By Jeff Helms
Growing knowledge and cultivating relationships were on the itinerary as 30 producers traversed the Tennessee Valley on the Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod (GNS) Tour June 28-29.
Bullock County nursery owner Hunter Smith said the two-day trek propagated ideas for his farm.
“This is an incredible tour,” he said. “We are seeing the different techniques other people use to get the same job done — some they’ve been using since the 1940s. We saw an early irrigation system that works, and they don’t try to change it.”
Schaefer Nursery in Winchester, Tennessee, is home to one of the South’s first intermittent irrigation systems. Second-generation grower Molly Schaefer Still said the timer-controlled misters above outdoor beds are key to her family’s longevity in producing woody ornamental, bare-root liners (or starter plants). While in the Volunteer State, farmers also toured Tennessee Valley Nursery in Winchester, known for dogwood budding.
Back in Alabama, stops included HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville; Posey and Son Nursery in Hazel Green, whose boxwoods have been featured in Southern Living landscapes; and Hubert Family Farms in New Market, where thousands of guests capture social media-worthy photos amid a kaleidoscope of tulips.
Participants also saw a spray drone demonstration by Dr. Steve Li of Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
The tour was organized by the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association (ALNLA). The Federation’s Blake Thaxton said growers designed the educational program, sponsored by Alabama Farm Credit, Nufarm and Agri Spray Drones.
“When I planned this tour, the GNS Committee asked for two things — they asked to go to HudsonAlpha, and they asked for a drone demonstration,” said Thaxton, the GNS Division director. “It shows our people’s interest in new technology.”
At HudsonAlpha, Alex Harkess led the greenhouse tour following an overview by President Neil Lamb.
“What HudsonAlpha has become, in many ways, is a printing press for DNA,” said Harkess, a faculty investigator. “We can extract DNA from any organism, sequence its genome and understand the four nucleotides — the order of every single one — across the chromosomes of any plant we want to study.”
Elmore County nursery owner Scott Poague said the HudsonAlpha tour was a primer for farms visited on Day 2.
“It’s amazing the biotechnology work going on there,” Poague said. “We need that kind of research for our agricultural operations.”
Russell Wood said ALNLA’s partnership with the Federation is about cultivating relationships.
“We want to get members together because when they are in the same place at receptions or educational events, a lot of good conversation happens,” said Wood, the group’s executive director.
Jason Lazenby of Young’s Plant Farm in Auburn said the tour provided a fresh perspective.
“So often you get caught up in your own circumstances, and you don’t realize what you’re not seeing,” he said. “You come to something like this and don’t expect to really learn something new. Then you get here, and you realize how much you don’t know and how important sharing knowledge is.”