September 1968 Economics Mimeo Report EC 69.3
AN ECONOMIC STUDY OF THE
FLORIDA CUT SOD INDUSTRY
CECIL N. SMITH and ROBERT H. BREWSTER
One by two foot blocks of sod, after separation from the growing
turf, are stacked on pallets. Note empty pallets in background
and ribbons of grass left for producing the next crop.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS
AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATIONS I.F
INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENL.E
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
NOV 8- 1968
A.S. Univ. of Florida
Table of Contents
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS 1
Development of the Turfgrass Industry 3
Importance in Florida Agriculture 3
Evolution of the Sod Industry 3
SUPPLY CHARACTERISTICS 5
Measures of Industry Size 5
Scope of Sod Industry 7
Area in Turfgrass 7
Value of Sales 9
Volume of Sales 9
Varietal Distribution 9
Capital Investment 10
Labor Utilization 12
Cultural Practices 14
MARKETING PRACTICES 15
Harvesting Procedure 15
Market Outlets 17
Pricing Practices 19
Distribution Areas 19
Some Problem Areas in Marketing 22
Estimating Demand 23
The Florida Turf Certification Program
An Economic Study of the Florida Cut Sod Industryl
Cecil N. Smith and Robert H. Brewster3
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The purpose of this study was to develop the first bench mark estimates of
the scope and marketing practices of the turfgrass industry in Florida. This
enterprise,a very small entity prior to World War II, had 62 sod producers who
sold some 320 million square feet of sod from nearly 14,700 acres in 1963.
Sales in that year amounted to approximately $8,366,000.
More St. Augustinegrass was marketed than that of any other variety. It
was followed by Bahia, bermuda, centipede and zoysia grasses.
Florida sod growers had over $15,000,000 in capital Investment in 1963.
Of the total, 72 percent was invested in land, 22 percent in equipment and 6
percent in buildings.
The sod industry in Florida measures sales on the basis of cents per square
foot. Growers received an average price of 2.62 cents per square foot for all
sod sold in 1963. This ranged from 2.25 cents per square foot for St. Augustine-
grasses to 7.40 cents for zoysia.
Most of the research results reported here were developed in the graduate
research program of Mr. Brewster, done under the direction of the senior author
of this report. Mr. Brewster received the M.S.A. degree from the University of
Florida in August 1965.
Appreciation is expressed to the sod growers who cooperated in providing the
data utilized in this study. Special thanks are due Carl G. Nelson of the
Division of Plant Industry, Florida State Department of Agriculture, for infor-
mation on recent trends In sod production in the South Florida muck area.
Thanks are also made to the many other persons who assisted in the completion
of this project.
Agricultural Economist, I.F.A.S.
3Former research assistant; now Cooperative Extension Agent for Suffolk
County, New York Agricultural Extension Service.
The area in turfgrass in Florida in 1967 was estimated to be 15,500 net
acres, an increase of 5 percent over the level in 1963. Production In 1967 was
an estimated 337 million square feet and grower receipts from sod marketing were
The sod industry is highly mechanized and competitive. Most growers tend
to follow up-to-date fertilization and weed, Insect and disease control practices,
The Florida turf certification program has been a plan to raise the quality
of sod sold to consumers. The program, if it is to become more effective,
requires broader acceptance if the consuming public is to be aware of it and to
buy more improved turfgrasses.
The purpose of this report is to provide information on the scope, mark-ting
practices and other aspects of the Florida cut sod industry. It is the first
report which is concerned primarily with the economic characteristics of the
turfgrass Industry in Florida.
Estimates have been made of the total production, capital investment, in-
puts utilized and income generated through marketing of turfgrass in Florida.
Information is also noted on the channels of marketing from producers to con-
The information presented should be helpful to individual sod growers,
trade associations and governmental agencies as well as other groups with
interests in the Florida sod industry.
Most of the data presented in this report relate to sod growers' operations
in the 1963 calendar year. Data were obtained in personal interviews with
growers in the spring of 1964 and in supplemental interviews made in the winter
of 1965. A group of additional interviews was made in the spring of 1968 to
develop data on turfgrass industry trends in production, acreage and sales in
the period from 1963 to 1967.
A tentative list of sod producers was obtained from the Florida Turf-
Grass Association prior to initiating field interviews in 1964. In addition,
a list of all certified sod producers was furnished by the Division of Plant
Industry of the Florida Department of Agriculture. Letters were sent to most
county agents in Florida seeking confirmation of the lists of growers within
their counties and requesting additions and corrections. Individual sod growers
who cooperated in supplying information on their operations were asked about
other local sod growers to assure that a complete list would be made and that
no growers would be bypassed. A list of sod producers containing 46 names had
been developed prior to June 1964. Because of the limited number of growers,
the decision was made to interview the entire population rather than select a
sample from it.
