Weather extremes threaten local sod crop

The combination of recent unseasonably hot weather and flooding has put up to 35 acres of crops a

Steve Griffen runs a sod harvester on Weir Rd. in Schaghticoke. The $300,000 machine can do the work of five men.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Steve Griffen runs a sod harvester on Weir Rd. in Schaghticoke. The $300,000 machine can do the work of five men.

The combination of recent unseasonably hot weather and flooding has put up to 35 acres of crops at the Saratoga Sod Farm at risk of being ruined, according to the farm’s owners.

Laurie and Steve Griffen own about 750 acres of fields in Stillwater, Saratoga and Schaghticoke. The company also rents land at the Port of Rensselaer.

Laurie Griffen said that flooding from the Hudson River in the company’s northern farm just south of Schuylerville has left standing water on some of the farm’s sod crops.

Hot temperatures in the last several weeks have threatened to heat the water and cook the sod below.

Laurie Griffen said the company is no stranger to minor flooding, but it’s the combination of hot weather and flooding that is endangering the crop.

The farm grows sod for landscapers, garden centers, sports fields, golf courses and residential customers that can be instantly unrolled and installed as mature grass.

“This year is probably going to be one of the worst years we’ve had [for flood damage],” Steve Griffen said.

He said an acre of sod could be worth as much as $7,000. At least 30 of the 35 acres that remain flooded are mature crops ready for sale.

“It’s certainly significant. It’s a big deal any time you lose crop,” Laurie Griffen said. “That’s product that’s ready to go out the door.”

The owners won’t know the extent of the damage to the crops until the flooding recedes.

“The one thing I’ve learned is, I’m not sure what normal is anymore as far as weather,” Laurie Griffen said. “Typically, things recede and you see how much damage there is. In three or four weeks we should have a good idea of what’s still there.”

The Griffens combat unpredictable weather conditions by growing a variety of species and seeding the crops in various locations.

For example, the farm has fields near sea level along the Hudson River in one area and another set of fields on a nearby 1,000-foot hill.

“You never really want to put all your eggs in one basket,” Laurie Griffen said. “We’re pretty well spread out.”

Saratoga Sod sells Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue, which are both types of northern turfgrass.

Kentucky bluegrass is a lush, dark green grass that grows best with ample sunlight.

The bluegrass blends available at the Saratoga Sod Farm are made up of four varieties of grass, which Laurie Griffen said helps make the grass less vulnerable to various weather conditions.

Fine fescues have a thinner texture and lighter green tone than Kentucky bluegrass. The fescues also have a higher tolerance for shade and drought than bluegrass. The fescue mixture the farm sells includes two or three species of fescue and some Kentucky bluegrass, Laurie Griffen said.

“You always want to have a variety, so even within the species of bluegrass, you’ll have four different varieties,” she said. “It’s all about spreading your risk.”

Steve Griffen said that crops are seeded in August and take 18 to 24 months to mature for sale. That means the Griffens have to predict what the market will be like for sod two years in advance of a harvest.

“You’re always trying to make an educated guess,” Laurie Griffen said. “You’re responsible for A to Z, from production to marketing.”

The Saratoga Sod Farm is open from April until December. The owners remain optimistic about this season despite the recent flooding and economic slowdown.

She said that customers might spend more time on home improvement projects with the rising cost of gas and travel, which would help her business.

“I think it’s a little early to really know. So far, so good though,” she said. “Things are just getting going.”

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