In April 2023, North Carolina State University conducted the eighth annual survey to examine the inventory and pricing of North Carolina sod.
- The supply of bermudagrass sod is expected to be worse in 2023 compared to 2022, with nearly half of producers expecting shortages.
- The supply of zoysiagrass is expected to be better in 2023 compared to 2022, although one-third of the producers are expecting shortages.
- Two-thirds of the producers expected shortages in St. Augustinegrass in 2023, and half predicted shortages of centipedegrass sod.
- No shortages for tall fescue are expected for 2023.
- One of four Kentucky bluegrass sod producers anticipate shortages for 2023.
- Prices have increased for most turfgrass species, and producers expect additional increases in 2023. Kentucky bluegrass had the biggest price increases (29%) from 2022. The warm-season species, St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass, had 15% price increases.
- There was an 8% increase in growers reporting that they grew proprietary grasses and a 4% increase in certified sod growers.
- Production acreage was projected to increase in 2023, although at a lower amount compared to 2022.
- The primary market for North Carolina sod producers continues to be landscape contractors, who account for 71% of sod sales.
- The average number of full-time employees per producer remained the same as 2022, although there was a 67% increase in the number of seasonal employees.
- Average sod sales reported a 30% increase from the previous year.
- Eighty-three percent of producers reported increased sod sales in 2022.
Twenty-four producers who represent the following farm sizes completed the anonymous online survey:
- Under 200 acres (ten participants)
- 201 to 500 acres (seven participants)
- 501 to 800 acres (four participants)
- Greater than 800 acres (three participants)
The North Carolina Sod Producers Association (NCSPA) records suggest that the number of completed surveys represents about 57% of the sod farms in North Carolina. The number of farms with the respective farm sizes suggests that the survey represents the majority of the sod production acreage in the state.
We obtained inventory estimates for bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, tall fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass, as well as a tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass mix. These estimates were based on estimated sales and the availability of sod that is excellent (more than 10% of demand), adequate (equal to demand), or poor (more than 10% shortage).
Pricing information included the farm price as well as the price for truckload orders delivered to the closest urban market or within 100 miles of the farms. All costs were reported as price per sq ft of sod.
Bermudagrass is being grown by 19 (79%) of the surveyed producers. This is currently the most popular turfgrass species grown by North Carolina sod producers. Forty-seven percent of these producers rated their inventory as adequate this year, and 5% indicated that their inventory was excellent. The number of producers projecting bermudagrass inventory shortages has steadily increased since 2020 (Figure 1).
Zoysiagrass is being grown by 17 (71%) of the surveyed producers, which made this grass the second most popular turfgrass species grown by North Carolina sod producers. Fifty-three percent of these producers rated their inventory as adequate this year, and 12% indicated that their inventory was excellent. For 2023, 35% of all zoysiagrass producers projected shortages. The inventory prediction for zoysiagrass is the best it has been since 2019 (Figure 1).
Of the producers surveyed, 16 (67%) are growing centipedegrass. Forty-four percent of these growers reported that they had adequate to excellent inventory. Fifty-six percent of all centipedegrass growers anticipate a shortage during 2023.
Six (25%) of the surveyed producers are growing St. Augustinegrass. Thirty-three percent of these growers reported adequate inventory, but 67% anticipated a shortage during 2023.
Five (21%) of the producers are growing tall fescue. One hundred percent estimated that they would have adequate to excellent inventory for 2023. For last six years, more than 85% of producers reported good inventory levels of tall fescue (Figure 1).
A mixture of tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass is being grown by 8 (33%) of the surveyed producers. Seventy-five percent of these producers rated their inventory as adequate this year and 25% anticipated shortages.
Four producers (17%) reported growing Kentucky bluegrass. Of the four who responded to this survey, two indicated excellent supply, one anticipated an adequate supply during 2023, while one anticipated a shortage.