Most growers contacted gave excellent cooperation. However, despite the
effort made to interview all sod producers, only 61 percent provided the infor-
mation requested in personal interviews or through the return by mail
pleted questionnaires. Estimates of the acreage in sod of those not interviewed
were obtained from other sources. Average relationships from the growers re-
porting output and other data were utilized in developing estimates of sales,
marketing channels and other industry characteristics for the non-respondent
In the fall of 1964, following a presentation of preliminary results of the
study, the possibility that a number of sod growers had been excluded in the
development of Industry production, acreage and sales estimates was raised by
turfgrass industry leaders. This group later screened the list of growers and
arranged for a thorough check through the invoices of supply firms which sold
sod cutters. As a result, the names of 16 sod operators were added to the
original list. Most of these operators cut bahiagrass sod from pastures.
These additional operators were interviewed in December 1964 and January
1965. Supplemental data were also obtained from several growers who were
interviewed initially in the spring of 1964. The estimates presented here were
revised to incorporate data from the growers contacted in the second enumeration.
Development of the Turfgrass Industry
Importance in Florida Agriculture. The Florida turfgrass industry developed
from a small enterprise prior to the second World War to an industry of major
importance in the postwar years and is still growing. Many sod producers have
expanded their operations at an extremely fast rate and others have entered
various components of sod production and marketing. The combination of sod
sales with those of nursery and greenhouse crop sales group indicated that this
group accounted for nearly 8 percent of all farm product marketing in Florida
in 1963'ITable 1).
Evolution of the Sod Industry. Sod production in Florida has gone through
many stages of development. In the 1920's and 1930's Florida landscapers used
sprigs or plugs of sod in preparing lawns; less formally, many persons "borrowed"
parts of matured lawns to establish new ones around their homes.
Since the second World War the demand for more complete landscaping services,
which now include sodding, has increased to include a large proportion of
landscape installations. Improvements in handling and installation techniques
made for an increased volume of sales. The introduction of Bitter Blue, a
strain of St. Augustinegrass, prior to World War II and its growth in popularity
also contributed to a rise in the demand for increased supplies of sod.
Much of the material presented in this section has its origin in the dis-
cussions which took place during the interviews with sod growers.
Table I.--Cash Receipts from Marketing Farm
Commodities in Florida, 1963
Value of Sales
Commodity 1,000 Dollars Percent
Fruit and Tree Nuts 330,926 36.4
Livestock and Products 224,740 24.7
Truck Crops 188,444 20.7
Field Crops 86,937 9.6
Sod and Sprigsa 8,366 .9
Greenhouse and Nursery 62,116 6.9
Total 70,482 7.8
Farm Forest Products 7,267 .8
Totalb 908,796 100.0
aNot included in farm income estimates released by U.S. Department of
bValue of all farm marketing reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
plus value of sod sales.
Source: Sod--this study; other products--U.S. Economic Research Service.
Farm Income State Estimates 1949-1964 (FIS-199 Supplement). Washington: U.S.
Department of Agriculture, August 1965. pp. 108-9.
The demand for sod led to converting pastures into sod, as there were then
no producers or specialists in turfgrass production. "Converters" moved in,
rented pasture land, fertilized it, mowed the grass and followed other mainte-
nance practices. The "converters" were jobbers who groomed the grass into dense
salable turf within a period of 60 to 90 days. Then haulers trucked the sod to
various buyers or distributors in the marketing chain.
According to figures quoted by various sod growers, ranchers received $50
to $75 per acre from the sale of turfgrass sod in 1960. Preparers were paid
$250 per acre and cutters $67 per acre by haulers who received 1 or 2 cents per
square foot for their services. Landscapers received 1.25 to 1.50 cents per
square foot to lay the sod so that consumers generally paid 41 to 5 cents per
square foot for finished sodded lawns.
In 1963, the figures usually quoted were quite different. The rancher
received more than $100 and often $120 per acre for the sod cut from his fields.
Sod producers who rented land functioned as both preparers and cutters, but were
paid only about $500 per acre. Haulers were paid approximately 1 cent per
square foot. Landscapers received relatively the same amount as in earlier years,
but the consumer was only paying 3 to 4 cents for laid sod. The ensuing cut-
throat competition gave the overall industry, its products and its services a
In the process one middleman was eliminated and a lower price followed. It
is logical to expect that this trend will continue. The sod producer will pro-
bably function more and more as landowner and as preparer, turf cutter and hauler.
A small percentage may even continue to be landscapers Installing sod.
The conversion from rented to owned land has been undertaken In the time
period since the second World War. Converters and cutters have tended to be-
come consolidated into one entreprenuer.
