Customer accommodation is key for Stephens Turf Farms

A Valley Irrigation pivot irrigation system is programmed for specific needs.

Customer accommodation is important at Stephens Turf Farms, Paragould, Ark., and is a major contributor to the operation’s success. Converted from a traditional cotton farm, Stephens Turf is owned by Jerry and Wynell Stephens. While a number of sod farms have been established in Arkansas since the 1970s, Stephens Turf remains the only one in Greene County, where Paragould is the county seat.

Paragould is located in northeast Arkansas where flat land meets hill country at Crowley’s Ridge. Soil on Crowley’s Ridge and the surrounding area is made up of silty clay and sandy loam, contrasting sharply with the Mississippi River Delta black soil to the east. The Ridge hosts the nation’s newest scenic byway, Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, and recent scientific findings suggest that it was formed from seismic activity. While it is not conducive to row crop farming, with meadows and forests prevalent, row cropping is significant on adjacent land to the Ridge.

Arkansas has avoided some of the major effects of the downturned economy. A number of other industries are located in Paragould and nearby Jonesboro, home to Arkansas State University. The industrial base and major agricultural operations have contributed to a stable economy that continues to support new construction.

Kenny Pegg, Stephens Turf Farm manager, said, “Our turfgrass business is really local with customers in about a 75-mile quadrant of northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri. Most of our turf goes to new construction. This was a cotton farm for many years, and we also grew soybeans. With the prices for row crops in so much flux in the 1970s, we started thinking about a new crop. We started in 1977 with a 1.5-acre experiment of Tifway, Tifgreen and zoysia.” Today, Stephens Turf grows 140 acres of turfgrass, and the successful operation is attributable to efficient planning and customer accommodation.

Sod is sold wholesale and retail, with turf destined for home lawns, commercial sites and golf courses. Stephens Turf has operated successfully by consistently meeting customers’ needs. Pegg said, “We custom-cut all orders. If a customer calls and says he needs sod at 7 a.m. the next morning, we can go out with our sod harvester and fill the order with fresh-cut sod. We cut anytime the ground isn’t frozen. Our reputation is that we accommodate customers. We have a good quality product, and we make timely deliveries.”

Kenny Pegg discusses the upcoming delivery schedule with Carl Russell Sr.

Growing turfgrass

“We have about 100 acres of Tifway bermuda and 25 acres of Meyer zoysia. We also have about 15 acres of Winning Colors fescue-bluegrass blend from Lebanon Turf Products that is recommended for very high shade,” Pegg said. The local distributor is Agra-Turf, Searcy, Ark., which is also the supplier for specific turf chemicals and other products. “We work with blends that the seed company recommends as best for the customers we serve in our local area,” Pegg said.

Turfgrass is grown on two sod farms about 1 mile in proximity to each other. Flatland fields have been precision-leveled. All turfgrass is irrigated with center pivot irrigation by Valley Irrigation that includes drop heads to help minimize water loss to wind and evaporation. The local dealer is Mid-Valley Irrigation, Charleston, Mo.

“One of our farms is a square 80 acres,” Pegg said. “The Valley Precision Corner arm on our center pivots lets us irrigate the complete field, including the corners,” Pegg said. According to Valley Irrigation, the Precision Corner allows irrigation of an extra 23 acres on an 80-acre square. The corner irrigation avoids the loss of that turfgrass to drought and reduces any lost revenue.

A fescue-bluegrass field seeded in October 2010 is grown under netting.

Irrigation water is supplied by wells. “We have a major aquifer here, and each center pivot is on its own well,” Pegg said. “We have all electric pumps. With the old electrical system that served cotton gins and elevators in our area, we had three-phase power here. Craighead Electric Cooperative was really helpful to us in working with engineering and installing the lines we needed. We eliminated all the maintenance costs we would have