Passing of the Torch: AFE Research Director Dr. Terril Nell Retires

Dr. Terril Nell and Laura Barth, AFE Research Coordinator

A new year at the American Floral Endowment (AFE) will also bring a new chapter for their research program. Research Director, Dr. Terril Nell AAF, is retiring at the end of the month and passing the torch to Research Coordinator, Laura Barth, who has been working closely with Dr. Nell throughout the last year.

“The Endowment thanks Terril for all of his important work both for AFE and the entire floral industry,” Ken Young, AFE Chairman said. “We are looking forward to continuing AFE’s cutting edge projects as Laura takes over our research programs.”

Dr. Nell has spent his entire career working for the benefit of the floral industry. He retired as Professor Emeritus of Floriculture after a 35-year tenure at the University of Florida, where he served as Chair of the Environmental Horticulture Department from 1991–2012.

His research has led to the development of best practices and advances within the floral industry leading to improved flower and plant longevity. He has consulted for growers, wholesalers, and retailers nationally and internationally for over 40 years. A highly respected care and handling expert, Dr. Nell co-authored the Flower and Plant Care Manual produced by the Society of American Florists and Flowering Potted Plants: Prolonging Freshness by Ball Publishing.

For the past nine years, Dr. Nell has served as the Research Director of AFE. In this position, he has overseen research projects, worked with both faculty and industry members, and served as a research expert and resource for the industry. He also serves as the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative (FNRI – USDA) liaison to the Horticulture Research Institute (HRI) to support research for the flower and nursery industry.

In 2017, Dr. Nell initiated a special research fund at AFE to combat thrips and botrytis, which have been devastating to floral crops. Raising $1.5 million for this special project, he’s managed and overseen over 15 projects dedicated to tackling these pests developing new protocols to help growers reduce losses. This special campaign has resulted in a highly impactful research library of resources for combatting pests and diseases.

Additionally, Dr. Nell helped educate and train hundreds of students who have gone on to become successful educators, faculty, industry business owners, and leaders. He continues to inspire youth through speaking engagements, helping young faculty, and being a mentor.

Recent accolades for his decades of service have included induction into the Floriculture Hall of Fame and an Award of Recognition at Proflora during the Asocolflores Networking Lunch.

Among the four focus pillars of AFE is the important branch of research. This area guides the industry’s current practices to new heights in sustainability, improved methods, and revolutionary discoveries. To help continue to facilitate this mission, Dr. Nell and Ms. Barth have been working alongside each other to ensure a smooth transition and grant plenty of time for shared knowledge and connections.

Taking over the research program, Laura Barth received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from NC State University, where she worked on research projects in entomology, plant pathology, ornamental plant breeding, and horticultural substrates. After graduation, Ms. Barth was the Horticulture and Pathology Specialist at the American Chestnut Foundation before coming back to NCSU as an Extension Assistant. She develops and instructs online classes in partnership with Longwood Gardens. Not only that, but she is the Digital Communications Director with the International Plant Propagator’s Society (Southern Region of North America) and is a contributor and consultant for DK (Penguin Random House), where she recently worked on two books in the DK GROW series.

Laura Barth, AFE Research Coordinator

Ms. Barth was not new to AFE’s programs prior to joining the team — she was a previous recipient of AFE’s Seed Companies Scholarship in 2015. As a rising star in the industry, during her first year at AFE, she has also been inducted into GPN Magazine’s 40 Under 40. 

Among these accomplishments, AFE has recognized an extraordinary passion in Laura that appears to feed her hunger for experience and a positive vision for the industry. She has already been instrumental in both AFE’s Grow Pro Webinar Series and the release of the Thrips & Botrytis Resource Library. The Endowment looks forward to Ms. Barth’s leadership of the research program.