Most of this presentation relative to industry characteristics and the
timing of changes has been presented in broad general terms. Many specific
instances can be cited where practices do not conform to this norm and certainly
there is a strong overlap so far as time is concerned in the general and
specific picture. Even though there are many specific exceptions, the over-
all view of the industry is believed to be correct.
Various operations in the harvesting and marketing of sod in Florida are
pictured in Figure 1.
A number of interrelated factors was involved in the concentration of the
sod industry in the lower Florida east coast area. A ready made market was
available there because of the high volume of home construction. In addition,
the muck area in southeast Florida presented many advantages for favorable pro-
duction of turfgrass. Muck is the best medium, both technically and economically,
for a product which must be hauled substantial distances and then fitted Into
place on the job by manual labor. Since the sod industry developed faster in
the muck than in the other areas in Florida, it was natural that haulers and
other market operators associated with the muckland vegetable industry have
also tended to make their imprint on the sod industry.
Measures of Industry Size
Three measures are utilized to evaluate the size and scope of the sod
industry: (1) acreage in sod production, (2) value of sod sales and (3) square
feet of sod sold. The primary measure used in this study is the square feet of
sod sold duping a one year period.
Since the areas in ditches, roads and other land not used in sod production
vary substantially for blocks with the same area on different farms, figures on
the net area in sod production rather than gross acreage data are utilized. On
any farm, whether sand or muck, net acreage is defined to include only the area
in actual sod production, and excludes land utilized for roads, ditches, barrier
strips and similar uses.
Sod cutter separates blocks of sod from
Pallets of sod are loaded on field hauler
for removal to shipping area.
A retail sod dealer's sales yard.
Forklift truck picks up pallet of sod in
field for loading on field hauler.
Forklift truck loads pallet of sod on large
trailer for shipment to market.
Sod is loaded into buyer's car in sales yard.
Various Operations in the Harvesting and Marketing of Cut Sod in Florida.
There is considerable variation, primarily because of services rendered, in
price per square foot of sod. Nevertheless, variation exists between types of
sod as well as between different lots sold by the same grower. Often the price
varies depending upon the volume sold or differences in quality. Another area
in which price variability was noted is that of delivery charges. Generally a
flat arbitrary rate of about I cent per square foot is charged for local
delivery and 1 cent for shipments to Miami from Belle Glade farms. The charge
for hand stacking from pallets to individual trucks often is 2 cent per square
foot. Numerous other services such as credit are offered but are not delineated
in the final selling price.
Total square feet of sod sold per time period, usually one year, appears to
be one of the most appropriate criteria for measuring the size of the sod
industry. In some cases the total square feet of sod sold in any production
cycle must be adjusted to a common time period. On the other hand, variables
such as width of ribbons left to produce the next crop, wastage due to poor
quality or culls composite naturally are excluded from the measurement. There-
fore, the physical volume of sod sales is probably the most reliable measure of
the scope of the industry.
Scope of Sod Industry
Area in Turfqrass. Approximately 14,700 net acres (i.e., exclusive of roads,
ditches, etc.) were devoted to the production of turfgrass in Florida in 1963.
Approximately 80 percent of the total square footage of sod sold was grown on
muck soil. More than three-fourths of the acreage in sod was accounted for by
a fourth of the growers in the industry. Data on the average and total sales
by growers in various size groups are shown in Tables 2 and 3.
Data obtained from sod growers and other persons knowledgeable about the
sod industry indicated an approximate 5 percent increase in net acreage from
1963 to 1967. The current net area in sod is estimated to be approximately
Much of the acreage in sod located in Broward county in previous years had
been abandoned because of rising land prices. Operations of many growers had
been shifted to the muckland area of Palm Beach county by 1968. A substantial
expansion in the commercial cultivation of bahia grass in central Florida also
took place. In addition, an increase in the number of operations and in the
acreage harvested of bahiagrass from pastures has occurred. Nearly all of the
increase in acreage in the south Florida area has been in St. Augustinegrass.
A segment of the industry now undergoing rapid development is that of
harvesting bahiagrasses from pastures. Business operators in north and central
Florida lease acreage of bahia with areas of grass suitable for sod; they then
fertilize, cut and market the sod. Reports were made of such sales in north
Florida from Leon to Duval counties and southward to Polk and Charlotte counties,
Although this segment of the industry is undergoing rapid development, the major
portion of the land devoted to sod production in Florida is still located on the
mucklands of the Everglades. Many commercial sod growers are now cultivating
Table 2.--Characteristics of Average Farms in Various Size Groups
in the Florida Sod Industry, 1963
Average Net Acres Average Sales of Sod per Farm
Producer Size Group of Sod per Farm Square Feet Value
Number Number Dollars
Very Large (12 and Over)a 974 25,301,000 658,000
Large (9-11.999)a 722 10,967,000 246,000
Medium (5-8.999)a 310 6,529,000 145,000
Small (Less than 5)a 71 1,648,000 51,000
Average 237 5,153,000 135,000
aMillions of square feet of sod.
