Batsons Support Students In Horticulture

By:
Debra Amirin

Source:
Melda Bassett, Assistant VP fo (352) 392-1975

GAINESVILLE — The desire to help college students gain practical experience in the horticulture industry has led foliage growers Gene and Barbara Batson of Mount Dora to donate real estate valued at nearly $800,000 to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The gift will assist students interested in careers in the ornamental nursery business and provide support for the UF/IFAS horticulture gardens.

“We want to impact these kids’ lives. We want this endowment to encourage students to get out into the fields and the greenhouses and experience what a joy the horticulture business can be,” said Batson. “Can you imagine a world without plants? This is an industry that enriches our lives. I have a passion for this business. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and see what’s new. We need more people like that, who love this profession. Life is not just about making money.”

He added, “If you do well financially and don’t give any away, you end up sending a lot of your money to the government where you don’t have any say in how it gets spent. This way you can have input. I love this industry, and I want to leave it better when I go than when I came. Education and training from UF/IFAS are critical to its future success.”

Interim Vice President for Agriculture and Natural resources Joe Joyce said, “We have made the acquisition of funds for student support a priority for UF/IFAS in UF’s ‘It’s Performance That Counts’ Capital Campaign. We are pleased that the Batsons’ gift will support deserving youth as it advances Florida horticulture.”

The Batsons used 80 percent of their gift to create the Gene and Barbara Batson Endowed Nursery Fund. The fund will qualify for a 70 percent match from the state’s Major Gifts Trust Fund and will provide scholarships/fellowships each year in perpetuity for UF/IFAS students who participate in internships providing hands-on horticultural training.

The remaining 20 percent of the gift will help to build and support a new horticulture gardens adjacent to Lake Alice on the UF campus. The gardens will allow students, faculty and visitors to view and study a host of plant specimens in seasonal displays and permanent plantings within a landscaped garden setting, and will be a much needed campus-wide teaching and research resource for programs involving plant identification and landscape maintenance.

The Batsons own a large wholesale nursery operation in the Mount Dora area. They specialize in establishing nurseries and then leasing/selling them to managers. They have created 12 nurseries and put 60 acres into production over the past 16 years.

Florida is a major producer of flowers, foliage and bedding plants, ranking second only to California, and represents approximately 20 percent of U.S. production. It is predicted that Florida will be the third most populated state By the year 2000. If this holds true, the production of plants used in urban areas will be increased drastically, creating an unprecedented need for trained individuals in all aspects (production and management) of the field of horticulture.

“We are presently experiencing a revitilization of the horticulture industry, and students in college today need to consider the nursery business as a career,” concluded Batson. “It is highly financially rewarding, and there is a severe shortage of qualified applicants.”

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