Plant Answers  >  A Summary of the 30+ Years Texas Agricultural Extension Service Career of Jerry M. Parsons, Professor and Extension Horticulturist

 

A Summary of the 30+ Years Texas Agricultural Extension
Service Career
of
Jerry M. Parsons, Professor and Extension Horticulturist

Jerry & Maroon Dr. Jerry Parsons was hired in 1974 by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service to be the District 13 Area Vegetable Specialist serving the vegetable production industry in the San Antonio and Wintergarden area. He took a position which was created before the District Headquarters in Uvalde was established so Parsons had his office at the Bexar County Extension office. This meant that Dr. Parsons was one of a very few specialists housed and *trained* in a county office and the only one to be in an urban county office. This is important to understand because this training, urban insight and media opportunities enabled Dr. Parsons to formulate and accomplish many of his unequalled educational program accomplishments. Because space is limited, I will first list the accomplishments which made Dr. Parsons a distinguished specialist during his 33 year tenure. Then I will list his phenomenal accomplishments which made him the most outstanding horticulture specialist of all time.

Inspired by a comment by the late Director John Hutchison (*I NEVER want to drive into a county in Texas and, when stopping in a service station in that county to ask for directions, find there is someone in town who doesn*t know who the Extension person for that county is!*), Parsons set about the task of bringing notoriety to Extension while educating the urban and rural masses of the San Antonio area. He realized the traditional meetings were not the answer and could never reach the numbers necessary to have a huge impact in a metropolitan area. However, he did do traditional meetings and lots of them. According to monthly reports for 33 years, Parsons did over 2250 meetings with over 200,000 people attending. These meetings consisted of county meetings, garden club meetings, professional association meetings and state horticulture meetings. He was also a very popular after-dinner speaker with his *This Food Is Killing Me!* talk about the misrepresentations inflicted upon the agricultural industry of Texas and the U.S.

Parsons was drawn to providing educational horticulture information to potential audiences of over 100,000 at a time. Parsons knew that a media presence required a dedicated effort to quality programming which mixes entertainment with education. Dull programming doesn*t last on any medium. Parsons was anything but dull and his lively presentations on radio and television have made impressions on millions of listeners and viewers. Almost everyone you meet in the San Antonio area has a favorite Parsons* newspaper column, radio broadcast or television program. His longevity in newspaper, radio and television testify to his popularity. Luckily, many of these Parsons-ized efforts have been preserved. Parsons began writing for the San Antonio Light in 1975 and stopped when the San Antonio Light was closed on January 26, 1993. By then Parsons was writing two weekly columns, a question-and-answer section and furnishing black-and-white photos for the articles. The circulation of the San Antonio Light was over 325,000 per Sunday edition. Parsons wrote for the San Antonio Light for 18 years and furnished 1325 columns; 500 question-and-answer segments; and 1200 black-and-white photographs with scripts. The majority of the newspaper columns can be found at:

Dr. Jerry Parsons began doing radio with Bill McReynolds in 1977 on Clear Channel radio WOAI-AM (AM-1200). He did an 8-minute horticulture program on Monday and Thursday at 11:45 a.m. The programs were rebroadcast the following morning at 5:15 a.m. Because of the Clear Channel status of WOAI, the programs were heard all over the U.S. and Canada. The WOAI Bill McReynolds Garden Show was done until 1994, after 17 years of broadcast. Over 1768 programs had been broadcast to an Arbitron Listener Rating (for the San Antonio area only) of 43,000 persons per show. May 7, 1990, was Parsons' first radio program on KKYX - AM Classic Country Music Radio with Bill Cody. This was the first horticultural programming in the nation which mixed country music with gardening information. After Bill Cody went to Nashville in 1993 to work for WSM-AM, Parsons worked with Carl Becker until1994, and with Country Music Hall of Fame Broadcaster - Jerry King until the program ended in 2000. Parsons' tenure on KKYX-AM (680) was 10 years and over 520 Saturday morning (8-10) 2-hour call-in, question-and-answer programs with an Arbitron Listener rating of 32,000 persons per show were aired. After Bill Cody went to Nashville in 1993 to work for WSM-AM (The Grand Old Opry, clear-channel Station), Parsons did a weekly segment on his Friday morning show and made appearances on that show when he was in Nashville. This lasted for two years until Bill Cody was moved to the FM station. Since 1999, Parsons continues to do a call-in radio program with Dr. Calvin Finch, Bexar County ex-Extension Horticulturist and Director of the San Antonio Water System Conservation Department, on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. on KLUP Radio (AM 930). To date, Parsons has done over 3380, 2-hour programs in the 8 years with an Arbitron rating of over 22,000 persons per show. Samples of all of these radio programs can be found at:

