By Cecilia Brown, Media and Content Manager for Sod Solutions
Paul Grose grew up as a preacher’s kid. Born in New Hampshire, he spent his early childhood traveling with his family in Southeast Asia as missionaries of the Methodist Church. They went from Malaya (later Malaysia) to Singapore and four years later, ended up in Texas.
He graduated high school in Austin, Texas and went on to study Ranch Management at Texas A&M. Prior to going to college he spent some time working on his grandfather’s farm near Claxton, Georgia. This formed his initial
interest in agriculture that would carry forth for the rest of his life. While at Texas A&M, Grose took a semester off and went to work on a ranch in Colombia that was owned by an uncle who lived in Florida.
“I went there for the experience, to learn the language and to work on a ranch,” he said. He became fluent in Spanish and gained hands-on work in South America. After college, Grose went back to work for his grandfather, who wasn’t ready to retire although he was in his late 70s. While working again on the Georgia farm, he decided to go back to graduate school for a master’s degree in Ranch Management.
“I wanted to pursue a career internationally in ranch management, so I applied to work for King Ranch,” Grose said. “It took me ten months to get an interview.”
At first, King Ranch told him they didn’t really have anything for him. Grose asked them if he were to go to South America, what experience would make him a valuable employee for them in the future. Hearing that, they offered him a job and sent him to Venezuela in May of 1983. He even missed his master’s graduation ceremony to get there as quickly as possible.
He remembers landing and driving for several hours in the pouring rain before arriving at a big ranch house where everyone was already asleep. Grose woke and had breakfast with the president of the company and some other employees, starting the first of many experiences working for King Ranch. Grose became manager of that ranch, where he was for two and a half years. There were five King Ranch locations in Venezuela at the time, and although he worked near the coast, he traveled between the ranches. He was later sent to work for a King Ranch cattle and quarter horse operation in Brazil.
“Some of my best memories are working as a cowboy in South America, being able to experience working in a different environment and culture. Many people have a romanticized view of life of a cowboy or cowgirl. I got to do that for four years,” he said.
After a few months on the new job, Grose realized he had another decision to make: either forget about the girlfriend he left behind in Venezuela – or marry her. He returned to Venezuela, asked Lenoska to marry him at Christmas, and tied the knot six weeks later on Valentine’s Day, 1986.
“It was a quick romance; we’d only met one another ten months prior to our wedding,” he said. Together, they went to Brazil where Grose was the interim manager for a year.
From Ranching to Turfgrass
After Brazil, Grose returned to the United States, straight to the King Ranch headquarters in Texas. The current King Ranch President and Chief Executive Officer, Robert J. Underbrink, called Grose during that time and asked if he would move from Texas to Florida to oversee their brand new turfgrass operation. “I thought about it for a couple of days and took him up on his offer. In March 1987, we moved to Florida,” he said.
At that time, King Ranch had 1,900 acres of newly established turfgrass, some of which had not even been harvested the first time. Grose had never seen the organic muck soils of South Florida before he took this position.
“Going from livestock production to turfgrass was a change, but a lot of the same principles apply. Soil fertility, fertilization, plant growth – these things were all part of my training,” he said.
Grose soon became heavily involved in turfgrass trade associations and was eventually asked to take on more responsibility by becoming General Manager for the King Ranch Florida Farm in the 1990s. He took on oversight of their turfgrass, sugarcane, rice, sweet corn and a variety of crops. From there he was asked to not only produce muck-grown crops also manage crops on sand land where their citrus groves had gone out of production due to disease.
“The turfgrass industry is quite dynamic. It’s a forward-looking industry. We deal with not only production issues and new varieties but we also deal with environmental constraints,” Grose said.
Grose said although there is a lot of competition between sod growers, it is important they continue to interact socially and through their trade organizations to understand and work better together as they face industry challenges.
“We need to have solidarity with other farmers, as well as with other crop production managers and agricultural enterprises,” he noted. “It’s critical that we stick together.”
Turfgrass farms use scientific methods for crop production, and responsible use of fertilizer is important. Grose said there is a public perception of how turfgrass is managed and that’s an important aspect of marketing their products and industry. He explained that in Florida there is a lot of attention on use of water and fertilizer, not only in the production of turfgrass but also in the end destination whether it be for a lawn or a golf course.
Grose loves his job because of his ability to work outside and produce something that he sees develop and grow every day. He shared that it’s rewarding to see a crop of good value and quality meet the needs of a customer. He explains grass is not only aesthetically pleasing for a consumer to enjoy and relax on in their yard, a park or on a golf course, but it also benefits the environment.
“Grass has a cooling effect on the environment, acts as a filtration device for stormwater, helps trap dust and reduces noise in urban environments,” he said. “Knowing we are producing a crop that’s beneficial to the consumer and urban environment is gratifying.”
Responding to COVID-19
In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic King Ranch immediately began to organize employees in order to
keep them safe at work and at home. Grose said one of the main changes they implemented was reducing the number of people that rode to work together, as King Ranch provides transportation to employees.
“We organized travel to keep the same group traveling to and from work daily and we limited the number of people in a vehicle. We kept our 15-passenger vans at half capacity, and everyone wore masks,” Grose shared.
King Ranch was an early adopter of sanitation measures, social distancing and masking (even Lenoska joined the effort, making 130 masks for employees last year).
“We have been able to protect our workers and that’s part of our philosophy at King Ranch of providing a wellness program for our employees,” he added.
He said COVID-19 was an added challenge to their ongoing efforts to maximize the safety and wellbeing of their employees. Grose anticipates King Ranch will continue to implement virtual meetings following the pandemic to help reduce employee travel.
King Ranch is a highly-diversified company, both in terms of the crops grown and of geography. “An operation like this takes a lot of teamwork to manage these different crops through the year because they have different crop cycles and needs for land prep
aration and cultural activities” Grose explained. He added, “Our people are good at what they do and work hard to contribute to each other’s success.”
Since the 1960s, King Ranch has been a strong presence in the South Florida region, creating jobs and supporting the local economy. “We’re both an important part of the turf production community as well as a key customer to local fertilizer dealers, equipment dealers and chemical suppliers,” he said.
In May 2021, Grose will have been with the company for 38 years. Looking ahead, he said King Ranch will continue to grow in not only turfgrass production, but also in sugar cane, sweet corn, rice, citrus and other crops. He manages about 26,000 acres in South Florida as the Vice President and General Manager of King Ranch Florida Operations.
“We will continue to look for diversified production systems and operations in different parts of the country and throughout the world,” he said.
This article was written by Cecilia Brown (email@example.com), Media and Content Manager for Sod Solutions. Sod Solutions has helped successfully develop and release to the market over 20 different turfgrass varieties over the past 27 years including Palmetto® and CitraBlue® St. Augustine, EMPIRE® and Innovation® Zoysia and Celebration®, Latitude 36® and NorthBridge® Bermudagrass. The company is based in the Charleston, South Carolina area.