Green Valley Farms in rural Shelby County near Montevallo gives Lance and Dana Byrd lots of things that other Alabama farmers don’t have. For one, prices are not controlled by a commodity market, and secondly, they sell directly to the consumer.Both of those benefits come from being in the nursery and sod business which the Byrds admit isn’t traditional farming in the sense of producing food or fiber. But the rewards are the same, according to Lance, who says at the end of the day it’s very satisfying to look back and see what’s been accomplished. They are this year’s winner in the Outstanding Young Farm Family greenhouse, nursery and sod division.”I get the most satisfaction from farming because it allows me to have a flexible schedule so that I can spend more time with my family,” Lance said. “We put in long hours, and it can be hard, physical work, but we spend more time together, and our boys are able to see the results of our work.”The Byrd’s farm covers about 800 acres in one of the fastest-growing areas of the state. Shelby County and south Jefferson County are gobbling up farmland and turning it into housing developments. But while urban sprawl might bother most farmers, for the Byrds it has been a boost for their business.”The market really has come to us,” said Lance, whose grandfather started the farm years ago, producing poultry and cattle. “Since our business began, many of the municipalities in our area passed minimum landscaping ordinances that require a certain amount of landscaping be done when a new home or business is built. The builders don’t have a choice but to landscape a new home or business, but when they choose a nursery to buy from, we want them to choose us.”The Byrds say their market has grown even faster than they could have imagined. This year, even with a sluggish economy, sales have increased by 12 percent, according to Lance who also serves as vice president and nursery manager at Green Valley.”With just over 800 acres on our farm, we still have room to expand,” Lance said. “But urban sprawl has caused land values to increase significantly in our area, and if we weren’t already here, it would be tough financially to buy a place this size, this close to the cities.”The farm has changed a lot since Lance’s grandfather produced livestock and poultry. When Lance’s father joined the operation, he added hogs and sod to the mix. When the hogs became less profitable, the nursery business was added. In the mid-1990s Lance and Dana joined the business, and it’s been growing steadily ever since. Their primary nursery product is woody ornamentals and trees. They grow centipede, zoysia and Bermuda grass in the sod operation and have a commercial cow-calf operation.The Byrds say they are fortunate to have a reliable water supply for the nursery and sod business in the form of an abandoned rock quarry, but their location also has brought about some challenges.”Because there are fewer farms in this area, it was harder to find good labor that can operate a variety of machinery and perform a lot of different jobs,” Lance said. That labor shortage resulted in the Byrds hiring migrant workers who work at the farm nine months out of the year. All said, they have 13 full-time employees and nine seasonal workers.The Byrds also work hard to protect the environment by reducing spraying and by routing all their water runoff to a holding pond for reuse. Their marketing strategies also have bolstered their success, Lance said.”We’ve done some radio and print advertising, and we’ve now hired a full-time sales staff,” Lance said, but added that there are three things that have been the real keys to their success. “Great customer service, having what the customers want when they want it, and having the quality and quantity of plants that they want are what’s made our business a success,” he said.The Byrds use automated potting as much as possible in their business to reduce labor costs. They also use a soil mixer to make their own potting mix which includes a time-release fertilizer.Dana said even though the business is growing faster than they ever thought it would, she wants to do more to get the children involved. Next year, she plans to help their sons Beaux, 11, and Tyler, 6, start a u-pick operation for blueberries and blackberries. She also hopes to have a pumpkin patch and corn maze.”It think it would be wonderful for the boys to have their own business, and I think it would be a great opportunity for kids from the city to see what a farm looks like,” Dana said. “Most importantly, I think our boys could learn a good work ethic and save their own money for a car or college.”Dana, who is an avid hunter, said she also likes the freedom and wide open spaces that farm life provides for their family.”I think about how lucky our children are to have space to run around and play and to see wildlife,” she said, adding that she also feels fortunate to be associated with the Young Farmers program. Lance serves on the Shelby County Farmers Federation Board where he is chairman of the county’s Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Committee. He also serves on the State Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Committee. Dana serves as chairman of the Shelby County Young Farmers, a position she has held three years.A good work ethic, strong morals and values are the things the Byrds enjoy most about their relationship with other members of the Young Farmers program.”It’s great to be around people who share your same ideas, goals and even the same problems in some cases,” Dana said.
Outstanding Young Farm Family—Greenhouse Nursery and Sod