Tennessee Turfgrass – The Turf Zone
How many years have you been in the family farm/sod production? Since 1987 – 32 years.
How did you decide to pursue a career in turf? My dad and I were row crop and livestock farming in the early 80’s. Times were hard and we started doing some landscape work. We needed sod for some of our own conservation work, but couldn’t find it locally. We planted a two-acre patch of Tifway 419 in 1985.
What is the best part of your job? There are multiple answers to this question. There is nothing better than working with family and friends, who you love and can depend upon. I enjoy the landscapers, homeowners, and professionals that we get to work with. Most are honest and willing to work hard. There are not many thugs that like to grow grass. As our society becomes more removed from agriculture, there is an opportunity to help urbanites grow and maintain a nice lawn. On the production end of life, there is constant change and a new challenge every day that keeps us humble.
What are some unique challenges of your job? Weather conditions can really change our game plan. We come to work every day expecting sod orders, mechanical issues, employee needs, and/or growing conditions to change our plans. Also the delivery (trucking) of our product has become a huge factor in our success.
How many employees are part of your team? We have to be ready to harvest and deliver year-round. We employee 8 to 10 full time people and in the growing season that number can double. The seasonal demands for our product and the shrinking labor force is requiring producers to invest in robotic harvesting. Autonomous mowing will be next.
Running a family business can have special benefits and challenges — what would you tell others who are currently in a family business or are considering it? I am very fortunate to have been able to work many years with my dad, and now I get to share that experience with my daughter and her husband. It was always my intention to stay on the farm and raise my family and I think I was successful in doing so. If you are thinking about going down this path, I recommend being open and honest with each other. Communication can be hard and hurtful, but setting out with goals and modifying that plan, as a family, is necessary for success. And don’t forget those family members who are not in the business. Family gatherings can be a lot more enjoyable when there is unity in the succession plan.
What is one lesson you’ve learned the hard way in your career? I grew up on a successful family farm and I believed that the farm would make me successful, as it had my dad. It took some hard years to realize that both success and failure can be temporary.
Do you have a mentor in the industry? Who? There are many. My dad was uneducated, but was probably the smartest man I’ve known.
When we got into the sod business, Tom Samples was new to Tennessee. He took an interest in us and I’m sure that he is the person most responsible for our success.
I’ve had the opportunity to be a member of several turfgrass associations (including TTA) and those members have always been willing to share tips and secrets that have helped mold our industry.
What do you do in your free time? I enjoy our three children and five grandkids. They have lived all over the globe and it’s been fun chasing them around.
I’ve been blessed with health and have been a runner for 15 years. This year I made a commitment to run every day for 365 days. There have been some really hard days, but I’m 8 months in and I think I’m going to make it.
I also serve on several church, community and professional board levels. I’m on the board for our local electric cooperative, a bank board, a Boy Scout board, as well as serving in our local Methodist Church.
I served for eight years on the TTA board and was President from 2012 through 2013.
I am currently the Secretary/Treasurer of the Mid-South Turfgrass Council, which is a group of growers from several states. This past year I was elected to serve on the board of Turfgrass Producers International. TPI is a group of sod producers and vendors from around the world.
Tell us about your family.
Suzanne is a retired school teacher. She and I have been married for 37 years and have 3 children: Tom and his wife Katie, who have 2 children, Lilly Ann (6) and Tate (4). Tom is a Navy Pilot and they currently live in Japan.READ THE ISSUE