Table 3.--Characteristics of Farms by Size Group
in the Florida Sod Industry, 1963
Producer Size Group Total Interviewed Net Acres of Sod Total Sales
Very Large (12 and Over)a
Small (Less than 5)a
Number Square Feet Dollars
14,678 319,508,000 8,366,000
aMillions of square feet of sod.
Value of Sales. The wholesale value of sod sold by growers in 1963 was
estimated at $8,366,200 (Table 4). As shown earlier in Table 2, marketing
ranged from an average of $51,000 for small firms to an average of $658,000 for
very large firms. Small organizations had average sales of less than 2,000,000
square feet as compared with an average of more than 25,000,000 square feet for
very large firms.
Table 4.--Estimated Sales of Various Types of
in Florida, 1963
Sales Average Price per
Type Grass Square Feet Value Square Foot
Square Feet Value
Number Dollars Cents
St. Augustine 186,115,267 4,187,594 2.25
Bahia 64,773,000 2,583,759 3.99
Centipede 14,791,356 633,370 4.%
Bermuda 5,804,703 244,958 4.22
Zoysia 2,144,923 158,724 7.40
Unknown and Other 45,878,528 557,786 1.22
Total or Average 319,507,777 8,366,191 2.62
Estimated sod sales in 1967 amounted to $9,652,000. The increase in sales
value was the result of an approximate k cent per square foot increase in price
and an increase of 5 percent in the area devoted to sod production.
Volume of Sales. Almost 320 million square feet of sod were sold by
Florida growers in 1963. It is estimated that sod production in 1967 was some
337 million square feet. Most of the increase over the 1963 level was in bahia
and St. Augustine grasses.
Varietal Distribution. Data on the estimated production of the various
varieties of grass are contained in Table 5. St. Augustine types, grown
primarily in the Everglades region, accounted for more than half of all
production. More than a third of the square footage of all sod sales in 1963
was Bitter Blue, a type of St. Augustinegrass. The second most important variety
was bahia with 20 percent of the total; next was centipede, with almost 5
percent. Almost 2 percent was accounted for by bermudagrasses and less than
1 percent by zoylia. Data on the relative importance of the numerous varieties
of turfgrasses and average prices per square foot received were presented
earlier in Table 4.
More than 14 percent of the production was unidentified as to type, Since
the average price per square foot for the unknown and other types, which in
1963 Constituted 14 percent of the square feet sold but accounted for only 7
perceAt of the value of sales (with an average price of 1.22 cents), It is
likely that much of this may have been poor quality pasture and other grasses.
Consequently no attempt is made here to make a proportionate allocation of
unclassified grass between St. Augustine, bahia and other more popular varieties.
Although the volume of bahia grass sales in 1963 was only a third of the
level of St. Augustinegrass, in terms of value the proportion was closer to
half. Bahia turfgrass appears to have a great potential. It is the most
popular grass now.produced outside the southeast Florida area. There appears
to be a growing demand for it throughout the central part of the state. Bahia
Is the grass which, as the industry evolves, Is tending to become a crop of the
more stabilized landowning sod producers as well as the product of the landless.
Similarly, the same situation occurred with respect to St. Augustinegrass in the
early stages of development of the sod industry.
Centipede may have a large future market as the grass for northern Florida
and portions of nearby states, Bermuda and zoysia grasses are the specialized
grasses groomed for particular situations such as top quality lawns for golf
course greens, estates, etc. for the entire state of Florida. The demand for
these specialized grasses will likely expand when the public becomes aware not
only of their advantages, but also of the specific higher maintenance techniques
Total capital Investment by sod growers for land, buildings and equipment
in 1963 amounted to over $15,000,000, A'breakdown of the component items of
this investment is contained in Table 6. Interest on capital Investment is the
largest portion of the annual fixed cost In this highly mechanized agricultural
One grower indicated that lack of capital hindered many small sod growers
in Improving and expanding their operations. Most lending agencies, including
banks, will not make loans of $1,000 or more to farmers unable to present
bonafide financial statements on their operations for at least the last three
years. Small producers who could not meet collateral security requirements
found it difficult to raise the capital for mechanizing as fast as their
competitors, Some producers have Invested in land and used it as collateral
with production credit associations and other credit agencies.
The average amount directly invested in land generally relates to the size
of the operation. The average amount invested In equipment is not directly re-
lated to the size of the operation; this is a factor which points to the
differential in managerial ability and resources of Individual sod producers.
