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After slow spring start, sod is performing wel
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cool, wet weather in the spring months gave Mississippi sod a slow start, but rains in June and heat in July helped the grass turn in an overall good performance.
“Things are going pretty well right now for the state's sod producers,” said Wayne Wells, turf specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “I've talked with producers, and they seem to be moving quite a bit of grass right now.”
Mississippi is home to roughly 70 sod producers who farm about 5,000 total acres. Wells said the growing season for sod is not as straightforward as other Mississippi crops; growth rates vary among different turf species, and crops can be carried over from one year to the next.
Harvesting takes place year-round for some varieties, especially Bermudagrass. Wells said some producers may get two crops off one field in one year, then one crop the next year. Some sod varieties only produce one crop every year-and-a-half to two years.
Sod production in the state has an estimated value of $20 million.
Wells said producers have seen a little disease, particularly leaf blight. The thing to scout for now is insects.
“Fall armyworm adult moths are beginning to lay their eggs, and it doesn't take long for the voracious caterpillars to devour turf foliage left unattended. White grubs and billbug larvae tend to pose problems for sod producers as well. These often-overlooked insects attack the root system, causing the turf to fall apart and making it difficult to impossible to harvest,” Wells said.
Wells said the sod market and prices have stabilized this year. New construction has been steady, creating more demand for sod products.
“Several producers have started pricing large rolls of sod in addition to the usual pallets,” Wells said. “This cuts the cost of production a little because they're able to harvest, deliver and install several yards of sod in one large roll rather than in the smaller sections.”
Wells said a pallet typically holds a stack of 150 slabs, or 450 square feet, of sod.
Margie Hussey owns Hussey Sod Farm in Tupelo with her husband Herman. She said they sell 30-inch rolls as well as slabs of sod.
“For a roll, you have to have one of the installers or a tractor to unroll it, but if you're hiring it done, you can usually get the rolls installed cheaper than the slabs,” Hussey said. “Homeowners usually still use the slabs.”
Hussey said she is selling Bermudagrass for $1 per square yard, centipede grass for $1.50 a square yard, and zoysia and St. Augustine for $2.50 a square yard.
Wells said sod prices often vary depending on how far producers have to travel to deliver the product. Costs also fluctuate based on the amount of sod purchased -- a truck load may be cheaper per square yard than a single pallet. And a turf species that takes two years to reach harvest maturity will cost more than one that matures in less than a year.
Wells said rising fuel costs have forced many sod producers to increase prices for delivery, especially for long trips.