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Rain Hampers Sod Harvest
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Rain across the state has made 1997 a difficult year for sod producers around the state, but demand has not slowed.
Mississippi has about 3,500 acres of commercial sod farms and 2.5 million acres of turfgrass. Selling and maintaining this turf is a $728 million industry each year.
Lee Taylor, Forrest County extension agent, said this year's weather has caused problems for South Mississippi yards.
"The cool, wet spring let fungus diseases get started, such as brown patch and grey leaf spot," Taylor said. "Now the insects are moving in, such as cinch bugs in the St. Augustine. They've actually killed some yards."
Water-saturated soils also hindered the sod crop.
"Excessive rainfall actually drowns the root system or doesn't allow it to grow correctly," Taylor said.
On the bright side, sod farmers have not had to irrigate as much or at all this summer. Taylor said sod has grown beautifully from the regular rains the area received.
Margie Hussey owns Hussey Sod Farms in Tupelo with her husband Herman. Their 200 acre sod farm produces Bermudagrass and zoysia. This year, the Hussey's were able to cut sod on just three days in June, which with May is typically the busiest time of the year.
"It was too wet to dig sod in June," Hussey said. "Some people think our sod is doing well because of all the water it's been getting, but rain apparently damaged the root system so the grass is not as mature as it looks.
"When you try to cut it, the sod falls apart," Hussey said.
In South Mississippi, sod prices this year are averaging $1.50 to $2 a square yard, although hybrid Bermudagrass has sold as low as $1.20 and zoysia as high as $4.
In Tupelo, the Hussey's are selling Bermudagrass for $1 a square yard and zoysia for $2 a square yard. Due to public demand, they planted some centipede last year which they hope to harvest next year.
Despite expanded sod production this year in South Mississippi, demand will exceed supplies again this year.
"There is a greater than usual demand for sod this year because of a residential and commercial building boom in Hattiesburg," Taylor said.
In addition to new construction requiring sod, much of the existing turf has been damaged due to fungus and insects.
Taylor said cinch bugs attack St. Augustine grass and make it look as if a fire went through it. Cinch bugs are brown insects, about the size of a grain of rice, with white markings on their back. In three to four days, they can pierce the grass, suck out the plant juices and inject a toxin that damages the plant.
Brown patch fungus commonly attacks centipede grass. It creates round circles on the grass blades that look like a burned impression. St. Augustine suffers from gray leaf spot.
"If a homeowner or sod farmer identifies a problem soon enough and takes proper action, they can prevent fungus or insects from doing a lot of harm," Taylor said.