The collective industry would have to work almost two years in order to pay off
the total amount of capital Invested, and over one year just to pay for the land
investment in sod production.
Table 5.--Varietal Composition of Various Turfgrasses Sold
by Florida Sod Growers, 1963
aData for grasses classed as unidentified relate to those not reported by
specific type and to the estimated totals for growers not interviewed.
Less than .05 percent,
CAll grasses unidentified by type of grass.
I" -~ -- -
Table 6.--Estimated Average Capital Investment per Farm
and Total Investment of Florida Sod Producers in 1963
Producer Land b Total
SVze Group Productive Othera Buildings Equipment investment
Dollars Per Group
Very Large 578,800 198,400 16,500 210,921 1,004,621
Large 500,000 90,000 60,169 58,832 709,001
Medium 157,550 65,000 25,000 81,049 328,599
Small 80,763 19,100 15,364 30,396 145,623
All Groups 8,709,845 2,286,812 859,541 3,384,556 15,240,754
Total 57.2 15.0 5.6 22.2 100.0
aLand used for roads, canals, building and other uses.
blncludes water control, producing, harvesting and transporting equip-
ment used by the producers only.
The average capital investment of $16,500 in buildings reported by the
very large producers was proportionately smaller than investments for this
purpose by other size groups. Data on investment in sod production are con-
tained in Table 7. All equipment was estimated to have a value of $3,385,000;
equipment used in production was the most costly item.
The sod Industry in 1963 employed an estimated 544 full-time workers (Table
8). The number employed part-time was estimated to be 338 at peak levels. No
information was obtained on the man months and man years worked by part-time
employees nor on the money expended for any type of labor.
Table 7.--Estimated Average Capital Investment per Farm
In Sod Production Equipment, 1963
Equipment Utilized in
Producer Water Other All
Size Group Control Production Harvesting Transportation Operations Equipment
Dollars per Group
-------- ----------W ---------------~nn--------------------ft----
GRAND TOTALb 434,909 1,179,580
aIncludes the landless sod producers who rent pasture, convert it to turf, harvest
and sell sod. They marketed approximately $2,018,520 worth of turf--24 percent
of total sales--in 1963.
The very large producers employed a total of 275 persons to produce
approximately 152 million square feet of sod. On the other hand, large producers
hired only about 29 percent of this number--actually 80 persons--to produce 66
million square feet of sod. From the standpoint of number of square feet of sod
produced per full-time worker, sod operators in the large group were much more
efficient than those in either of the three other groups.
Table 8.--Employees of Florida Sod Growers, 1963
Producer Size Group Employees
Group Type Number Full-Time Part-Timea
Very Large 6 275 46
Large 6 80 21
Medium 4 24 7
Small 46 175 264
TOTAL 62 554 338
aMaximum number of part-time workers employed at any time in 1963.
The average sod grower does not sterilize his soil or muck prior
An exception is that the land might be sterilized for certified stock
first expansion from foundation stock plantings only. In such cases,
bromide gas is generally used as a fumigant.
Initially, if It is necessary to make plantings of turfgrasses, St.
Augustine is generally planted by the use of two or three inch plugs and
centipede by plugs or sprigs. Improved varieties of zoysia and bermuda are
planted by ribbons and sprigs. The latter practices are most frequently employed
with bermudagrass. Plugs as well as ribbons and sprigs are used in propagating
zoysiagrass. Bahiagrass generally is sown as seed.
When plantings are increased after the sod is harvested and the same turf-
grass is to be continued in production in that particular section or block, St.
Augustinegrass is increased from the one to three inch ribbons left remaining
between the one foot widths from which sod has been harvested. Sometimes the
block Is then rotovated and it may be disked and rolled. Growers generally
follow at least one of these practices. Most leave ribbons and roll their
fields after the harvest of a crop of sod.
Centipedegrass is also increased by these various techniques. Nevertheless,
one grower reported that he plugged his centipede turfgrass fields. Bermuda
and zoysia grasses are generally cut over completely and allowed to come up
again from the rhizomes left remaining. However, one grower reported that the
leaving of ribbons helps in the repropagation of these two grasses. Although
bahiagrass is generally reseeded, at least two growers also reported leaving a
ribbon, rototlling or rotavating, and reseeding at the rate of 10 to 13 pounds
to the acre and rolling.
Fertilization practices varied widely. Most sod growers utilized dry,
Inorganic forms, but a few used pellets. No common formula was employed nor
identical amounts of nitrogen applied per acre, nor was any standard frequency
of application found.
Diseases appeared to be minor worries of sod growers. Only 28 percent of
the growers interviewed reported any diseases whatsoever. No preventive
programs were used; curative sprays or drenches were employed in cases where
disease symptoms showed up.
