An Interview with "ArborJet Joe" Aiken

Posted by Professional Tree Climber on 7/23/2019 to Tree Climbing Gear
An Interview with
Bartlett:

First off tell us who you are and what your role is at Arborjet!

Joe:
I am Joe Aiken, The Senior Regional Technical Manager with Arborjet. My role is primarily a product rep to educate people on the uses of various tools and products for tree preservation. 

Bartlett:

What started your passion with trees?

Joe:

It goes back to Junior High and Elementary School. I’ve always been drawn to nature and the trees. I remember planting a tree in 7th Grade at my Junior High and realized, man, this is really cool! It’s been instilled in me. I am an outdoors man, I hunt, I fish, I camp, I love anything to do with it, and I’ve always been mesmerized by these growing organisms, in nature that just continue to thrive and reach for the sky. 

Bartlett:
Switching to Plant Health Care (PHC), what do you think is the most exciting aspect of working in Plant Health Care?

Joe:
Plant Health Care has evolved. A lot of our customers and a lot of people we talk to are more into the climbing, removing, pruning aspects. I’ve always been drawn to the scientific side. Not that climbing and pruning isn’t a science base, I’ve always been interested in insects and diseases, and it’s complexity within a living organism. Sounds kind of dorkish but I love figuring out what’s wrong with a tree and coming up with a solution to bring it back to it’s natural health, the way it should be. 

Bartlett:
So why do you feel like it would be beneficial for tree companies to start incorporating it into their businesses? 

Joe:
What helped me out was as I got older the body was just slowing down. I realized I’m 25-30 years ahead of a lot of the guys that are in the business now. I wish I would have gotten into Plant Health Care sooner rather than later.

There’s a lot of things you can do. I’ve done a class in the past which was- Pruning is Plant Health Care 101. So when these guys are learning to properly prune a tree- that is Plant Health Care, that is as basic as you can get! In a lot of our urban trees that we deal with these guys could be adding a nutrition program to keep these beautiful specimens that they are maintaining in tip top health. The healthier they can keep a tree, the tree is better off resisting insects and diseases. For those just getting into it- nutrition, plant health, soil science is the way to go. It’s the way of the future for most of these tree care companies. 

Bartlett:
So once a PHC program is developed and successfully added and running in a company, what does that look like? Business wise, what are the perks as well? 

Joe:
I think the most important benefit of adding a PHC program is- once you take a tree down, the tree is gone. You no longer have that client. You may have the homeowner as a client, but you don’t have that tree as your client anymore. These trees, regardless of who owns that property, that tree is your client. There are trees that need to come down for safety, and I respect that. There are some amazing guys that do that for a living, but on the other hand there are some of these trees that for whatever reason homeowners want to preserve their trees. When you start getting into PHC and they start looking at the economics of PHC, it’s very, very profitable. And then you have that tree, that client, for the life of that tree. That’s what excites me about it. When you keep it healthy, you do your pruning cycles, you keep the soil healthy, the tree thrives! You got a customer for life, and that’s what is amazing about Plant Health Care. 

Bartlett:
We love how you say that the TREE is the client. It’s a new way to look at it. And it’s so true! 

Joe:
Homeowners come and go. They are going to look for someone to continue to maintain that tree. An urban landscape is where most of our customers are and the soils just aren’t what they need for these mature trees to thrive. So if you get on that property that tree is your customer, do the best you can do for that tree.




Bartlett:
We liked what you said earlier about pruning being PHC 101. Where should people start their PHC journey? What’s the next step? 

Joe:
You take the next step in Arboriculture and become a Certified Arborist. That lets everybody know you are reaching for a better understanding of Arboriculture and part of your ISA test is a lot of the things that they’re not comfortable with. There are 12 chapters on insect and disease management, tree nutrition, anatomy, physiology, how a tree works, why you prune a branch off- you almost have to be a student of Arboriculture for your entire life. As things evolve you have to continue to educate yourself, and that’s where being involved in your local chapter or going to university extension education seminars to understand what the newest, greatest and up to date research on trees is. It keeps you ahead of the ballgame.


Bartlett:
So when does the process evolve into getting your Pesticide Applicators License?

Joe:
In Michigan one of the biggest things that we have had trouble with, and we’ve been talking to MI Dept. of Agriculture about, is that young, energetic companies starting out can’t get licenses to apply pesticides, but if you started off by just doing, for example, compost tea, deep root fertilization, or tree risk assessment, or understanding what foliage should look like when it’s diseased or malnutritioned, that’s a great place to start to get your experience in a program, in working towards being able to apply pesticide and fungicides, IF needed later in the future.


