Celebrating 35 Years on the Family Farm
This year NG Turf reached a significant milestone, marking 35 years in the turfgrass industry. During that time, founder and CEO Aaron McWhorter has led the company to become not only a trusted supplier of premium turfgrasses, but also a trusted source of information for turfgrass professionals and homeowners.
Like successful leaders in any industry, McWhorter has developed a foundation of sound business practices and strong cultural values. Family run, quality driven, customer focused — with these ideals McWhorter propelled NG Turf from a small tract of Bermuda grass into a leading sod producer in the Southeast.
Building on Customer Service
McWhorter is quick to point out that supplying sod involves much more than simply growing and selling grass. “What is sod? Sod is the tensile strength. It is the green color. It is the soil. Sod is also the delivery, the being on time. It is service. It is all the follow-up. It is warranty. Sod is all those things wrapped up in one little three-letter word.”
McWhorter credits NG Turf’s longevity in the industry to a loyal customer base. “I guess if there’s one thing I’m proudest of, it’s our positive reputation — that customers and potential customers have a positive image of us,” he said.
Throughout the past 35 years, the NG Turf team has maintained a culture of doing it right and making it right. “Since the very beginning, 100% satisfaction has been the goal,” McWhorter says. “And if we mess up, we rarely encounter a situation where we can’t make it right.”
Customer service initiatives include a one-year product warranty that helps ensure satisfaction. Also, several Certified Turfgrass Professionals on the team answer calls every day to help customers care for their grass long after installation.
“I think there’s always a learning curve, even with a 60-year-old product like Tifway,” McWhorter said. “And it’s our responsibility to continue to help educate the consumer. It’s an ongoing activity that’s part of our obligation to the industry.”
In fact, most activities at the company can be traced back to an emphasis on customer service, even major decisions like the acquisition and development of additional acreage. In the last three years, for example, NG Turf has acquired new tracts of land in an effort to better serve customers.
“These new production acres are all extremely close to the Atlanta market, which will make it more convenient for customers,” McWhorter explained. “It will also be more economical, not only for us, but for our customers as well.”
Growing Premium Product
Of course, customer service only goes so far. Offering high quality product is also central to any successful business model. McWhorter and his team concentrate on growing premium varieties of Bermuda, Zoysia, Fescue and Centipede turfgrasses, and much of it is Georgia Crop Improvement Association (GCIA) “blue tag” certified.
“There is no such thing as a standard sod,” McWhorter says. “Although the term leads everybody to think that sod is all the same, there are so many variables and different qualities of sod.”
NG Turf adheres to stringent protocols and submits to at least three third-party inspections each year in order to offer customers GCIA certified product. “It’s the only real quality control in the industry,” he emphasized.
GCIA certification signals to customers that the turfgrass will be uniform to color and will perform true to variety. Certified grasses like TifTuf™ and TifGrand® Bermuda, Zeon® Zoysia and TifBlair™ Centipede are routinely inspected to ensure they measure up to their high performance claims.
“The newest one is TifTuf, a Bermuda grass that from an appearance point of view mimics very closely the old Tifway with a slightly brighter green color,” McWhorter explained. “But its real claim to fame is that it uses about 40% less water to maintain that same color. It greens up early in the spring and stays green longer in the fall. It’s presenting an attractive appearance without using a lot of maintenance or water, which is a win-win for everybody.”
The Family Farm
McWhorter grew up on his family’s dairy farm. He earned degrees in education, but after a few years working as a high school teacher and coach, he returned to work on the farm.
One fateful day, a landscaper who was purchasing some wheat straw suggested McWhorter might consider growing sod.
Recognizing the uniqueness of the farm’s location, along the Chattahoochee River with proximity to Atlanta, and the fact that an irrigation system was already in place, McWhorter decided to invest in the idea.
“In 1985 we managed to buy enough equipment to get started and enough material to put in 20 acres,” he remembered. “By the late summer of 1986, we began to harvest a few pallets of Bermuda grass. It was quite a challenge, during that time of tremendous agricultural recession.”
Within just five years, McWhorter shut down the dairy to focus solely on sod. “There have been very few years, maybe one or two in the last 35 years, that we have not expanded production.”
McWhorter’s son, Mark, and daughter, Merett, grew up working on the NG Turf farm and currently serve as president and VP of golf course sales, respectively. A son-in-law, Jutt Howard serves as VP of business operations, and daughter, Natalie Howard, works as logistics coordinator. So NG Turf is not only family owned but also family run.
Today more than 100 dedicated employees help grow a wide range of premium turfgrasses on hundreds of acres across four farms, selling to discerning landscapers, golf course superintendents, facility managers and homeowners throughout the southeast.
“When you sit back and think about it, the years merge together, and 35 years almost seems like 35 days in some respects,” McWhorter reflected. “I’m pleasantly surprised that we’ve gotten this far and feel fortunate that we get to continue doing what we do best.”