Sod is grown at specially designed, managed, and handled farms. From there, it is harvested and sold for commercial and residential lawn projects.
Mulch effectively acts as a natural roof and insulation for your soil. Most often, this is designed to help it stay protected from the sun. Not only does mulch work as a barrier to keep the sun off the soil, but it also works to trap moisture in the soil; this is critical for regulating soil temperature.
Sod farms are typically specialized to just that crop. Some grow only one type of sod, while others may grow several types that are good for the particular area. Each farm has a specific way of handling their sod, which may also set them apart from others in the area.
In the United States there are roughly 1,412 of these specialized sod farms with around 368,000 acres of land dedicated to growing and harvesting sod.
Several U.S. universities also grow sod, but they do so for research and development purposes. Those sod farms are often looking for ways to improve quality of current sod strains or to create new hybrids that are specifically engineered to handle different stress factors such as extreme drought, wind, cold, or a combination of factors. Other university programs are looking at ways to improve the shipping capabilities of sod. Mississippi State University leading the way in this arena with a type that may be able to handle longer distance shipping. Their hydroponic sod may even be able to withstand international shipping conditions.
U.S. universities are responsible for some of the new types of sod that are currently available and in use in homes, golf courses, and sports arenas today.
Most sod farms only deliver within a set distance because of the expense involved and crop health risks. Sod is considered more delicate than some other types of crops because of how it must be handled and the condition it must arrive in to remain viable.
When it comes down to it, raising sod is similar to raising nearly any other crop. If you want to earn a profit from it, you have to be knowledgeable and willing to work to make your crop the best that it possibly can be.
Sod farms range in size from the smaller farms that grow the more specialty varieties of sod to the larger, more commercial organizations.
Some sod farms try to be as organic as possible, but in some cases local, state, or federal laws may require treatment of pesticides or herbicides for sod that is traveling across certain boundaries. If sod is crossing state lines, there may be requirements for these treatments, but that varies from state to state.
Sod farming involves a lot of prep work and then a lot of watchful patience during sod growth. Maintenance can include regular watering, feedings, and some spot seeding until the crop is as dense and lush as possible. Most sod is ready to harvest 10 to 18 months after initial harvest depending on the rate of growth of the variety, the climate, and the current growing conditions. Some varieties are specifically designed to be slow growing so that the grass needs very little maintenance once it is in place.
When the crop is ready to be harvested, this is done with specialized tools that cut the slabs or rolls to the proper depth. Sod is then rolled up and ready for shipping. Some farmers use pieces of material within the rolls to keep the sod nice and moist during transport.
Starting a commercial sod farm is not as simple as just deciding to cut up your lawn to sell one day. The crop must be grown in good conditions in ground that has been tended to and well cared for. The initial expense of starting a sod farm is enough to keep many people from even trying it. In addition to the cost of the land itself, you’ve got equipment and expendable materials that will have to be purchased. Before even approaching the topic, research how well a sod farm would do in the area, the level of demand, and what type of sod would grow best in that climate. It is also important to know the pricing points currently in place so that you can devise a business plan.
Other expenses would include hiring employees, delivery trucks and drivers, and marketing. Fortunately, sod is one of the items in the world that needs very little in the form of marketing. It is important to remember that it is labor intensive, so the bigger the sod farm, the more labor will be needed to keep it managed and working.
There are some tax breaks and incentives for farming, but they are ever changing and some are not really worth the struggle to maintain a working farm.
In addition to the question of pesticides, herbicides, and non-organic fertilizers, there are other questions about sustainability and lessening the impact on the earth that a sod farmer must pay attention to. Most will minimize the use of harmful chemicals as much as possible with some refusing to use them at all. They may also reduce the distance that they will ship their crop across so that the impact is minimal.