Bartlett: 
It’s great to know people can start out small and still be able to be a part of the PHC community without being able to apply pesticides, etc. 

Joe:
That’s a whole other step in Arboriculture, getting into it full scale. Start off small, start with nutrition, get better at diagnosing the insects and diseases. I think a climber has a better opportunity to get closer, hands on in a tree. A lot of insects and diseases start in the canopy, and they’re already up there. If they have an understanding of how a tree works, and how a tree dies they can start to look for situations up in a canopy- why is the tree declining? There it is- they have already started PHC.


Bartlett: 
Beautiful! So right now what are the major USA pests that people can be looking out for?


Joe:
There’s a lot of them, obviously Mid West- Emerald Ash Borer. Most people are aware of that but as I say that there are still a lot of people in MI who haven’t even heard of it. West side of MI-  Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, Beech Bark Disease. There’s a handful right there that are invasive and causing a lot of damage. This really wet Spring they are probably seeing diseases like Anthracnose. You’ll see a lot of your sycamore trees are going on their second set of foliage because of Anthracnose. Dutch Elm Disease is coming back around, and this strain of pathogens seems to be killing off Elm trees faster than ever. Looking around, I think the hardest thing for me is, once you understand all of this, you will never look at a tree the same way again because you will always see some type of imperfection on that tree, and you’ll think you need to treat everything, but the other side of the coin is we can love a tree to death. 

Bartlett: 
Can you expand on that? When is a good time to step away and let nature do its thing?


Joe:
When it’s not a life threatening pathogen, when it comes to a threshold… one of the terms in PHC, when does it reach that threshold of when you are going to have to interact with an insect or disease treatment program? It goes back to proper health, proper nutrition, let the tree resist the insect and disease by itself, and a lot of these aggressive pathogens is when you’re going to step in with a different program. 

Bartlett:
When it’s time to step in with a chemical, of course from Arborjet, what are you most excited about right now, and why? 

Joe:
TREE-age was a product that I have been involved with from the ground up, doing all the research injections with MI State, Ohio State, Purdue, University of Wisconsin. When Emerald Ash Borer was first discovered we were trying to find solutions. I’m excited about that compound. There are a lot of other ones that came out since then that are working well. Talking about evolution, we just launched something new. TREE-age just came out with a new product called R-10 which is a 9.7% Emamectin Injectable. So the speed of application picked up. When you’re looking at the economics of PHC, getting the product in, and getting in and off the property as quickly and as efficiently as possible is key. So that’s a new compound that we’re pretty excited about that’s going to kind of revolutionize the tree care injection industry. 

Bartlett: 
Awesome! This is a really well rounded, helpful way to start looking at PHC differently! 

Past just the science, we know there’s a FUN, explorative side to PHC too! What are some interesting projects you have worked on because you are so involved in PHC?

Joe:

There’s a lot of awesome things!! I started injecting the largest Ash Tree in North America, which is North of Traverse City, MI almost 14 years ago, and what’s amazing about that is back when I started treating this tree for Emerald Ash Borer there was still a lot of nay say, people saying that treatments weren’t effective for large trees. I’ve been very excited that over the years I have proved everybody wrong and that tree is still there and still magnificent! And then most recently I have been involved in another Legacy Tree Program through Arborjet where we treated 2 of the largest Black Ash Trees in North America with Michigan DNR up in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. It’s opened a lot of great things- to get to do a lot of great things with a lot of great people to preserve trees! 

Bartlett:
This has just been awesome! Are there any last words that you want to share? Anything else you want to touch on?


Joe:
I think it’s amazing that I get an opportunity working for Arborjet to travel a lot. My territory is the Great Lakes States and Canada. At one point in my career I had all of the USA also. So I have gained a lot friends from coast to coast, all the way up into Canada. It’s just been an amazing group of people that take care of trees for a living. It’s like a sense of pride- we won’t let that tree down. We have to continue to educate ourselves to learn as much as we can to do the best job we can for those trees. So don’t be afraid to get started. Start small. Start local. Look at the top 3-4 pests in your area and find a solution. And I think in the end you guys will be very grateful that you did. 

Bartlett:
When put like that this is just the perfect intro to PHC to make it less intimidating, more fun, more easily accessible, and overall super exciting! 

Joe:
Yeah, totally. Start small, and play around with it!!

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