Weeds were a serious problem in turfgrass with a whole series of annual
weeds presenting the necessity for various control measures with atrazine, 2,
4-D, simazine, 2, 4-5 TP or dalapon being used in 1963.
Chinch bugs were the most frequently reported insect. Army worms, sod
webworms, mole crickets, billbugs and Asiatic grubs were also reported and
listed in the order of frequency mentioned. Nematodes, although not an insect,
were mentioned here also.
A listing of the major variable expenditures exclusive of labor of Florida
sod growers is shown in Table 9. Fertilizer expense, the major item, made up
29 percent of the total. Non-labor and non-capital expenditures, repair and
maintenance cost was the next item of major importance.
The process of harvesting begins with the final grooming of the turfgrass
for sale. Frequency of knowing varied widely among sod producers. Some mowed
in wet summer months as frequently as twice a week. In cool, dry months the
frequency dropped to every two to six weeks,
Sod is cut into strips preparatory to marketing It. A mechanical sod
cutter is practically universally used for this purpose. The sod cutter is
essentially an upside-down lawn mower. A vibrating blade oscillate under the
topsoil at a depth of approximately a half to three-fourthc of an inch, sitting
the sod from the rest of the roots which grow perhaps 20 inches or deeper. A
strip of turfgrass exactly one foot wide is separated from the soil. A heavy
blade which is a foot long pounds down with a rhythmic thud to delineate the
length of each strip.
Next the rectangles of cut sod are picked up, inspected and stacked on
pallets. Although most growers handle sod on pallets, a small number still
perform this operation by hand. The pallets are then forklifted into waiting
wagons or trucks. Forklift vehicles, especially on farms in the muck area,
are generally equipped with wide, pneumatic tires.
Table 9.--Some Major Variable Supply Expenditures
(Exclusive of Labor) Made by Florida Sod Producers, 1963
Item Responding Expenditures of Total
LL I I I
Repairs and Maintenance
Gas and Oil
Insecticides and Other Chemicals
aNormally pallets would be considered as a capital Investment. Although they
have the potential of being used over and over again, most producers consider
them as expendable items. Deposits and other schemes to assure their return
have not worked out satisfactorily. A disposable pallet or an infallible system
worked out in which the buyer would return the pallets to the grower is needed,
Of course, there are numerous modifications to these general statements In
harvesting sod. One sod operator used manure forks in an operation in which two
loaders speared the sod and stacked it on the body of a pickup truck. Various
new types of specialized equipment are manufactured by local machine shops.
Such machines which prove their practicality are usually adopted by many growers
in the sod industry.
In Florida the standard size package of sod, whether grown in the muck or
sand area, is one foot by two feet for all varieties and species of grass and
for all geographic areas. No one foot by one foot square pieces of sod were
observed or reported. In New York State, on the other hand, sod is offered for
sale in one foot by one foot squares and rolls and in one foot by two foot
rectangles. The wishes of the buyer are a major factor in the determination of
About 85 percent of the sod volume harvested in Florida was pallet loaded
as compared with 15 percent hand stacked. None of the growers interviewed
reported the storage of sod after cutting or harvesting it, One sprig grower
reported that sprigs can be stored in polyethylene bags at 40 F for at least
four months with no harmful effects.
Sprigs are harvested from lawn clippings with either large leaf sweepers
or vacuum cleaners. Some growers feel that the sprig must comprise the whole
plant. Manure forks are used literally to tear the plants from the soil media;
then these regular pieces of sod are tossed into shredders powered by either
electric or gasoline motors; the latter are the more common.
Sod producers reported sales to both retail and wholesale buyers. Usually
growers charge prices which vary with thetype buyer, the size lot purchased and
whether or not delivery and other services are provided.
Eighty-six percent of all sales were made at wholesale and 6 percent at
retail with the remaining 8 percent laid by growers on lawns, golf courses and
other areas. Although nearly all sales were at wholesale, many of these wereto
final users or consumers of the sod,
Of total sales, 75 percent were made to outlets which resold the sod to
other buyers and 22 percent were to the final users of the product (Table 10),
Sales to middlemen who resold to retailers or other buyers in the line of dis-
tribution preceding the final user accounted for the remaining 3 percent,
Table 10.--Florida Sod Market Outlets
by Grower Size Groups, 1963
Group Proportion of Square Feet Sold to
Middlemen Retailers Consumers All Outlets
Percent Percent Percent Percent
Very Large 0 72.1 27.8 100,0
Large 0 79.8 20.1 100.0
Medium 20.6 74.5 4.9 100.0
Small 2.8 75.0 22.2 100.0
All Growers 3.3 75.0 21.7 100.0
The major type buyer for sod was landscape contractors who purchased nearly
half of all sod marketed by growers (Table 11). Sod dealers purchased nearly a
fifth of the sod marketed and housing contractors almost a sixth of the total.
