News Relationships Take Root on Tennessee Valley Tour

Relationships Take Root on Tennessee Valley Tour

Relationships Take Root on Tennessee Valley Tour
July 7, 2023 |

By Jeff Helms

Growing knowledge and cultivating relationships were on the itinerary as about 30 producers traversed the Tennessee Valley last month on the Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod (GNS) Tour. 

Bullock County nursery owner Hunter Smith said the two-day trek propagated ideas for him and wife Addie. 

“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 in conjunction with the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association (ALNLA). The Federation’s Blake Thaxton said growers designed the educational program. 

“The State Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Committee directs my work,” said Thaxton, who directs the Federation’s GNS Division. “When I planned this tour, they asked for two things — they asked to go to HudsonAlpha, and they asked for a drone demonstration. I think it just shows our people’s interest in new technology.”

Faculty Investigator Alex Harkess led the greenhouse tour following an overview by HudsonAlpha President Neil Lamb.

“What HudsonAlpha has become, in many ways, is a printing press for DNA,” Harkess said. “We can extract DNA from any organism, sequence its genome and understand the four nucleotides — the order of every single one of them — across the chromosomes of any plant we want to study.

“My laboratory studies how plants reproduce. I study flowers. I’m fascinated by the flower, not just because I think they’re beautiful in many ways, but because all of plant breeding, all of global food production relies on the very simple fact that plants make flowers; flowers make pollen; and pollen can move from one plant to another to make a fruit.”

Elmore County nursery owner Scott Poague said the HudsonAlpha tour was a primer for the farms visited on Day 2.

“It’s just 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 together at receptions or education events, a lot of good conversation happens,” said Wood, the group’s executive director. “It’s just a really good opportunity for them to learn from one another about better ways to do business.”

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.”

Thaxton thanked tour sponsors Alabama Farm Credit, Nufarm and Agri Spray Drones for helping create an atmosphere of learning. 

“The reason we’re doing these tours is to expose our members to operations so they can get ideas of how they may improve their own operations,” Thaxton said “But also it’s networking. The time on the bus, the time at dinner, the relationships formed make our organization stronger, and it makes their individual nurseries and farms stronger.”

View tour photos here.

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