Parsons began doing the 'Weekend Gardener' segments on KENS-TV (CBS) live on the noon newscast (Neilson Stats Rating of 275,000 people per show) and taped on the 6 o'clock news segment (Neilson Stats Rating of 475,000 people per show) with Bruce Kates on February 5, 1982. He did over 800, 3-minute programs which were televised twice on Fridays for the noon and six o'clock news horticulture segment for 17 years until 1998. The six o*clock segment was satellite broadcast on CBS Southwest and used in other metropolitan areas such as Houston, Beaumont and New York. Parsons also did an interview program with Chris Marrou and Dan Cook named 'Eye on SA with Chris Marrou' on KENS-TV (CBS) on every Friday at 4 p.m. (Neilson Stats Rating of 156,000 people per show) beginning on March 31, 1989, and ending on August 31, 1990 or for 17 months. Samples of the many of the Parsons* television programs can be found at:

Dr. Jerry Parsons *orchestrated* all of the media to saturate consumers with information about superior horticultural products and procedures. He would recommend Extension tried-and-proven plant varieties to the public only after coordinating an adequate supply with wholesale nurseries to be available in retail nurseries. He reversed the usual technique of creating a demand which generates a supply; Parsons had the confidence of wholesale producers who would generate a supply knowing Parsons would definitely create a demand. Then, everybody is happy; the customer gets a better product, the retailer makes the sale to a satisfied customer and the wholesale producer sells a new product. Using this technique, he introduced over 20 varieties of tomatoes, 10 varieties of peppers, and numerous superior varieties of Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, sweet corn, onion, squash, broccoli, spinach and cauliflower. Parsons also introduced mandarin oranges (Satsumas) and promoted all recommended fruit and nut varieties for Texas* growers. In the mid-80*s, Parsons took the challenge to introduce and promote ornamental plants. The system worked and Parsons took the program statewide with the name Texas SuperStar plants. The majority of the 40 plant selections which have attained the Texas SuperStar status have originated in San Antonio under the tutelage of horticulture interests in the area and guided by Parsons. Once plants are selected and tested for market adaptability in the San Antonio area, the decision as to which plants should be highlighted statewide is primarily based upon observations made at replicated plots and demonstration trials across the state. The financial impact of the Texas SuperStar (CEMAP) Plant Program since its beginning in the fall of 1989 through spring of 2007 is a very conservative $15 million. This estimate takes into consideration number of items sold and the wholesale and retail sales price as derived from the major wholesale growers (Hines, ColorSpot and Greenleaf) in the state. This means that the value-added components are not included nor is the production of smaller wholesale plant producers across the state. In 1995, Parsons was being pressured by television and radio stations to have a web-presence. He partnered with Drs. Dan Lineberger and Larry Stein to begin a website to provide Extension horticulture information and to answer questions about plant problems for clientele. Parsons again *orchestrated* all of the media and used the website to provide further information about subject matter presented via newspaper, radio and television. The site was named PLANTanswers and has grown into one of the most widely used horticulture websites in the world. Interest in PLANTanswers and usage of the site has been phenomenal as recorded and evaluated by Webtrends at:

In 2003, PLANTanswers had 2,275,483 visitors; in 2004, it had 3,124,176 visitors; in 2005, it had 3,917,991 visitors; and in 2006, PLANTanswers had 4,286,828 visitors or 11,745 visitors daily. The information presented thus far has easily demonstrated a distinguished Extension specialist career. Parsons has done more than just have a distinguished career; he has had an exemplary career in which many of his exceptional accomplishments will probably never be surpassed and are historical events for the Texas Cooperative Extension. These are listed below:

  1. Considering all media accomplished by Parsons in 33 years in the San Antonio area, it is undisputable that he delivered the Extension educational message to the greatest potential audience of any specialist in history. Parsons was the major participant in 15 prime time (5-9 p.m.) television programs between 1978 and 1991; some of which were re-broadcast in Corpus Christi, Beaumont, Wichita Falls, Dallas and Denton. These are listed at: Each of the 15 which were first broadcast in San Antonio were also satellite broadcast into Mexico City definitely insuring the largest potential audience in Extension history. Parsons was a regular on the weekly syndicated television series hosted by Neil Sperry and called 'Gardening Texas' and broadcast statewide in the 1990's.
  2. Parsons and his Bexar County colleagues were the first to deliver Extension educational information which was interrupted with commercial advertisements in 1977. This insured primetime programming rather than Extension*s customary early-morning, sign-on time slots allocated to free programming users.
  3. Parsons popularized and marketed more new plants to the Texas gardening public than any Extension specialist in history.
  4. Parsons is the only Extension specialist in history to patent several plants.
  5. Parsons was the first to report millions of website contacts as official Extension, verifiable contacts which were eventually reported directly to the Legislative Budget Board by Director Ed Smith.
  6. Parsons has generated the greatest financial impact on the Texas nursery industry of any specialist in history.
  7. Parsons created the first Texas flag in history planted using only the state flower of Texas, the bluebonnet. Parsons spent 20 years developing the white and red bluebonnet. See: The *Texas Maroon* bluebonnet resulted from this effort and became the insignia for Texas A&M.
  8. Parsons is the only Extension specialist in the world to ever have three of his flowers named after First Ladies of the U.S. - the *Barbara Bush Lavender* Bluebonnet and the *Laura Bush* and *Pink Laura Bush* petunia All of these selections have been planted at the White House during the two Bush presidencies. Soon there will be a *White Laura Bush* petunia and a *Lady Bird Johnson Royal Blue* bluebonnet.
  9. Parsons has written more winning award nominations for Extension horticulturist colleagues than any other specialist.
  10. Parsons was the lead author on the most widely distributed publications in Extension history. Over 900,000 Spring and Fall Gardening Tabloids were distributed from county Extension offices and local retail garden centers beginning in the fall of 1979 and continuing to 2000.
These publications were funded by public and private sources. The contents of these publications can be seen at:

Dr. Jerry Parsons has won all of the A&M prestigious awards such as: 1982 Superior Service Award; 1987 Award in Excellence; 1990 Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award In Extension from The Association of Former Students, 1991 Award in Excellence - Group; and the 1997 Vice-Chancellor's Award in Excellence - Member of PLANT answers Internet Team. In January, 2008, Parsons received the highest award given by the Extension Service--he received the 2007 Superior Service Award for a Distinguished 33-Year Career Achievement of ground-breaking achievements in developing and marketing new plants and in using the mass media and the Internet to popularize gardening among millions of people.

Parsons had officially retired in August, 2007, but was hired as a part-time employee to continue his very successful Extension educational programs. In November, 2008, the same year that Parsons received the Superior Service Award for a Distinguished 33-Year Career Achievement, he was FIRED by the Texas A&M System for seeking to be a consultant for Lowe's in order to attempt to have an influence on unadapted plant materials being sold in Texas and to provide Texas' information through Aggie-Horticulture and PLANTanswers.com for Texas' gardeners. He was also trying to supplement his retirement income. The A&M System's deal to obtain substantial Lowe's funding never materialized so the "conflict-of-interest" which caused Parsons' dismissal never was, or is, a reality.