Table 11.-Market Outlets for Florida Sod, 1963
Value of Average Number
Type Buyer Purchases of Buyers
Haulers or truckers 3.3 20
Landscape contractors 48.5 15
Sod dealers 18.8 17
Sod installers 4.4 43
Garden supply dealers 2.3 29
Landscape maintenance men .7 15
Nurseries .3 130
Mail orders .1 6
Subtotal 75.1 41
Housing contractors 15,6 24
Homeowners 2,4 214
Public agencies 1.5 17
Golf courses .9 9
Industrial firms .4 2
Schools .3 10
Highways .3 9
Cemeteries .1 .251
Subtotal 21.6 43
Grand Total 100.0 41
aAgencies other than schools, municipal golf courses, highways and airports.
bper grower making sales to each outlet.
Relatively more sales to truckers and other middlemen were made by growers
in the medium size group than by those in other groups. Nearly 21 percent of the
sales of this group were made to this type outlet as compared with less than 3
percent by the small growers. No such sales were reported by growers in the
large and very large groups.
Although endeavors were made to ascertain the procedure by which sod prices
were determined, the task was a difficult one in which the Information gathered
only touched the surface. There is no one central market in which wholesale
prices, as in the case of many other agricultural items, are determined. Despite
the fact that buyers in Miami and south Florida received 63 percent of the turf-
grass supplied in Florida, no conclusive proof exists that there were price
leaders in that area or elsewhere In sod marketing. Nevertheless, the tendency
appears to be for some of the larger producers to assume this position in the
discovery of wholesale prices.
Retail prices tend to vary somewhat among four large sod dealers in the
Miami area. Three of these sod dealers were producers who owned sod farms. The
response to market demand forces by these three farms collectively, plus the
responses to their movements made by other larger producers, is probably a major
determinant of the wholesale price level for sod in Florida.
To a lesser extent, wholesale prices for various individual sales were
determined by haggling. As in many other industry groups, buyers apparently and
sometimes erroneously reported that sod producers "down the road" are selling
their sod for less than the wholesale price quoted by a supplier. Perhaps in
areas where three are many producers, as in Broward and Palm Beach counties,
the presence of many buyers and a competitive supply situation tends to keep
wholesale prices at lower levels than this situation suggests. Usually, the
further away geographically from southeast Florida and the Tampa Bay area, the
higher the wholesale price. The closer, the lower the retail price.
A thorough analytical evaluation of prices in the sod industry is most
difficult because there are no grading standards and services Involved in
marketing are not delineated.
Sod is a perishable commodity which must be marketed and utilized soon
after harvest. The activities of speculators, I.e., haulers and sod dealers,
apparently make for a steady price throughout the year. As few variations in
the wholesale price from one season to another were reported, producers them-
selves can help maintain a steady price by holding their grass rather than
selling it at reduced prices (Table 12). As a matter of fact, some producers
apparently obtain higher prices than those which have been quoted.
More than 60 percent of all sod marketed in Florida In 1963 was sold to buyers
in south Florida (Table 13). Nearly a third went to buyers in central Florida
and 4 percent to north Florida buyers.
Table 12.--Prices Reported and Received for Various Grasses
Sold by Florida Sod Growers, 1963
Grass Type Prices Reporteda Prices Receivedb
Average Range Average Range
a"Reported prices" refer to answer given to "What were your average prices
for the various grasses you sold last year?"
b"Received prices" were computed from total dollar sales divided by the total
square feet of sod sold in 1963.
Table 13.--Areas in which Turfgrasses Grown in Florida Were Distributed, 1963
Distribution Area Volume of Sales
Square Feet Percent
North Floridaa 14,443,516 5
South Floridab 193,605,302 61
East Central 37,930,930 12
West Central 33,938,202 10
Mid-Central 27,949,108 9
Area Total 99,818,240 31
Out of State 10,898,643 3
Out of Country 742,076 d
TOTAL 319,507,777 100
aLevy, Alachua, Putnam, St. Johns and counties to their north.
bLee, Hendry, Palm Beach and counties to their south.
CAll counties between two sets of counties listed above.
Less than .5 percent.
Out-of-State buyers purchased almost 3 percent of all of the sod sold. The
nearly 750,000 square feet exported accounted for less than 1 percent of the en-
tire volume sold. Growers interviewed In 1968 reported that a substantially
increased quantity was marketed outside of Florida.
The proportionate varietal distribution of turfgrass sales is shown in Table
15. While 85 percent of all sod sold by south Florida buyers consisted of St.
Augustinegrass, only 54 percent of the sales to north Florida were of this
variety. However, St. Augustine was the major type grass sold to buyers in each
of the three major areas of Florida. Bahiagrasses constituted 18 percent of the
total in north Florida and 14 percent in central Florida.
