Mar 22, 2019
Stark Bro’s latest horticulture symposium brings the brain power

Stark Bro’s Nurseries & Orchards, the world’s oldest fruit-tree nursery, has been holding growers’ symposiums for a long time. At the assembly prior to the one in the 1897 photo below, the Red Delicious apple was discovered. 

In 1816, Stark Bro’s celebrated 200 years in business, and it is currently very busy planning for the next 200 years.

One of its great success stories is the Stark EZ Start potted growing program  – or simply “Potted”, as it’s known amongst employees – which established its erstwhile roots more than 40 years ago, when Paul Stark Sr., Lou Brown (the current owner’s father) and Elmer Kidd began experimenting with different shapes and sizes of pots. They discovered that raising a young nut tree in a 4x4x10 rectangular pot with an open bottom allowed the roots to grow into the air, where they dry out and “self-prune,” forcing the formation of a dense mass of feeder roots inside the pot.

These ingenious pots saved space in the greenhouse and made hard-to-propagate trees easy to raise.Those pots also help to sidestep ruined crops due to extreme weather, and allow for far better control of the growing process. Recent strategic planning meetings have focused on how to accelerate/expand the EZ Start program. 

Co-owner Cameron Brown and Don Morris, chief operations officer, decided that the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B was to ask people in the know. It was time for another symposium. And so March 21, at the company’s Louisiana, Missouri, headquarters, horticulture experts from across the country assembled to share their experience, ideas and recommendations for Stark’s already-successful potted-tree growing program.

The event was attended by a dozen specialists in the field, representing a wide range of expertise – from growers to academicians. 

“We put this event together so that a panel of experts could help us see a clearer path to what weneeded to focus on,” Brown said.  “I was blown away – in a good way – at just how much all of us, including me, learned.” 

The event included tours of the cold-storage and warehouse facilities, the greenhouses, and featured presentations from Ken Lane, Stark Bro’s chief marketing officer, about the current state of the potted growing program. Afternoon breakout sessions covered everything from entomology and plant pathology to issues regarding watering, soil and environmental controls.

The day was concluded with a lively and broad-ranging Q-&-A session.

“We think we’re the passionate ones? My goodness, we could have done this for two more days,” Lane said. “The impacts on our product offerings over the next several years will be considerable … I think we are two years away from greatness. We owe a sincere debt of gratitude for the extraordinary input we received from our colleagues today.”

Brooke Renberg, a greenhouse environmental control specialist from Hummert International, came away with a refreshed perception of the world’s oldest fruit-tree nursery.

“Stark Bro’s has been a partner with all of us at Hummert for years,” Renberg said. “We felt privileged to be a part of this, and were really amazed at how this 200-year-old company works so hard to stay young.

At an assembly prior to the one in this 1897 photo below, the Red Delicious apple was discovered.

Stark Bro’s offers more than 150 varieties of fruit, nut and shade trees and other garden plants, including certified USDA Organic varieties.

Six generations of Starks led the company until 2001, when Stark Bro’s was purchased by current co-owners Cameron Brown and Tim Abair.  Stark Bro’s is responsible for discoveries such as Red Delicious and Golden Delicious apples, and secured the first plant patent in 1932 for its Hal-Berta Giant peach tree, with the assistance of Luther Burbank and Thomas Edison. 

Stark Bro’s is still located in Louisiana, Missouri along with its retail Garden Center, warehouses, greenhouses and main test orchards. Nursery stock is also grown on additional acreage in Missouri and in Atlas, Illinois. For more information, please visit StarkBros.com.

Photo at top: At an assembly on March 21, at Stark Bro’s Louisiana, Missouri, headquarters, horticulture experts from across the country assembled to share their experience, ideas and recommendations for Stark’s already-successful potted-tree growing program.





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