Award Presentation on Nov. 10, 2009 On Tuesday night (Nov. 10, 2009) Parsons spoke (as he had done for over 20 years) to the Peterson Brothers Wholesale Nursery monthly meeting of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association (TNLA). The topic was "Thirty-four Years in San Antonio Horticulture and Nursery Industry Inputs". During the meeting, Parsons was awarded the first TNLA Region I Hall of Fame Award for "Outstanding Contributions To Our Industry". Three awards were presented -- one to Mary Margaret and Ellis Burges (long-time nursery operators from Castroville); one to Mr. (Bill) Pete Peterson, founder of Peterson Brother's Wholesale Nursery; and one to Parsons. Parsons was very grateful, especially to receive such an award with two of his favorite people in the world. Parsons commented: "It is good to know that the people who REALLY MATTER do appreciate and recognize what I have accomplished in the last 34 years."


FROM: Greg Grant, Horticulturist
Stephen F. Austin Pineywoods Native Plant Center
P. O. Box 13000 SFA Station
2900 Raguet Street
Nacogdoches, Texas 75962-3000
Tel: 936-468-4104
FAX: 936-468-4047

My first exposure to Jerry Parsons was at a Texas Horticulture Society meeting in San Antonio when I was at A&M University. He later took me under his wing, when I became the county horticulturist in San Antonio. I greatly admire Parsons' "can do" attitude, and think there is no other horticulturist like him on earth. He finds a way to make things happen, mainly through steadfast determination and hard work, which usually substitutes for his lack of good sense! Jerry doesn't care who he makes mad if something needs to be done.

Dr. Sam Cotner, retired Horticulture Department Head, Professor Emeritus and Extension Horticulturist, concurs in an article which appeared in the January/February 2003 issue of TEXAS GARDENER magazine entitled *Pure Parsons* (http://www.plantanswers.com/Pure_Parsons.htm). "People either love Jerry or dislike him. When he was doing his weekly radio program for Bill McReynolds on WOAI-AM 1200, some of the things he was saying would make people mad and they'd call me. In all sincerity, when you think about education, you remember things that do irritate you rather than the dull things. He talks about the subject and does some silly things and you remember it." Cotner says Parsons is also a master at marketing, and willing to pull out all the stops to succeed. He does things in a different way that is highly effective. He's done hundreds of things that make people enjoy him and have made him popular. He is very, very effective as an educator."

"Parsons has a sixth sense when it comes to detecting the potential in plants overlooked by others. He sees things differently. He sees opportunities where most people can look and not see anything, especially when it comes to plant types and new, interesting things. Though few people know it, Jerry was heavily involved in the development of the mild jalapeño. He worked with a plant breeder, Ben Villalon, known as 'Dr. Pepper', to develop it. Jerry had a lot to do with testing it and trialing it in San Antonio. I won't say it wouldn't have happened without him, but he made a real contribution towards the development of that pepper."

In the same Texas Gardener article, Dr. Dan Lineberger, Former Head of the Department of Horticulture, Professor, Horticulturist and co-worker with Parsons counts his audacious friend's versatility as one of his greatest assets. "Jerry has a tremendous range of scientific knowledge about horticulture. He's as conversant with ornamental plants and landscaping as he is about vegetable and fruit production," Lineberger observes. "He is always willing to help others, and gives his knowledge out 'free of charge.' He works tirelessly on his projects (and expects the same of others!). He is absolutely devoted to the Texas Cooperative Extension mission and believes strongly in its tradition of service to growers and homeowners alike."

In addition to the development and popularization of the "colored" bluebonnets, and the maroon bluebonnet in particular, Lineberger praises Parsons for his early adoption and extensive use of the Web as a tool to give others access to his library of information, including his two Web sites, http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/index.html and http://www.plantanswers.com/ , chock full of information as well as some delicious family recipes.*

In closing, I want to emphasize that Dr. Jerry Montgomery Parsons fashioned every being of my life as a horticulturist. Widely known for his antics, Jerry taught me long ago that if you truly want to teach, you'd better entertain first.

