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Sod prices on the rise

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Kaitlin Mullholland of Lansing, IA pulls sod from a pallet on Wednesday in Rochester.
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The price of sod is high, thanks to dry weather, rising fuel prices and erratic building trends. Whether or not there is a shortage of sod in the area is up for debate.

Rochester Landscaping gets its sod from Farmington and Northfield, and has had trouble acquiring sod in the past year, said Manager Jerry Forbrook.

"For short periods I have been not able to get sod. It is available right now, but it's limited to where and when I can get it," Forbrook said.

Chris Graves, general manager at Whiting's Nursery in Rochester, said that there is a shortage, "due to mostly weather and economic related situations. Over the last couple years, the weather, the drought and extreme moisture in the spring has altered growing conditions."

"The second reason why there's a shortage is the amount of building that has been going on reduced the amount of sod required," said Graves, "Some growers have opted to put some of their former sod fields into corn or beans or other agricultural crops, which reduces the acreage of sod in general."

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He said that, while the rising price has not gone unnoticed by his company and customers, it has not affected the nursery's sod sales. In fact, he said they have sold slightly more sod than usual.

"Our retail facility sells a lot of sod," said Graves, "and what's kind of happened is a lot of the growers have just gone to the point of working with existing customers, not taking on new customers. We have a real good relationship with a sod company, and I can get sod at a moment's notice."

But Helen Nagel, owner of Nagel Sod Farms in Medford, doesn't think there's a shortage.

"The reason there's a 'shortage' of sod, and that's just a statement, is because the prices went up and a lot of the contractors were used to really cheap prices. Well, the fuel went up four times, the fertilizer went up four times, and we've had some adverse weather that adds to the cost. There's sod available, it's just the price. Those who don't want to pay, it's easier to say there's a shortage," said Nagel.

Forbrook echoed Nagel's assertion that price, rather than availability, is the main issue, especially for contractors.

"The biggest problem is when you bid something with builders, you bid at the beginning of the year. Having to do an increase later on in the year sometimes is very tough due to the fact that they've factored in a price at the beginning of the year with a quote that usually goes through the year," said Forbrook.

This year, Forbrook saw the price of sod jump several times, which led him to suggest alternatives such as seeding to some customers — a practice that could turn into a habit if the prices remain high.

Sod usually is inexpensive, said Nagel, but today's prices do not appear ready to go away.

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"We had a dry fall again this year, [which is] when they do most of their seeding for next year, so they're telling me that there could be potentially the same type of a shortage coming up for next year," said Forbrook, "It's all weather related, that's the toughest thing."

"I'm sure this is a new norm," said Nagel, citing rising fertilizer, fuel and labor costs.

If the price of sod does not come back down, Forbrook foresees dire consequences for the industry.

"I think that the price of the sod, if it stays where it's at right now, they're going to price themselves out of business and more people are going to switch to seeding," he said, "Right now there are some areas in town where you have to sod, and even some of those areas have been switching over to where they've been allowing seeding to happen."

"Sod's going to go up and people have to be prepared. The thing is, sod's the best thing for erosion control. You get an excellent dirt with it, excellent topsoil," she said.

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