Table 1 provides sod prices for all grass species in 2023. Prices include purchased on-the-farm and delivered.
|Turfgrass (# of growers responding)||On-the-farm||Delivered*|
|St. Augustinegrass (6)||$0.55||$0.59|
|Tall Fescue (5)||$0.41||$0.51|
|Tall fescue + Kentucky bluegrass (8)||$0.50||$0.56|
|Kentucky bluegrass (4)||$0.58||$0.64|
*Delivered to either the closest urban market or within 100 miles of the farm
The average price per square foot was $0.37 for a truckload of bermudagrass sod at the farm and $0.42 delivered to the closest urban market or within 100 miles of the farm. The farm price ranged from $0.25 to $0.45, while delivered prices ranged from $0.33 to $0.50. The average on-farm prices for bermudagrass per square foot was the same as 2022.
Zoysiagrass on-farm prices in 2023 ranged from $0.45 to $0.85 per square foot, and averaged $0.60 per square foot. This was the highest value turfgrass sold by North Carolina growers. The average price delivered to an urban market or within 100 miles of the farm was $0.62 and ranged from $0.43 to $0.80. The average on-farm price of zoysiagrass in 2023 increased by 15% from 2022.
Centipedegrass prices in 2023 ranged from $0.24 to $0.48 per square foot and averaged $0.34. The price, when delivered, ranged from $0.2 to $0.51 and averaged $0.38. The average on-farm prices for centipedegrass increased 13% from 2022.
St. Augustinegrass prices in 2023 ranged from $0.50 to $0.62 per square foot and averaged $0.55. The price, when delivered, ranged from $0.52 to $0.65 and averaged $0.59. St. Augustine on-farm prices in 2023 were 15% higher than in 2022.
Tall fescue prices in 2023 ranged from $0.33 to $0.49 per square foot and averaged $0.41. The price, when delivered, ranged from $0.45 to $0.56 and averaged $0.51. The average on-farm price of tall fescue in 2023 remained the same as 2022.
The mix of tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass sod prices in 2023 ranged from $0.44 to $0.65 per square foot and averaged $0.50. The price, when delivered, ranged from $0.50 to $0.72 and averaged $0.56. The on-farm prices increased by 22% compared to 2022.
Kentucky bluegrass sod prices reported in 2023 ranged from $0.50 to 0.65 and averaged $0.58 per square. The price, when delivered, ranged from $0.55 to $0.72 and averaged $0.64. This is a 29% decrease in the on-farm price compared to 2022.
Figure 2 provides a six-year perspective of sod prices that shows fluctuations of particular species since 2018. The data represent the average price. The percentage change reported for each grass compared to the previous year was: bermudagrass, 0%; zoysiagrass, 15%; centipedegrass, 13%; St. Augustinegrass, 15%; tall fescue, 0%; tall fescue + Kentucky bluegrass, 22%; and Kentucky bluegrass, 29%.
Projected Price Increases
Most growers in the survey forecasted increased sod prices in 2023. A few producers predict steady prices for particular grasses. The percentages of producers with expectations for price changes in each grass were:
- Bermudagrass—45% expect price increases, 55% expect prices to remain steady, none expect prices to decrease
- Zoysiagrass—37% expect price increases, 63% expect prices to remain steady, none expect prices to decrease
- Centipedegrass—37% expect price increases, 63% expect prices to remain steady, none expect prices to decrease
- St. Augustinegrass—37% expect price increases, 63% expect prices to remain steady, none expect prices to decrease
- Tall fescue—67% expect price increases, 33% expect prices to remain steady, none expect prices to decrease
- Tall fescue + Kentucky bluegrass—40% expect price increases, 60% expect prices to remain steady, none expect prices to decrease
- Kentucky bluegrass— 60% expect price increases, 40% expect prices to remain steady, none expect prices to decrease
In 2023, 54% of the surveyed growers reported that they grew some proprietary grasses on their farm. This is an 8% decrease from 2022. The average percentage of their grasses that were proprietary was 32% with a reported range from 1% to 91%.
