2012 Nursery Producers Program
Tennessee producers from across the state are learning ways to advance their operations through the new Tennessee Master Nursery Program. Shown here, they are using a smart technology classroom to interact with presenters and each other. Photo by Adam Blalock. Download photo.

McMINNVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee nursery crop growers are gaining insight into how to enhance their operations and improve their sustainability through a new partnership program led by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.
Forty-seven nursery producers from the heart of Tennessee’s nursery industry, Warren and surrounding counties, are taking part in the Tennessee Master Nursery Program. An additional seven producers in Jackson and the East Tennessee area are participating through a webinar.
The industry they represent is a driver in the state’s economy. According to the most recent Tennessee agricultural census, taken in 2007, the state’s nursery enterprises brought in $325 million in cash receipts from farm marketing.
The Tennessee Master Nursery Program consists of six weekly training sessions featuring a number of international experts in various aspects of nursery production, family farm planning, and marketing and economics.
“This program is unique. It’s not offered anywhere else in the U.S.,” says Amy Fulcher, who is coordinating the program. Fulcher is an assistant professor in the UT Institute of Agriculture’s Plant Sciences Department. She holds expertise in sustainable ornamental plant production and landscape management.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have received a $47,000 specialty crop block grant from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, which enabled us to develop a live and online TMNP program. TDA’s financial support is allowing us to bring world-class experts to Tennessee to help our growers strengthen the economic and environmental sustainability of their businesses,” Fulcher said.
TDA’s commitment to the program extends to offering eligibility for a 50-percent cost share to producers who successfully complete the course. The cost share is through the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program, whose matching funds allow producers to maximize farm profits, adapt to changing market situations, improve operation safety, increase farm efficiency and make positive economic impacts in their communities.
Fulcher cites the purchase of irrigation systems as a potential use of TAEP funding. “These systems offer improved irrigation capability, which allows growers to increase crop survival, enhance plant quality and reduce the production cycle duration,” Fulcher said. New sprayers and greenhouses are other examples of improvements being planned by program participants.
Tennessee Master Nursery Program participant Beth Blankenship operates Blankenship Farms in McMinnville. “I’ve learned a lot,” she says. “There’s a lot of value about what it’s teaching me about irrigation and information that will help us with cost savings and labor savings.”
Blankenship says the program is also helping her be proactive in addressing issues that may become subject to regulation later. “With this knowledge, I can go ahead and implement processes now that will help our operation later on when regulations may change.”
 “We’re really excited about all the Tennessee Master Nursery Program offers our nursery producers,” Fulcher says.
Among the international experts Tennessee growers have access to are Sarah White, an assistant professor specializing in remediation science at Clemson University; Jim Owen, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech with expertise in irrigation, substrates and production technology; and Brian Jackson, an assistant professor focusing on container substrates at North Carolina State University. Specialists from Tennessee are also sharing their knowledge with participants.
In 2013, the Tennessee Master Nursery Program will be offered online through the website tnmasternursery.com. The online training is expected to become available next summer.
Fulcher says she hopes that the live Tennessee Master Nursery Program training will occur again next year in other locations in the state.
“This is truly a multi-partner project,” Fulcher says. “Developing a program of this magnitude wouldn’t have been possible without a team approach.”  Members of the Tennessee Master Nursery Program Committee include UT Extension specialists Mark Halcomb, Frank Hale and Alan Windham, representing areas of nursery crops, entomology and plant pathology; UT Grundy County Extension agent Creig Kimbro; Tennessee State University Extension area specialist Adam Blalock, an authority on nursery crops; TSU research associate professor and entomologist Jason Oliver; and Donna Fare, USDA research horticulturist.

To learn more, contact Fulcher at afulcher@utk.edu or at 865-974-7152 or visit the Tennessee Master Nursery Program website at http://www.tnmasternursery.com.


Amy Fulcher, UT Plant Sciences assistant professor, 865-974-7152, afulcher@utk.edu