Jerry's lasting legacy to me isn't his teaching, but his doing. The man doesn't know the meaning of "can't" and won't accept any answer but proven fact. Jerry too doesn't care what anybody thinks or says. If he knows or can figure a way to "git'er done," he will. He's sort of a cross between George Washington Carver, Luther Burbank, and a Sunday morning televangelist. No man has contributed more to Texas horticulture in my lifetime than Dr. Parsons. We now work as a team. I come up wth silly ideas and crazy dreams and he comes up with silly plans and crazy solutions. I would have never developed or introduced the first plant to the Texas nursery industry if it weren't for his help and ability to "finish".

Sincerely,

D. Greg Grant, Research Associate
Stephen F. Austin State University


Rodney Peterson, President
Peterson Brothers Nursery
1630 Creekview Drive
San Antonio, Texas 78219

My family*s business has been an integral part of Dr. Jerry Parsons* extraordinary horticulture career in Texas and the U.S.

My dad started this bedding plant business in San Antonio in 1965. Parsons came to San Antonio in 1974 as a vegetable specialist. He immediately began doing weekly radio and newspaper. As many of the newspaper horticulture columnists had done before, he began recommending vegetable varieties which he and colleagues had tested at local farms. But Parsons was different than ALL the rest---he came to my dad and requested Petersons Brothers grow a supply of those hybrid tomatoes (the first was named *Spring Giant*) BEFORE he announced the names in the newspaper. This was an amazing and refreshing difference--all others recommended new plant varieties that wholesale growers and retail nurserymen had never heard of. With the old system, when gardeners came to the nursery looking for these *new-and-better* plants, they were angry when the nurserymen couldn*t supply the plants and many times had never heard of the new plants. Parsons worked the system backwards and made everyone happy. Another advantage of doing business like this was that commercial vegetable growers for the first time had access to transplants of new hybrids with which to increase yields, quality and profitability.

My dad and Parsons formed a trusting friendship and profitable partnership which has lasted for over 30 years and made the Texas nursery industry millions of dollars from sales of superior plant material to satisfied customers. This collaboration has not happened anywhere else in the state and because of this, the vast majority of all plant recommendations are generated from the Parsons-Peterson partnership. Parsons and Extension colleagues do the testing and promoting and rely on Peterson Brothers to supply the plant material to support the demand created. The reason Parsons relies on my dad rather than other growers in the state is because dad has always had the philosophy of producing the best product possible which will give the gardener the best results. He believes those satisfied gardeners will continue to garden and patronize the superior product.

Peterson Brothers has always furnished free-of-charge transplants of test varieties to participating farmers in many parts of the state. Our company has allowed Parsons and colleagues to use our growing facility and growing supplies to develop new plant products for the entire state and, sometimes, for the entire U.S. Parsons says if he hadn*t *came to town* and started *working with* Peterson Brothers, our profit margin would have been greatly increased because of *donated* materials used in the testing and development program. We know differently! A significant percentage of our sales offerings havebeen generated by his program. His enthusiasm, creativity and tireless efforts have breathed energy and excitement into the horticulture-gardening industry. No single person has even closely approached his accomplishments and certainly no one has ever generated as much revenue to the Texas nursery industry.

An example is the Texas SuperStar Plant Program which Parsons took statewide after proving a model of such a program concept could work in San Antonio. The financial impact of the Texas SuperStar Plant Program since the beginning of the plant introduction program in the fall of 1989 through spring of 2007 has been significant. There have been 40 plants introduced and promoted to the entire Texas public. Four plants were million-dollar sellers for the Texas nursery industry within 4 years of their introduction. The success of these plant introductions was simply evaluated by revenue generated by a plant material which was previously not available. Each one of the 40 plants promoted produced at least a several hundred thousand-dollar boost to the nursery industry in one year of sales. A very conservative $15 million estimate takes into consideration number of items sold and the wholesale and retail sales price as derived from the major wholesale growers in the state. This means that the value-added components are not included nor is the production of smaller wholesale plant producers across the state. In other words, Peterson Brothers sales are not included. Also consider: Parsons started this program in 1976 with my dad and did not take it statewide until 1989. This $15 million estimate does not account for 13 years of very successful plant promotions in spring, summer and fall coordinated with a very active nurserymen association named San Antonio Nursery Association (SANA) which was composed of over 60 retail nurseries. Taking the entire Parsons career into account, I think a $50 million profit increase to the Texas nursery industry is a conservative estimate for the Parsons* contribution.