In 2023, 54% of the growers grew some certified sod. This was a 4% increase from 2022. The average amount of certified grass reported by these farmers was 50% of their total sod acreage. Twenty-five percent of these producers charged higher prices for certified grass—$0.02 to $0.04 more per sq ft.
Delivery charges were based on a flat rate for 54% of respondents and a per mile basis for 46%. Freight rates per mile shipped to the closest urban market ranged from $4.00 to $7.00 per mile and averaged $4.61 per mile, which was a 9.8% increase from the previous year. Six sod farms reported flat freight rates of $175 to $300 per shipment with a mean of $215, although these rates vary depending on other factors such as the distance from the farm. Seventy-five percent of the respondents indicated that freight prices are included in the price quotes to customers, while 25% invoiced the freight charges separately.
Four percent of respondents charge an unloading fee. Seventy-nine percent of respondents make additional drops on loads. The low-end charge for additional drops on a load was $50, the high-end charge was $150, and the average cost for additional drops was $80. Several respondents reported that the charge depended on the distance between drops, and that charges can be divided between buyers.
Seventeen percent of respondents added a fuel surcharge. Relative fuel prices each year seem to influence this practice.
When asked how often producers adjust their sale prices, half indicated that they adjust their prices yearly and half make adjustments as needed. No producers adjust their prices quarterly or monthly.
Credit Card Convenience Fee
Twenty-five percent of respondents charged a convenience fee for credit card purchases. This is a 7% decrease compared to 2022.
Sales by Industry Segments
Table 2 shows the industry segments where sod is sold. The producers estimated that landscape contractors were the largest segment with 70.7% of their sales. The next highest groups were golf courses and homeowners at 9.0% and 8.9%, respectively. The next group was sports/athletics with 7.8%. Retail garden centers were 2.2% and brokers 1.4%. The largest changes compared to previous years were the 52% increase in golf course sales and 22% increase in sales to sports/athletics with decreased sales to landscape contractors (-4%), retail garden centers (-12%), and brokers (-39%).
|Industry Segment||Rank||Average (%)*|
|Retail garden centers||5||2.2|
*Average percent of total sales.
Acreage in Production
A total of 4% indicated that they reduced sod production acreage during 2022. The average decrease was 28%. No producer expected to reduce production in 2023. Seventy-one percent of the growers indicated that they had increased acres during the previous three years. The average percentage of increase in acreage was 17%. The percentage of respondents who expected to increase production acreage in 2023 was 35% lower than in 2022.
Several questions about the number of employees and sod sales were asked as a requirement for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services grant that was awarded to NCSPA.
The average number of full-time employees at these sod production operations was 12, which is the same as 2022. Of the 23 operations that responded, the number of full-time employees ranged from 1 to 40. The average number of seasonal employees ranged from zero to 35, with an average of 5, which represents a 67% increase from 2022.
Total Sod Sales
The total sod sales for the 15 operations that reported data ranged from $87,000 to $6.2 million. The average sod sales were $2.136 million (a 30% increase from the previous year’s values). Total sod sales reported were $32,034,655. Eighty-three percent of the producers indicated their sales increased in 2022, 13% decreased, and 4% reported that sales remained the same.
The last year saw the fourth consecutive year of growth in the sod industry after several years of reducing acreage due to poor sod sales. In all species but two, there were increases in on-farm sod prices, with most having moderate increases. The primary lawn grasses (centipedegrass, zoysiagrass and Kentucky bluegrass) had price increases from 13% to 29%. New home construction remained strong in 2022 and into 2023, which drove high demand. The total acreage of sod appears steady with a small amount of growth. Shortages of warm season grasses, especially bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, and St. Augustinegrass, are projected in 2023. Most producers expect sod prices to increase in 2023.
AG-809 Publication date: May 2023
Publication date: June 8, 2023
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