Situated between two large cities, one sod farm has many outlets for its product
Myers Sod Farm, Seymour, Ind., is strategically located about halfway between Indianapolis, Ind., and Louisville, Ky. The two metropolitan areas, along with the Indiana cities of Bloomington and Columbus, offer significant outlets for sod. Owner Adam Myers started his sod operation with local landscapers as his target market. “I worked on farms in high school and really liked farming, but I knew it was too expensive to get into farming,” Myers said. Instead, he attended Purdue University and earned a bachelor’s degree in farm systems management. “I took a number of turfgrass courses in that program,” he said.
Upon graduation, Myers knew he wanted to be in farming operations. “I thought about the sod business that I had learned about at Purdue,” he said. Myers is a native of Seymour and talked to local landscapers who expressed interest in purchasing sod locally rather than having to travel about an hour away. He established his sod farm in 2004, selling just 12 the first year.
“The nearest sod farm is about 50 miles from here,” Myers noted, “but when you hit that 50 miles, there’s lots of competition.” Myers is competing well, as he has moved into the larger markets of Indianapolis and Louisville. He counts on three elements for continued success: “We’re in a good location, we have a good product and we provide good customer service,” he said.
“I just hired a part-time salesperson,” Myers said, attesting to the continued success of his operation despite a nationwide downturn in the economy that has reduced his sales somewhat in light of cutbacks in new construction and tighter budgets at existing sites. About 95 percent of the sod is sold within a 100-mile radius. The company installs about one-third of the sod grown, with most of the remaining sod sold to landscape contractors, golf courses and developers.
The farm has 200 acres of turfgrass in production, almost evenly divided between Kentucky bluegrass and turf-type tall fescue. Myers Sod uses mostly Jacklin and Jonathan Green seed. Turf-type tall fescue is used extensively on lawns throughout southern Indiana and is especially popular for its drought tolerance. Pencross bentgrass is grown primarily for use on golf course greens.
“Turf-type tall fescue has a high-traffic tolerance, but most of our sports fields use Kentucky bluegrass,” Myers said. During the last year, Myers Sod has completed several sports field projects, including installations at Rose-Hulman Institute in Terre Haute, Butler University in Indianapolis and a Colts football practice field in Indianapolis, as well as a number of high schools. About 140 semi-loads of sod went to the new Pete Dye Golf Course at French Lick Resort in nearby French Lick, Ind., that opened in June 2009.
Myers Sod owns three trucks for sod delivery, and they carry Princeton forklifts for unloading the sod at job sites.
The southern Indiana farm has sandy loam soil and normally receives ample rainfall. Production is enhanced with the use of irrigation. The farm uses center pivot irrigation, which provides an advantage in sod sales, particularly during the dry summer months when unirrigated turfgrass begins to turn brown. “Most of the farms south of us don’t use irrigation. It’s costly to use, but we’ve noticed during really dry summers that we get more business from the Louisville area. Most of the farms in that area aren’t irrigated, and people want green turfgrass, not brown,” Myers said. Irrigation water is provided by on-site wells, and Myers keeps production costs as low as possible by using electric-powered pumps. “With the rising cost of fuel. I decided to go with electric pumps to help keep the cost of irrigating down,” he said.
Keeping labor requirements to a minimum is an important part of the company’s operational strategy. “I would rather buy pieces of equipment that require fewer people to do the work,” Myers said. “I would rather have a harvester that stacks the sod rolls than have people stacking it as it’s cut. We use a Trebro HarveStack harvester. I’d [also] rather have one big mower with one person mowing than two small mowers with two people mowing. We have one 36-foot Progressive mower.”
Equipment service is important to any operation, and Myers cited the help provided by local dealers. “We have equipment dealers that are very good to us,” he said. They work with Deer Country John Deere and Jacobi Sales, Inc., for Case and Kubota, both located in Seymour, and with McAllister Machinery, a CAT distributor in Indianapolis, for skid loaders.
Technology is being used increasingly throughout the sod industry, and Myers uses GPS technology in auto steering on tractors and in soil sampling grids. “I’m exploring satellite imagery use to monitor plant health,” he said. “I recently went to a Beck’s Field Day and saw the satellite imagery in row crops and can see its benefits for turf. I use what I learned at Purdue, and if I have questions, I go to university contacts for answers.”
Diseases and pests are not major issues at the farm. “We have a few weeds, like everybody else, but disease and pests just aren’t really concerns for us,” Myers said.
Soybeans are grown to rotate with the turfgrass. “We grow wheat mostly for the straw because we also do seeding,” he said.
Myers Sod employs six full-time workers and adds seasonal, part-time workers as needed, who are mostly local Hispanic workers obtained through referrals from current employees. “We have no trouble finding workers when we need them,” Myers noted.
Myers Sod markets both standard and big rolls of sod, depending on the intended job. Southern Indiana’s somewhat mild climate allows more flexibility in sod cutting than found farther north. “We cut sod 12 months a year,” Myers said. “If the ground isn’t frozen, we can cut sod.” Most of the sod is cut to fill orders as they come in, with some sold to garden centers for the retail market.
Currently, Myers Sod sells standard rolls to garden centers in Bloomington and Columbus, and is exploring the development of garden center markets in Louisville.
Phone book advertising has been the primary advertising vehicle, but that is changing. “I think phone books are going away,” he said. “I’m going more with Internet advertising.”
Myers is a member of Turf Producers International and cited its networking benefits: “It gives us a chance to talk to other sod growers and learn what they’re doing.”
Providing excellent customer service is a key element in Myers’ business to help assure return customers and word-of-mouth referrals. “I’m personally involved in the turf sales, and we take pride in our work and want the customers to be happy even if we end up losing a little. I put my cell phone number on my Web site and give it to customers,” he said. “I answer the phone on Sundays or on a Tuesday night at 10 p.m., whatever is needed for the customer.”
As for future expansion Myers said, “We plan to grow to meet the demands of the market.”
Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer and has been covering the green industry for Turf for almost 20 years. She resides in Mt. Zion, Ill.