Founded in 1902, Monticello, Florida-based Simpson Nurseries is one of the nation’s largest producers of trees and deciduous shrubs.
Founded by Fred Beshears and a group of local farmers in 1975, today Simpson Nurseries is wholly owned and operated by the Beshears family, with the next generation preparing to take over from long-serving Fred in the coming years. Today Simpson Nurseries’ Monticello location has grown to include more than 1,300 acres of growing space with 125 full-time employees. In 2013 the company expanded to a second farm location in McMinnville, Tennessee, with 140 acres and 48 employees.
“People thought we were crazy when we bought that place, but we had the vision and it’s been great. It’s really diversified our whole inventory and growing climate and conditions, so now we can access the whole Midwestern market through there,” says Thad Beshears, second-generation president of Simpson Nurseries.
The company now has a geographical footprint that stretches from Florida to the Northeast. While Simpson Nurseries once focused solely on deciduous trees the company has since expanded into evergreens as well and now offers an even split between the two.
Simpson Nurseries’ primary growing operation in Monticello includes 40 acres dedicated to pecan tree production and 80 acres of general field nursery stock such as fruit trees, shade trees, flowering trees and deciduous shrubs.
The company also boasts a 600 acres container tree production area featuring more than 1 million trees and shrubs and a propagation production area where field beds are used to grow product from seed, hardwood cuttings, rooted liner, budded understocks and bench grafts.
Simpson Nurseries serves customers with an extensive selection of trees and shrubs, giving retail nurseries, landscapers, mass merchandisers and pecan plantations the quality products they need to ensure success year after year.
“We don’t have many pecan orchards here in Florida, but the trees have to come from somewhere and most of those have come from Monticello,” says Fred Beshears, owner of Simpson Nurseries. “We’re also probably one of the world’s largest producers of crepe myrtle; whatever we do, we do it in volume while still maintaining quality and value for the customer.”
The recession hit Florida’s nursery industry particularly hard, with Beshears estimating that half of the state’s producers, and as much as 25 percent nationwide, had to close-up shop due to the slumping housing market and resulting economic downturn.
“Luckily we were financially sound and not overleveraged like some others in the industry. We had a couple of friends who were bigger than us but when the crunch came they were not financially strong enough and they got marginalized,” says Fred.
That doesn’t mean that Beshears and the Simpson Nurseries team aren’t afraid to take some risks. The company has partnered up with an individual who landed a license to grow medical marijuana from the state of Florida in 2014 and will soon harvest their first crop.
“There are only six licensed growers in the state and we’re one of them. We’ve been at the tip of the spear on a few things like that. We’re always trying to be innovative and when we see something we think will work, we’ll pursue it,” say Fred and Thad.
While such contract growing operations hold great promise for the company, the Beshears family is cautiously optimistic about the future of the medical marijuana industry. “It’s a moving target on how that industry is going to shape itself, so it will be interesting to see how well it does as an addition to the business,” says Thad.
Seeding future growth
Beshears is constantly on the lookout for any new product or service that might give him an opportunity and sees increased automation as the next big game-changer in the industry. “We always try to keep up on that stuff. If you don’t you’re dead meat,” says Fred.
Simpson Nurseries recently purchased a mechanized system that automates the potting process, freeing up the company’s employees to focus on other aspects of the business. “I was tired of doing it by hand,” Fred says, laughing. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but if it works on your farms we’re going to try to take it and adapt it for our farm.”
As the company prepares for the future, Beshears is tapping his sons to take over the family business. “Succession is my main concern. The newer generation is not as interested in horticulture and nationally we’re now three generations off the farm,” Fred says. With two sons already in the family business and one pursing a career in politics, Beshears is confident that the family will be heavily involved in the business for years to come.
The youngest of his three brothers, Thad has been with the company for over 14 years. Having grown up in the business, Thad is now looking at how to continue that legacy of success. “Fred’s done a great job of setting us up from a financial standpoint so we have no debt. That’s actually how we bought the Tennessee facility,” says Thad.
Though Beshears has done everything he can to ensure the company’s success moving forward, decades of experience in the industry have taught him that you can’t always be prepared for what’s coming next. “The public is so fickle; they might want upside down roses today and right side-up tomorrow,” Fred says.
As one of the nation’s largest producers of trees and deciduous shrubs, Simpson Nurseries will remain a leader in the domestic market for the foreseeable future.