Horizon Grass Farms Thrives as Business Transitions into Third Generation
Over the past 43 years, Horizon Grass Farms has grown from a 20-acre homestead into a successful turfgrass operation in Texas. Reputed for its grass quality and quantity sold in the Lonestar State, the Gavranovic family stays hard at work.
“It’s just a lot of determination, willpower, and we treat every day as an important day. Time is of the essence, and we’re only here for a little bit, so we’ve got to put as much time as we can put forth,” said William Gavranovic, owner of Horizon Grass Farms. “We invest a lot of time in our turf fields, farms, and people. We’re very dedicated.”
William and his father, Willie Gavranovic, consider themselves each other’s right-hand men on the farm. Willie was born in Burr, a community in eastern Wharton County, Texas, and hasn’t moved outside of a 15-mile radius since. Growing up in agriculture, when Willie was in his late 20s, he decided to add turfgrass into the mix of row crops he was producing in Wharton.
Willie and his late-wife Gladys started the business together in 1978. Now, their children William, Irene, and Rachel all play a role in the company. William said Gladys did a lot for the business and supported all her children’s endeavors, with turf outshining all the others. “She helped us quite a bit. She helped us grow and be united. She had a strong belief that if you worked hard and tried hard, that success would eventually come.”
William, now 50-years-old, had spent his whole life farming and has been sod farming since he reached Junior High School when his parents started Horizon Grass Farms.
“We’ve been in the business a long time, actually,” William said. His sister Irene manages All Seasons Turf Grass, a retail business run on a turf farm in Brookshire, TX. She supplies mostly sand-based sod for golf courses and sports fields. William explained there is also Horizon Farms, another entity of their operations that produces cotton, corn, soybeans, and milo. William’s wife, Jenny, helps him daily with farm and office tasks. William’s sister Rachel is also involved, and her husband, Ryan, helps with production on the sod farms.
As Horizon Grass Farms moves into its third generation operating a turf business, William said their biggest accomplishment would be their expansion.
“We’ve been blessed. We’ve had my dad, sisters, Rachel and Irene, and now our children coming on board. It’s nice to have a family business that’s turned into a sizable business,” he said. “We all run it together and get along. It’s nice having a family run a big business like this. We’ve always had the mentality of working together, and if there’s a rough patch, we smooth it out.”
Willie is happy that there are family members willing to carry the torch forward to keep Horizon Grass Farms in operation. Of his eight grandchildren, several are already working on the farm, and he anticipates more of them will follow suit.
“Naturally, my children started in the turfgrass industry in their earlier stages. William, my son, has pretty much always been in that industry from day one, row cropping and then working his way into turfgrass. And both my daughters are involved in the business and working in this area too,” Willie said. “It’s great to see my children and grandchildren be involved.”
William has two daughters that graduated from Texas A&M that work at the farm. Caroline does work in the field at the farm and Haley does a lot of marketing on the sales side. He also has two sons, Garrett, a Junior in high school, and Connor, who is in sixth grade. William said he isn’t going to twist their arms to join the business, but like his father, he anticipates they both will as time goes on.
“They tend to follow in my footsteps and seem to be enjoying it so far,” he added.
Horizon Grass Farms has grown tremendously over the past four decades, now supplying sod to roughly 20 nurseries throughout the state.
William said they’re able to produce a large quantity of turfgrass with high-quality standards thanks to the excellent foreman and managers on their farms. “It’s a team, united effort between all the employees to maintain the quality. It’s a combination of the good cultural techniques and competition between farms that helps employees want to produce quality sod.”
His dad agrees, saying that he’d never dreamed it would grow into what it is today when he started the business. Willie shared that he’s proud of the property they acquired over time throughout different parts of the state to diversify their production areas.
Now, Horizon has 12 farm locations strategically located near major cities. Horizon’s production facilities are in Wharton, Lane City, Burr, Clay, Cameron, Brookshire, Monaville and Sealy.
“It’s not a one-man-band. It takes everyone to have good quality. One man can’t do it if you’ve got six farms in different locations,” Willie said. “If they like you and the team, they’ll put in the effort to do it the way you think it should be done. It’s all about what you put into your employees and how you treat them. If you treat them good and treat them right, then they’ll take care of you.”
With nearly 40 employees on the turf side of the business, they are pleased that they’re able to help their local economy by not only supplying a quality product but also by offering jobs. “We’re supportive of our employees, and if there’s ever a problem, we work with them and treat them like we’d want to be treated. We treat everyone like family.”
When it comes to dreams and goals for Horizon Grass Farms, Willie said between himself and his family, they’ve naturally exceeded many of their goals. “My goals for the future are for the family to keep running our operation and always trying to be a little better where we can if we can. Also, to do a better job and work with the turfgrass industry so it’s as good as it is or even better. We can always be better, and I think that’s a good thing for the family. I think they’ll take the ball and keep it rolling.”
With such extensive production throughout the state, Horizon Grass Farms recently started using Turf Logistics, a management software for sod farms, distributors, and installers. “It’s been very beneficial,” William said, adding that from the logistics to ordering to record-keeping, there have been benefits to using the software.
Although they just started using it, William said it has been going very smoothly so far. Even with all their locations, he noted that Turf Logistics has been accommodating and has tweaked things slightly for them.
“I think every farm will have this as time goes on. Turf Logistics streamlines everything and helps with efficiencies in all departments,” William added.
Over the years, Willie said the two major changes in the turfgrass industry he’s observed are the automation of equipment and the development of innovative new products and varieties that have expanded the industry into something quite dynamic than in his early days.
When he started, Willie explained they did everything by hand, and they used to only plant a few seasons out of the year. “Now we have automatic equipment and turf is planted year-round in Texas. It’s almost a 365-day business operated day in and day out for 6-7 days a week. It’s expanded in production time,” he said.
Willie said since their business started, the innovation of better-enterprised products by good people has been a testament to their success as well.
Horizon Grass Farms currently grows Celebration®, Bermudagrass, and Palmetto® St. Augustine. Soon, they’ll be putting in plant stock material for Texas A&M’s newly released Cobalt™ Hybrid St. Augustinegrass.
William said Celebration has been a good grass for the organization of Texas growers called the Turfgrass Producers of Texas (TPT) and he likes its nice green, dense appearance. “Our customers like it and continue to keep demanding it. We have several customers who demand Palmetto St. Augustine over Raleigh and we continue to push that one. I like it. It is a good grass that blocks really well.”
William thinks the end-users are going to be just as excited about Cobalt as they are. “Growers tend to grow the best grass and as we work with it every day. We see it firsthand, and I think the end-users are going to be very satisfied,” he explained. “There are so many more benefits to Cobalt, such as its disease resistance, cold tolerance and just a lot of good features.”
Willie said they’re just like most other producers in that they’re here to produce products and have good service. “We think we’re going to be in it for the long haul. We’re not in it for just a little now and then. It’s a long-term objective to stay in the business and do the best we can through the good and bad. We should be here to take care of the industry’s needs.”
For more information about Horizon Grass Farms, visit their website here.
This article was written by Cecilia Brown.