Perry County Farm Bureau president Chris Branscum has a sod farm and small cattle operation near Perryville. He has been growing and selling turfgrass since 1989 and talked with us about this niche type of agriculture.
After shooting the video, we spent a few more minutes with Chris to find out a little more about his operation, including his challenges and goals. Check out the highlights of that conversation below:
Q: Chris, please tell us about your farming operation.
A: I grow turfgrass, primarily hybrid bermuda, and also have 40 head of mama beef cows. The cattle herd provides some extra income to supplement what I make from the sod farm. I’ve been farming in one way or another since I was a teenager, but I’ve been in the turf business since 1989. I’ve raised cattle since I was 14-years-old.
Q: Describe the market for sod or turfgrass. How profitable has it been for the past 30 years?
A: Starting out the sod market was very good back in the 90s. We had golf courses being built, lots of home construction and stuff. We even stayed in that good market up until 2012 and at our peak I was growing about 70 acres of turf and I had three people working for me. Now I’m down to about 20 acres and I’m a one man operation. We’ve had our ups and downs like other commodities but it’s been a good business. I can’t complain.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face?
A: Like anything else the weather is the biggest issue. Too much rain or not enough which leads to increased use of irrigation and cost. Then there are pests. The past three years we’ve dealt with an abundant crop of armyworms which can take out a field in a hurry.
Q: What’s the competition like for turfgrass in Arkansas?
A: In Perry County there were 20 sod farms at one time, now we’re down to about 10. Our market, the biggest thing is we have to go out and market our product. It’s not a product that you cut and take it somewhere hoping to sell a load of grass. I have to cultivate that market which is unique to any other type of agriculture. Like I said, I grow predominantly hybrid Bermuda grass, though there’s quite a bit of zoysia in Arkansas.
Q: Discuss your involvement in Farm Bureau.
A: I’m in my third term as Perry County president and have served on the county board for 12-13 years. It’s important that we serve and get involved in the grassroots policy making and lobbying process. We get to influence legislation to try and protect our industry. I also appreciate the networking opportunities with other producers at our state meetings that are beneficial to me.
Q: What’s the future for Chris Branscum?
A: Well I’m going to keep doing this as long as I can. I enjoy this business and I’ve been blessed to be able to farm and do something I enjoy as long as I can.