All Roads Led to Sod Farming for Myles Kubicek
Myles Kubicek, owner of Kubicek Turf Farms has always been surrounded by the turfgrass industry in some way or another. Now, managing a successful operation in Wharton, TX, he is glad his interest in turfgrass turned into a passion.
Kubicek and his wife Emily, both grew up in Wharton and have been together since high school. Emily’s father is Glen Rod, owner of Rod Farms in El Campo, TX. Rod is a former Turfgrass Producers of Texas (TPT) president who has been very involved in the industry.
Kubicek graduated from high school in Wharton in 2005 and went to Blinn Junior College for a year before transferring to Texas A&M. While at Texas A&M, he worked on the Penberthy Intramural Fields and got a job at the turf field lab helping with mowing and the research side of things. In college, he bought some equipment and mowed yards as a side job as well.
While in college, he roomed with Seth Thomas, son of Emory Thomas who owns Thomas Turfgrass in Wharton, TX. “I never worked for Glen or for Seth or his dad but I was always seeing their work and liked the looks of it. None of my family has ever worked on a farm.”
Kubicek studied agronomy with a specialization in turf and graduated in December 2008. Emily had a cousin whose husband was running a satellite office in El Campo called Texas Multi-Chem. “They were a sports contractor that built and renovated athletic fields. They also worked with school districts all over the state. I did a lot of the fertilization and spraying jobs for the school districts and fields for them,” he said.
Kubicek had been working at Texas Multi-Chem for about a year and a half when he and Emily got married. From there, his launch into the turfgrass business was unlike most other farmers he knew whose families and lives have been in the industry for decades.
Destined for Turfgrass
Kubicek and Emily were at a wedding on a ranch near the Oklahoma- Texas border when he got into a conversation at the reception with someone who ended up changing his whole future. They’d been speaking to Brooke, a former classmate of theirs from high school. Brooke’s father, Larry Viktorin, ran Viktorin Green Turf (VGT).
Upon introduction, Kubicek recognized Viktorin from Wharton and the two began talking about the turfgrass business. He told Kubicek he’d recently sold a lot of his sod farms but had kept two smaller fields that were 75 acres each.
Kubicek explained to Viktorin that he and Emily had just gotten married and he didn’t want to be traveling all the time. “I kind of just threw it out there and said ‘hey if you’re ever interested in selling your business or your grass farms, let me know.’ It was probably two months later and I was headed out of town to Loredo to work for the next four nights when I got a call from Mr. Viktorin,” he said.
He asked Kubicek if he was serious about their conversation at the wedding and Kubicek said he was but wasn’t sure if he could afford it at that very moment. Viktorin explained he was still deciding if he wanted to sell all of his land but asked if they could get together to talk about leasing the land or making something work.
“I was only 24 years old when I started the grass farm and came into the business. We worked out a leasing agreement for the land and I purchased his equipment. He had some employees on hand working on the little bit of land he had left. It was 150 acres total and that’s how I got into the business,” Kubicek said. “I knew very little about the sod production side of things. I’d been on the maintenance side and Mr. Viktorin was a big mentor and still comes around. We have a really good relationship and if it wasn’t for him, I may not still be in business.”
Kubicek said he’s thankful for his business expertise to guide him. He said his father-in-law has also been helpful in answering any questions he’s had along the way. “I’m surrounded by really good people and I’ve got really good employees that take pride in what they do. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have anything.”
He signed the paperwork in March 2011 for the two 75-acre farms. Kubicek said he was nervous, didn’t really know what he was doing and was significantly younger than most of his employees.
“On my second day, Mr. Viktorin came and said there was another 75 acre-farm nearby and the guy who owned it was ready to lease or sell the farm. I told him I didn’t know what I was doing but he told me to trust him and to do it,” Kubicek said. “We went to talk to the seller and he made me a deal. So on my second day in the business, I added on another 75 acres. Over the years I’ve expanded and now we have six locations and 1,400 acres of turfgrass.”
When it comes to business growth and expansion, Kubicek credits the overall success to his loyal customers that support his farm, the farm’s production quality and good customer service.
“We had a really good secretary that passed away about a year and a half ago. I miss her and she was a big part of the growth of our business. Her name was Judi Hamby,” he said.
His wife, Emily has her CPA license and was working in accounting when Kubicek bought the sod farm. They were living in Richmond and decided they wanted to move to their hometown of Wharton, closer to the farm. Emily told him she would move back as long as she could be a teacher. So, she was a school teacher until Ms. Hamby passed away. When that happened she quit teaching and came to do the books at Kubicek Turf Farms and still works part-time with another secretary answering phones.
