FloriTurf: Three decades in Florida’s turfgrass industry

Posted 12/19/23

For nearly three decades, FloriTurf has been at the forefront of turfgrass farming operations...

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FloriTurf: Three decades in Florida’s turfgrass industry


KENANSVILLE — For nearly three decades, FloriTurf has been at the forefront of turfgrass farming operations in Kenansville. Originally an Ohio-based enterprise, founders Cecil Collins and Bill Campbell expanded their business to Florida. They hired Donald Johnson as a manager and part-owner in 1994, and he acquired the business shortly thereafter.

Donald and Nancy, married for 45 years, devoted themselves tirelessly to establishing a reputable sod operation in Florida. Upon Donald’s acquisition, Nancy left her job at an attorney firm and assumed the responsibilities of running FloriTurf’s office. They raised their children, Travis and Erin, on the farm. Erin has pursued a career in hotel management, while Travis has taken the helm of FloriTurf.

Reflecting on his upbringing, Travis reminisced, “I watched my parents work night and day and work very hard to uplift a struggling business. They poured numerous nights, weekends and hours into making it what it is today. I was fortunate enough that they gave me the opportunity to buy it from them when they were ready to sell it.”

Travis recalled walking with his sister to their elementary school across the street, highlighting the close ties between their family life and the farm. Seven years ago, Travis made the decision to purchase the farm from his parents, driven by his extensive hands-on experience.

“I don’t think I have anybody that’s doing a job here that I haven’t physically done at some point in time, and I think that helps,” he said. “The problems a sod farm has are things I’ve experienced from a young age. You don’t realize what you’re learning by just standing around. You learn things all the time and it’s amazing to me the little things I picked up that I didn’t even know I was being taught.”

Nancy and Donald Johnson were happy to pass the business to their son and look forward to traveling more in the coming years. “I think it’s great passing it along from generation to generation and now my grandson, Mason, is involved in it too. Each new generation brings in new ideas and innovations,” Donald said.

Growth and Expansion

Over the past 29 years, FloriTurf significantly shifted from leased lands in Osceola County, FL’s northern and western regions to securing long-term leases, encompassing approximately 1,000 acres in the county’s southern area. Travis attributed this move to the impact of ongoing development.

Travis explained they’ve established a good relationship with a strong network of ranchers in the southern region of the county. They have different arrangements including leasing land for extended periods, some for up to 15 years, and in other cases, they harvest from the landowners’ cow pastures or Bahia fields.

FloriTurf harvests around 500 acres of Bahia grass across multiple ranches in the region, concentrating solely on cultivation and sales, without engaging in delivery or installation services.

With a team of 22 employees, FloriTurf experienced rapid growth over the past five years, doubling both its acreage and staff count. Travis emphasized their closeness, stating, “Despite the expansion, I remain highly involved, engaging with each employee individually a few times a week. We still maintain that small-business atmosphere, but it’s fascinating to witness our evolution and adapt to different management styles as we scale up.”

Donald highlighted the shift from manual sod stacking, prevalent in the industry nearly 50 years ago when he started, to utilizing advanced equipment, making a substantial difference in operations at FloriTurf. Travis said that their updated equipment has allowed for smoother operations and efficiency.

Managing FloriTurf

Travis said he’s always enjoyed witnessing the development of raw land into a turf farm. “It’s been a passion. I’ve ventured and dabbled into other businesses, and nothing held my attention and interest like the turf industry.”

He also finds joy in the initial harvest of a newly planted field, stating “After we go through all the infrastructure of laser leveling, putting in an irrigation system and the two years of work make that first harvest very exciting.”

Much of Travis’s daily routine involves coordinating with FloriTurf’s Turfgrass Manager, Allan Kersey. Travis also oversees various operational aspects, including payroll, bills, inventory and financial analysis. Additionally, maintaining strong relationships with local landowners remains a priority for Travis to ensure FloriTurf aligns with their expectations, emphasizing the importance of immersion within the business and the surrounding network for a successful, growing sod operation.

Licensed Turfgrass varieties

FloriTurf was an early adopter of EMPIRE® Zoysia introduced by Sod Solutions and remains a long-term licensee for this variety. Donald emphasized the significance of EMPIRE in diversifying their offerings beyond St. Augustine grasses.

Donald underscored his friendship and professional rapport with Tobey Wagner, the founder of Sod Solutions. He said they spoke recently about their excitement seeing the industry’s next generation take the reins as they start to take the back seat. “Tobey and I have been to a lot of TPI meetings together all over the country. He and (wife) LeeAnn are good people and good friends of ours.”

Travis recalled his father’s collaboration with Wagner over the years, focusing on identifying grasses aligning with their quality standards and water-saving needs. Travis expressed excitement about Sod Solution’s recent release of CitraZoy® Zoysiagrass from the University of Florida. “It’s a big hit. I love it. As a grower, it’s easy to grow and has less problems than other varieties making it easier for the homeowner to maintain. CitraZoy is the most recent thing that we’re all excited about for sure.”

After a year of cultivation, Travis observed CitraZoy’s resilience to billbugs compared to adjacent zoysiagrass fields that suffered damage. “That was neat to see, especially being right next to each other. Typically, if you have a problem in one, you have a problem in the next field but I’m seeing billbug resistance and prolonged color retention.”

He explained while it’s a different color than EMPIRE, CitraZoy has been holding color longer which makes him assume customers would be able to reduce fertilizer use while keeping a nice green shade longer.


Travis is excited about FloriTurf’s venture into the bermudagrass market, which presents new opportunities for the business. While they haven’t extensively explored bermudagrass before, he anticipates acreage growth in this area. FloriTurf is a recent licensee of Celebration® Bermudagrass. He explained the increasing customer inquiries for bermudagrass beyond sports fields indicate emerging market demands.

Over the years, FloriTurf primarily focused on grass cultivation. However, as the farm expanded, it diversified into growing various grass varieties and has become more active within the industry as well as staying updated on local regulations from the Water Management District.

TPI 2024

FloriTurf is a member of the Florida Turfgrass Association (FTGA) and Turfgrass Producers International (TPI). They are gearing up to host the TPI 2024 International Education Field Day at their newest sod farm in early February.

Donald expressed his excitement for Travis to spearhead the event, noting the immense value of participation in TPI. “I used to be very involved and on the board. I think it’s just a good thing for the industry. You pick up a lot of things from growers from all over the country.”

Travis echoed the sentiment, emphasizing the significance of hosting the field day on a new farm with many grass varieties. “I’m glad to do it for our industry and there’s no better place to do that than a brand new farm without all the bumps and bruises of an old farm.”

Travis looks forward to leading FloriTurf into the future while adapting to industry needs and changes. For more information on the business, visit Floriturf’s website at https://floriturf.com.
To register for the 2024 TPI Conference and Field Day, visit https://turfgrasssod.org/event/tpi-2024-international-education-conference-and-field-day.

turfgrass, farm, kenansville