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Rains brought savings, challenges to sod farms
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's wetter-than-normal summer allowed sod producers to save on irrigation costs, but the rains also delayed some work and harvests.
"The rains were a plus and a minus. Growers were able to cut down on irrigation costs, on moving equipment and on pumping water," said Wayne Wells, turfgrass specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "But the rains also slowed down sod sales because producers can't harvest when building construction is delayed. If growers have to delay harvest a few weeks, they can't just make that time up."
Wells said time is critical in sod production.
"Harvesting as soon as the sod is mature is important in keeping costs down and starting the next crop to maximize an acre's potential," he said."Keeping sod too long after maturity presents a double-whammy. Growers still have maintenance costs of mowing, fertilizing and pest management. Then they are delaying the harvest date for the next crop."
Rains contributed in some cases to disease problems, but most growers were able to control those occurrences. Wells said insects were not as bad this year, possibly because they had more areas of succulent grasses to choose from.
"Insects were probably dispersed to other fields and not just in managed sods," he said.
Wells said market competition is stiff among Mississippi's 70 or so sod producers, who are working close to 5,000 acres across the state.
"Marketing in the northern portion of the state is very competitive, especially for the bermuda grasses," he said."The good news is that where construction is going on, sod is selling."
David Rainey, owner of Rainey Sod Farm in Corinth, conceded it could be "wishful thinking," but he is more optimistic about the future than he was a year ago. His 2003 sales were off 30 to 40 percent. Rains were a challenge for production and installation, but overall they helped save irrigation costs.
"The weather made harvesting a challenge and prolonged some projects. Rains jammed all the jobs together, and we'd have to put in a week's worth of work in two days," Rainey said.
John Cobb, co-owner of Mississippi Grass Nursery in Hattiesburg, estimated that rains saved his business $20,000 this year. He did not experience any harvesting problems on his 150 acres of production fields in south Mississippi.
"It was a wonderful year. Normally, we irrigate once a week, but this year, we only irrigated nine days total, "Cobb said. "The rains may have contributed to some fungus problems, and we had some insect damage in the wetter areas."
Cobb said he believed rains may have hurt some growers, but his fields have grown much faster with the extra moisture