Sod Losses in Harvesting

Ronald Strahan, Koske, Thomas J.  |  8/7/2006 11:12:17 PM

Ribbons left in place to reestablish the field.

Minimize ribbons, scrap and skips.

Plan your cutting

An acre of turf is 4,840 square yards of sod. To sod-over an acre, you can expect to lay that much sod. To harvest this much sod on a sod farm will require more than an acre to be cut because it is virtually impossible to harvest all the grass as a saleable item. A sod field is not always uniformly ready or able to be cut, even when the field is mature. Sod budgets should plan on harvesting about 3,500 to 3,700 yards from an acre, although 3,800 to 4,200 yards are realistic. Reports of cutting 4,400 yards from an acre are encountered, but this is rare. The more sod harvested from an acre, the more profit, and so sod farmers should strive for clean fields and skillful cutting.

Where are these losses of available sod? They are found in leaving regrowth strips (ribbons), scraps and unharvestable areas. Some of these loss areas are manageable; some not.

Unharvestable areas are areas of poor-quality sod, weedy sod, soggy areas that may rut, tire ruts, etc. You may not have any of this, but you probably do, at least in some areas of the farm. Harvest losses from these areas can easily be 10 percent or more. This could mean 400 to 500 yards of sod per acre that’s not harvestable. Poor-quality sod might still be sold in Louisiana as 'C' grade classification under the Louisiana Department of Agriculture classification standard for turfgrass sod. This would be sold at a substantially lower price, however.

Scrap losses are from headland starts, field ends, holes, avoiding obstacles, etc. These cause short pieces or irregularly shaped pieces which are not sold. If sod netting had been installed, these scraps might be removed if they interfere with reestablishment preparation. Scraps may account for between 3% and 5% saleable sod loss, so this will be 145 to 240 yards left in the perfect field. Assume the 10% non harvestable areas and then scrap loss becomes 131 to 218 yards.

Where clear cutting or resprigging is not practiced, regrowth strips (ribbons) will be left in place to reestablish the field. Some fine-textured grasses may come back from a 1-inch strip, but that doesn't give much leeway. Strips of 1.5 to 2 inches are more common, and the 2-inch is necessary for coarser grass like St. Augustine.

With a 1.5" ribbon and a 16" sod width cut, you will leave 415 yards of sod in the field for reestablishment assuming a perfect field and skilled harvester. This would amount to 8.6% of a clear cut, perfect field. There would yield about 4,425 yards to sell without scrap or skips. For budgeting, we assume at least a 13% loss of total harvestable area, which now becomes 4,211 yards; ribbons left here will knock another 361or more harvestable yards from this field.

With a 2" ribbon, you will leave 538 yards of sod in the perfect field for re-establishment. This amounts to 11.1% of a clear cut harvest in the perfect field. There would then be 4,302 yards of sod to sell without scrap or skips. Budgeting in a 13% loss of harvestable area will cause a 2" ribbon to leave at least 468 yards for recovery from the 4,211 harvestable yards for this field.

Careful sod production management and skillful harvesting can mean greater profitability.

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