FROM: Bruce Frazier
Dixondale Farms
P.O. Box 129
Carrizo Springs, Texas 78834-6129

Dr. Parsons has been a great media personality who effectively told the story of commercial agriculture to consumers. He has become the ambassador of production agriculture and is a widely sought after speaker for banquets and conventions to address in his humorous style the challenges and public perception of modern agriculture. In this way, he has done a wonderful job to bridge the gap between public misconception of such agricultural practices as pesticide use and other needed production practices. On February 3, 1985, Dr. Parsons wrote an article in the San Antonio Light Newspaper which would change the course of my family*s agriculture production business forever and, indeed, insure its survival. Basically Dr. Parsons had noticed that no true-to-name, disease-free onion transplants were being sold to home gardeners. To remedy this situation, he convinced a commercial bedding plant producer to grow onion transplants in a 4-inch container using the Extension-recommended onion varieties. The statement was made: *Only onion transplants grown in these 4-inch containers using pasteurized potting mix and clearly labeled as to the variety being purchased can be expected to be disease-free, true-to-variety, and produce the best onions.*

When my father-in-law Wallace Martin read that, he almost had to be hospitalized!! Wallace and his father-in-law had been growing disease-free and true-to-variety onion transplants for over 60 years and shipped them by train and truck to farmers throughout the United States. Dixondale Farms was one of the largest onion transplant shippers in the world and here was this A&M, Ph.D., *kid* horticulturist making a statement that only those onion transplants growing in the container were *disease-free, true-to-variety, and produce the best onions.* Heads were going to roll over this!!

The ONION TRANSPLANT SHOWDOWN occurred at the Uvalde Texas Country Club at high-noon. Wallace had never met Parsons but Parsons had heard of the legendary, very influential Martin. Texas A&M sent its most respected vegetable specialist, Tom Longbreake to mediate. Words were few but a major point was made to Wallace. Wallace told Parsons his family had been growing onion transplants for over 60 years and they were certified to be *disease-free, true-to-variety, and plants of the A&M recommended varieties*. Wallace reminded Parsons that Dixondale was the largest onion transplant producer in Texas and shipped transplants to commercial producers throughout the United States. All Parsons had to say was: *That*s great!! Now, how many do you sell to the home gardeners of Texas and the U.S.?* The answer to that question ended the conversation and set the course for the future and ultimate survival of Dixondale Farms. Dixondale Farms was not selling ANY of its quality product to home gardeners and Wallace was NOT going to change his marketing strategy of selling onion transplants by the thousands of truck loads just to accommodate this young horticultural journalist! THE GOOD NEWS was that in 1982, I had gotten out of the Army and had begun working with Dixondale Farms. After this confrontation, Wallace*s daughter Jeanie, my wife, and I convinced Wallace to let us try selling some onion transplants by mail-order. Wallace begrudgingly agreed but knew this *piddley* way of selling onion transplants would never amount to anything but trouble. He never imagined how large quantities of onion transplants such as produced at Dixondale could ever be sold by mail-order!

In 1990, we began sending out small quantities via UPS with Parsons spreading the word of a quality producer who was now selling and shipping true-to-name onion transplants. The business has grown today to where the entire family is working in the business and over 85% of our onion transplant field production is going to the home gardener market. We are the only remaining onion transplant producer of the 6 or 8 commercial producers which existed when we changed our marketing strategy because of the Parsons challenge to my father-in-law. We are now the largest mail-order distributor of onion transplants in the world. In his mid-80*s, Wallace is still active in the business and helps to make day-to-day decisions. He and Dr. Parsons are best of friends and still are amazed how a serious confrontation over onion transplants so magnificently prospered our family*s now almost 100-year-old business.

This is just one family*s story of how Dr. Jerry Parsons* contribution during the past 33 years has meant a profitable survival of an agri-business enterprise because of the futuristic vision of diversification delivered by a much-valued public servant.

Bruce L. Frasier
President

 


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