A symbiotic relationship involves two parties working together, providing balance and an end result that can only be achieved by working together. The relationship between a sod farm and an athletic field and its manager can be thought of in this manner — only by working together can both achieve prosperity and success. In an effort to educate, inform and share knowledge, an expert panel of three sod growers from the Southeast spoke to sports field managers about how to improve and capitalize on this relationship at the North Carolina/South Carolina Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) Conference & Trade Show, held on Nov. 16, 2016 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The panel — moderated by Erin Wilder, director of marketing and industry relations for Sod Solutions — included Mark Harris of Sandhill Turf, B.J. Haunert of Modern Turf and Chad Price, CSFM, CFB, of the Carolina Green Corporation. Among the topics discussed were industry trends relating specifically to athletic fields and sod farms. Research and development of new turfgrass varieties, and the challenges sod growers face with them, frequently came up amongst the panel members.
“It’s always a bit of a gamble when you’re dealing with new grasses,” said Haunert, of Rembert, South Carolina’s Modern Turf. “I remember with Celebration bermudagrass came out, around 12 years ago. It was a major roll of the dice.”
Harris, of Eagle Springs, North Carolina’s Sandhill Turf, agreed that newer turfgrass varieties pose many challenges and are always on the forefront of any industry trends discussion. “Everybody’s always looking for the next great grasses, or people are trying to find that home run grass,” Harris said. “For example, with TifTuf bermudagrass, we’re six months into growing and we’re pretty excited. It’s early on, but from what the research has shown and what I’ve seen, we’ve been very pleased with it.”
Price, of Indian Trail, North Carolina’s Carolina Green Corp., recently added three bermudagrasses to his operation. “We started with Tifway 419, and very recently added Latitude 36, NorthBridge and Premier Pro,” he said. “We harvested Latitude last year; the other two are planned for 2017. This is all driven by the market of what our customers want. Studying National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) trials is the best information I’ve found. It’s a good baseline study for a lot of different things. I spend a lot of time traveling, looking at these grasses and listening to our customers. We’re excited to have these new ones, but it feels like we’re looking for that magic bullet.
“It’s good to see research continue and go forward,” Price added. “Some of the turfgrass programs at the various universities are working on some pretty cool things with bermudagrasses and even zoysiagrasses.”
Harris also mentioned higher expectations as a sodding trend he’s noticed. “Expectations have certainly been raised over the last five to ten years, as far as what people are expecting,” Harris explained. “We’ve made a lot of changes to our end product. The earlier we know you want the sod, the better we can be prepared to have it to your liking.”
Price said that educating sports turf managers on the details of the sod growing process can often solve most issues that may come during the process. “We may have requests for thicker-cut sod with more soil — people are thinking they’re getting more sod this way. But a lot of times, that doesn’t root in as quickly. A month down the road, it won’t be as stable of a sports field when compared to a thinner sod — less soil, less thickness is usually a faster-establishing field. There’s a lot of difference in opinion on that, but that’s what I’m convinced of.”
Wilder stressed to the audience that in the end, communication will always be key in the sod farm-sports turf manager relationship. “It’s always about open, frequent communication between you and the grower,” Wilder told the audience. “You need to have this clear communication to make sure you’re getting what you want.”