NG Turf intern: Travels 6,000 miles to study sod
For a second summer, Mert Sahin traveled 6,000 miles from his home in Turkey to work as an intern on the sod farm at NG Turf at the invitation of NG Turf Founder and President Aaron McWhorter.
As an international business major in college, he’s excited about the opportunity to learn first-hand about the sod industry in the U.S. We thought you might enjoy reading about Mert’s experience in his own words.
How did you become interested in the turfgrass industry?
My father started a sod business in Turkey 13 years ago. He is an agricultural engineer and worked at Dow Chemical in AgroSciences. After he retired from Dow, he started his own sod business. He has a farm background because he grew up in a small village with a big family, and my Grandpa was also a farmer.
Did you grow up working on the farm?
Yes, almost every summer since the company started, I just go to the farm and help my dad, learning different things and trying to do my best in learning the sod business. For the last two years, I worked in the office as well, taking the orders and managing the deliveries.
What is your favorite part of the business?
The production side is my favorite part of the business. I really like to work hard on something—you have to have more effort and more patience, then you get the final product. I really enjoy that you work really hard in all seasons.
How did you get involved with NG Turf?
At Turfgrass Producers International (TPI), during the year there are two events, one in winter and one in summer. Our company is a member of TPI as a producer, so three years ago my dad and I attended TPI Field Day in New Jersey, and we met with Aaron and talked about the sod business. We talked about the differences between Turkey and the U.S.—how do you produce, what kind of turf do you produce. We just like to trade knowledge.
After the Field Day, I just wanted to get some experience, trying to learn the different style of growing, irrigation, and everything. Last year I came for my first visit for a month working here, volunteering just to get experience. This year I came here on June 19, and this week is the last week of my college internship (through August 23). I really appreciate that Aaron let me get experience and get involved with NG Turf.
What differences have you noticed in the industry?
There are lots of differences when we compare Turkey and the U.S. The most significant one is in the U.S. there’s lots of types of grass. In Turkey, the turf business is a growing industry, a new industry. Most producers in Turkey grow Fescue. When I came here, I learned a lot about Bermuda grass, Zoysia, different types of grass.
Are there differences in production?
The U.S. has a different production side, different irrigation systems. It’s really advanced technology, and more advanced turfgrass knowledge as well. In Turkey we mostly put pipes on the ground with spigots on each pipe. We do irrigation the hardest way because we have to get a crew of five to ten people to switch the pipes and turn the pump all the time. But there is a pivot system that is popular here, and you just need one person to do the irrigation. It’s way easier and much cheaper than what we use in Turkey.
In the U.S., because there’s lots of different types of turfgrass, they need different chemicals. In Turkey, in our sod farms, we grow mainly Tall Fescue, so we have a few chemicals that we use on our sod.
We have some common fertilizers, but here they use liquid nitrogen, and we use the solid rock nitrogen. The liquid one is much easier to mix with the water and put on the grass, much more beneficial than the type we use in Turkey.
Have you enjoyed your experience at NG Turf?
Definitely! I really thank Aaron for the hospitality. I really enjoyed studying and working here. The first time I worked outside Turkey, I thought it would be really hard because it is a different language, different systems, different country, but when I got here, I really adapted easily. Aaron, Jutt and the crew working here really helped me get involved in the workplace, and I really learned a lot.
Had you been to the U.S. before?
On my first trip to the U.S. when I was in high school, I attended the model United Nations, at Harvard University. We had a group of students, and we represented our school. My family also went to the West Coast, Portland and California.
After we met with Aaron at New Jersey for TPI that first year, we rented a car and almost every state on the East Coast we passed on the way to Georgia. After the internship, I will meet my family in Miami, and we will spend a week and a half on vacation in Miami, Orlando and Destin, and then we will come back for the Dove Shoot.
What is your major field of study?
My department is International Business. In our college, our lessons are all in English —accounting, business, math. I have also second language, Russian. You have to work hard on language, but if you have an interest in learning different languages and enjoy it, it’s really easy to achieve.
What are your plans after graduation?
I actually haven’t decided yet. I have two more years to finish college. I think my path will continue in the family business or I will go to work in the turf industry, but first my goal is to finish college as soon as possible. Then we’ll see.