opportunity to oversee transformation of a former golf course across from Davey’s Kent, Ohio, headquarters into a research and training campus for the billion-dollar company. The project is well underway and is scheduled for completion in 2026.
“Many things I liked at OSU I’m doing in my position now – research, training and education, presentations, writing industry papers,” he said. “It’s not a typical type of industry job, but I do miss being in the classroom.”
Herms noted that getting students interested in his field can be “a challenge.” Lack of awareness remains about the same as when he was in a dorm in the late ‘70s, he said. Most of his fellow students then “had no clue about the scope of the college and opportunities for its graduates.”
Opportunities in horticulture and arboriculture are plentiful, but qualified applicants are not, Herms said.
“At Davey, lack of employees is our biggest obstacle to faster growth,” he said. Besides plant and insect and other agricultural and natural resource sciences, English and communication majors are needed to produce written material; and business degrees, such as accounting and personnel, are a must for the 10,000-employee company (see sidebar below).
“Food, agricultural and environmental sciences are fields that will only grow in importance to society in the future,” Herms said. “Grads will be prepared to address sustainability, food production and food insecurity, environmental and energy solutions, and much more throughout the economy. Food, agricultural, and environmental solutions, innovations, are and always will be essential services.”
In the next 10 years there is a projected need for 470,000 new workers in agribusiness and 90,000 new workers in direct farming operations nationwide. With the support of Ohio Farm Bureau, the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation has worked hard to guide youth toward a career in agriculture through its ExploreAg camps and weekend experiences and the Youth Pathways to Careers in Agriculture grants program.
Teaching students about the career possibilities in agriculture – and at places like Davey Tree Expert Company – is a key mission of the foundation.
“We often find that most people have never heard of arboriculture as a career path,” said Cindy Schwab, recruiting manager with Davey Tree Expert Company. “Educating individuals about our careers and helping them find a great fit at Davey is one of the most rewarding experiences as a recruiter.”
Photos by Dave Gore
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