Although he has a secretary, Kubicek still gets orders from customers that he talks to and visits to see how they can improve or resolve problems from time to time. “We need to know what we need to improve on, issues they’re having and try to get them corrected. I’ve got some customers that have been with me a long time and we have kind of grown together,” he said. “I can ask them what their Spring is going to look like or their predictions for next year. I can ask what grass I need to grow more of or what grasses are doing well in their markets.”
He said their high-quality turfgrass is retained by his good employees paying attention to detail. “I try to ride around and check the different farms to see what needs to be done or improved on. If we get complaints from a customer that keeps us on our toes to stay alert. I don’t want us to get lazy.”
Kubicek Turf Farms has 20 employees. “Without them, we wouldn’t have anything. They’re very good,” he said. Currently, he’s growing eight different varieties across his farms, including Cobalt® St. Augustine, Palmetto® St. Augustine, Raleigh St. Augustine, Celebration® Bermudagrass, Tahoma 31® Bermudagrass, Innovation® Zoysiagrass, Emerald Zoysiagrass and Palisade Zoysiagrass.
Cobalt St. Augustine
Kubicek served as the TPT Vice President in 2020. He enjoyed getting insight and opinions on the industry and listening to what others had to say while he was in that position. “I’m involved in the TPT and we are funding some research. I did the Cobalt St. Augustine with Texas A&M and I was a foundation grower. Now there’s a group doing the same thing with A&M again to fund some zoysiagrass trials,” he said.
Kubicek Turf Farms has been actively involved with the Texas A&M AgriLife Research program over the past few years. He explained his involvement stemmed from two industry members encouraging him to grow research trials. His father-in-law and Aland Wittig called him one day to explain they’d spoken to Texas A&M Turfgrass Breeder Dr. Ambika Chandra about the St. Augustinegrass research lines in development as a replacement of TamStar. Rod and Wittig encouraged him to contact Texas A&M about becoming the one of the sod farms selected to plant the eight elite lines of St. Augustine moving forward in the research trials in the summer of 2018.
Kubicek planted the eight varieties of St. Augustine from just a few trays and expanded little by little as the grass began to establish. They harvested and expanded the lines by hand since it was not a small production area. Cobalt St. Augustine was selected as the top performing line from the trials and was released from the Texas A&M AgriLife Research program earlier this year.
“We’re excited about it. Hopefully, it’s gonna be a good variety. We’ve actually had some calls on it, so it’s getting its name out there already. That’s probably due to some of the industry trade shows and what Sod Solutions does to market new grasses. We haven’t had any issues with it on the farm yet, so hopefully, it stays that way. It’s done well for us every time we’ve harvested and expanded it.”
Kubicek said a lot of the data on Cobalt has shown it has good shade and drought tolerance, which are two traits a lot of his customers call looking for in a new variety. Kubicek Turf Farms has multiple customers that distribute their products.
He said a lot of times he sees what his customers are selling a lot of to determine how much of a grass he plants and other times he is calling them to tell them about new varieties to see what input or interest they have. “There are so many new grasses coming out all the time that it’s so hard to figure out which one and how many acres of each variety to plant. We’ll talk to our customers to plan.”
Kubicek said he’s thankful for his relationships with industry professionals like Dr. Ambika Chandra with Texas A&M and Roberto Gurgel and Mark Kann, with Sod Solutions who he can call when he’s seeing issues in a field.
“Roberto will come out to the fields to check in and he’ll make his rounds looking at everything and tell us what we need to do differently or what fertilizer applications we should be doing. There are times we’ll get input from Sod Solutions and Ambika to get things sorted out. I don’t know everything and I’m not going to act like I know everything. I’m always going to other people for advice and opinions.”
Kubicek said they have good days where he wants to keep growing and expanding the business and others where he wants it to stay at its current size. “We have three boys that I’m hoping will be interested in coming on board and working here,” he said. Kubicek’s sons are Layton (3), Easton (6) and Greyson (9).
Kubicek said Jason Otto, their farm manager, does all of the spraying and fertilizing on the farm. They also have two full-time mechanics, Gilbert and Daniel that help keep the different locations running smoothly.
Kubicek said seeing a product throughout production, to being harvested and shipped out, to watching the plants grow back in is his favorite thing.
“There’s just something about looking across and seeing a nice beautiful and manicured lawn for acres and acres. Being able to harvest that and send it out to customers where they’re then able to plant it and watch it grow,” he said. “It seems like there are always challenges that we have to handle and I’m kind of addicted to it. There are times I don’t even need to go to work or we’re rained out but I’ll still go and check things out and see what I can find.”
Kubicek enjoys running Kubicek Turf Farms and looks forward to their industry involvement into the future.
This article was written by Cecilia Brown.