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Housing decline impacts state's sod industry
By Karen Templeton
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – The continuing decline of the housing market and the lack of new construction is taking its toll on Mississippi’s turfgrass industry.
Wayne Wells, Mississippi State University Extension turf specialist, said the state’s turf sales are down because of slow home sales and a lack of new construction.
“We have dealt with the slow economy the last couple of years and are continuing to do so,” Wells said. “Sod production relies heavily on construction, so when there isn’t as much, sod producers feel the hit. There is some business to be found, though, in selling to new sports complexes, schools and golf courses undergoing renovations.”
Mississippi has about 4,000 acres of turf, down about 500 acres from the last couple of years. Warm-season grasses, such as Bermudagrass, zoysia, centipede and St. Augustine are grown across Mississippi. Turf-type tall fescue, a cool-season turf species, can be grown in the extreme northern part of the state.
“Just a few years ago, we had about 70 producers in the state,” Wells said. “There are about 50 Mississippi sod producers now, with many diversifying some of their land until the economy improves. Some are increasing their revenues by offering installations as well.”
Dan Crumpton, owner of Oasis Sod Farm, said diversification is key during this time. He has dedicated some of his turf land to growing cotton. Location is also important to his business.
“We have a farm in Coahoma County, in the north part of the state and also one in Simpson County, near Jackson,” Crumpton said. “Our operation in Jackson fares better, as it is closer to more commercial building projects, even if there isn’t as much new construction as in years past.”
Extreme temperatures are also impacting producers this year.
“Cool wet weather in the early part of the year slowed turf growth and limited harvesting, while the dry, hot summer increased irrigation demands,” Wells said. “When weather impacts construction and site prep, it also affects the demand for sod.”
Irrigation helps improve growth under dry conditions and also moistens the soil for better harvesting. Sod producers like Crumpton are carefully managing irrigation despite the cost associated with it.
“Fuel costs continue to be of concern, affecting production input costs on fertilizers, chemicals, supplies, equipment and transportation,” Wells said. “On the brighter side, producers have not had to deal with many pest issues this year.”
Despite rising production costs and a tough economy, prices are on average 50 cents per square higher than last year. Crumpton said Bermudagrass brings $1.25 to $1.70; St. Augustine, $3.50 to $4; centipede, $2 to $2.50; and zoysia, $3 to $3.50.
Crumpton said he and others will remain flexible and continue to weather the storm.
“We will hang in there and keep at it,” Crumpton said. “As we have been, we’ll hope for a rebound.”
Sod producers will have the opportunity to network and participate in workshops on topics such as sprayer calibration, weed and disease identification and management at the MSU Turf Research Field Day on Aug. 23. The event will be held at the R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center on MSU’s North Farm, just east of the main campus off Highway 182. The Field Day will offer, guided discussions of ongoing turfgrass research, and industry booths exhibiting turf equipment, fertilizers, chemicals and irrigation supplies. For more information and to register, visit http://www.msturfassociation.org or call (662) 325-0517.