STARKVILLE, Miss. — Sod supply in Mississippi is slowly rebounding after a major shortage last year. Jay McCurdy, turfgrass specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the commodity remains in short supply this year due to a decline in acreage and recent harsh winters.

“In the last three years, we’ve seen a steady trend of newly planted sod acreage, but most farmers are much more wary about growing too fast too soon after the rough-and-tumble years past. Farmers are optimistic that the demand for turf is growing, specifically specialty or niche varieties. Newly developed varieties tout benefits such as reduced fertilizer and irrigation requirements,” McCurdy said.

One reason for the optimism is the improving housing market. A recent U.S. Census Bureau study indicated that housing starts across the country in July reached their highest rates in nearly eight years.

McCurdy said improvement is driving demand, but the landscape industry still is not up to full steam. Many issues affect Mississippi turf producers, with weather and labor being the two most important. Turfgrass producers rely heavily on cooperative weather in order both to grow their product and to be able to operate machinery in the field. “There are sod farms that have been too wet, and some too dry,” McCurdy said. “That’s nothing new.”

Labor—both skilled and unskilled—is also in short supply. “Without affordable labor or capital for mechanization of the harvesting process, we’re really in a tight squeeze to meet the sporadic nature of demand for our fresh produce,” McCurdy said.

Barry Stewart, associate professor of turf with Extension and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said the longer weather stays warm, the more growers will be able to produce late into the fall. “We need more rain. We’ve been dry, and timely rains mean producers aren’t having to pay as much to run their water pumps,” Stewart said. “It looks like we’re going to have good growing conditions going into the fall if we remain warm. We had a cool snap in late August that would have slowed us down, but temperatures have picked back up, and now it looks like we’re ready to press on and grow some more grass.”

For the full article at the Mississippi Business Journal, click here.