The major item shipped to other states was bermudagrass. Next in importance
were St. Augustine, centipede and zoysia grasses.
Over half of all turfgrass exports consisted of bermuda sprigs. The other
export Items were bermuda and zoysia sod.
Table 15.--Distribution of Varibus Turfgrasses Sold by Florida Growers
to Buyers In Different Gepgraphic Sections
Distribution St. Bermuda
Area Augustine Contipede Sod Sprigs Bahia Zoysia Total
Percent o'f OQuarntty Sod
Out of State
Out of Country
0 16 100
0 11 100
Putnam, St. Johns and counties to their horth.
bLee, Hendryj Palm Beach and counties to their sodth.
CAll counties between two sets of dountie histed above.
dLess than 65 percent.
Some Problem Areas in Marketinq
Sod producers were asked to consider major problem areas and to -iggest
changes or improvements in marketing practices. Some of the suggestions which
they made are discussed in the following paragraphs.
Quality. A system whereby the public as a consumer can recognize the more
reliable sod dealers was noted by several turfgrass growers as a step toward
achieving a quality product and a better image for the sod industry. The conduct
of such a program would involve the development, organization and carrying out
of a program whereby a sod industry group would set and publish quality standards
and encourage the patronage of dealers who cooperated in the program by following
through in sales and maintenance programs.
Promotion. Institutional advertising by the sod Industry through various
publications was also suggested as a means of improving the market. Although
such programs are costly, perhaps they might be achieved through the activities
of group trade associations. Such associations might develop plans and other
materials for retailers to use in their advertising campaigns. Costs for these
materials might be shared between the association and cooperating selling
Education, One of the sod growers interviewed stated his belief that the
Extension Service program should be divided into two separate and distinct areas.
One phase would be concerned with commercial turfgrass growers with emphasis on
technical, cultural and management information supplied to these firms. On the
other hand, the emphasis and concern of educational programs directed toward
consumers and other sod users would relate to simple, easy minimum maintenance
requirements and the additional steps necessary for attaining a quality turf,
Such articles on lawn care now appear frequently in the garden sections of most
Estimating Demand. Sod producers, like other businessmen, are interested
in knowing more about expected levels of business activity In order to enable
them to make better production and marketing decisions. An analysis was made
of business and building cycles to evaluate economic indicators which might
serve as guides to the relationship between the demand for sod and outside
From the limited amount of data available, the demand for sod appears to
be closely related to the movements of the major building cycle and that of new
building construction of private homes. However, the analysis did not delineate
any one factor which explains the complex interrelations between construction
activity and the demand for sod.
For any program of estimating the demand for sod to be effective, it will
be necessary to have a series of continuing estimates on sod production. Data
on Intentions to produce during an ensuing period would also be useful information.
The Florida Turf Certification Program
Florida is unique in that the State has adopted a turfgrass certification
program for the purpose of improving the quality of sod sold. This certification
program, administered by the Division of Plant Industry of the Florida
Department of Agriculture, is co-sponsored by the Florida Agricultural
Experiment Stations and the Florida Turf-Grass Association.
Planting stock of improved varieties of St. Augustine, bermuda and zoysia
grasses are made available to cooperating sod producers who meet the requirements
for and elect to participate in the certification program. When the turfgrass
is ready for harvest and has been inspected, It Is approved for sale as blue tag
certified turfgrass. Constant inspections are made from the time the site Is
selected by the sod producer until the certified sod is finally delivered to the
In grower interviews the question was asked whether they thought the turf-
grass certification program was helpful. Seven growers replied in the affirmative,
two had no opinion and 17 said the program was not helpful. The primary reason
for the "no" responses was that these growers felt their customers were concerned
with price and not quality. Four growers stated that the program was too costly
and three felt that they would not achieve sufficient additional income to com-
pensate for the added cost of the program if they participated in it.
Although no evidence was available to give any direct Indication, It appears
that those not in the program had not lost customers qt other growers. The
seven growers who were or had been in the certification program reported sales
of less than 630,000 square feet of certified sod In 1963, This represented less
than 0.02 percent of all turfgrass sales in that year.
An increased quantity of blue tag certified turfgrass has been marketed in
succeeding years. Reporting on a fiscal year basis ending June 30, 3,163,000
square feet of blue tag certified turfgrass were sold in 1963-64. The quantity
rose to 7,046,000 square feet in 1965-66, but decreases have since been sustained
to 6,324,000 square feet in 1966-67, and 5,120,000 square feet In 1967-68.5
5Data from Plant Inspection Section, Division of Plant Industry, Florida
State Department of Agriculture.