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Sod Checkoff Comment Period Results and 2024 Update

The public comment period closed on December 15th, 2023 with 245 comments from almost 100 sod farms. All of those comments are available for anyone to read publicly at https://www.regulations.gov/docket/AMS-LP-21-0028 and will remain there in perpetuity. When broken down by industry segment, 65% of all comments came from sod farms, 13% came from customers of sod farms (sports field managers, landscapers, individuals, etc.), 13% came from industry associations representing customers of sod farms (SFMA, GCSAA, NALP, etc.), and 9% came from universities with turfgrass research programs. Of these 245 comments, 92% of them were supportive of at least bringing the proposed checkoff up for a vote, while 8% did not support a vote, and/or suggested changes in how the referendum should occur if it were to move forward to a vote. Many of the comments referenced the need for regional and national research and promotion dollars to educate consumers, push back against competitive products, and to protect future generations of sod farmers. Others shared their concerns about the program which primarily included questions around government oversight, and how the referendum should be conducted. It’s difficult to summarize all 245 comments in one article here, but I certainly encourage everyone to log on and read any or all of the comments at the link listed above.

While the majority of comments came from sod producers, many individuals in the golf, sports field, and landscape industries, along with associations such as GCSAA, SFMA, NALP who represent them, also logged onto provide public comment. They recognize that their industries depend on our natural grass products, and anything we can do to promote natural grass will also be beneficial to those industries whose jobs depend on natural grass. Andrew Bray of the National Association of Landscapers (NALP) tells USDA “The landscape industry is reliant on access to sod, but more importantly public misconceptions, outdated research and sod alternatives present tremendous challenges to the value of healthy green spaces throughout the U.S. As the primary purchasers of sod, the landscape industry accepts very minor fees associated with the checkoffprogram to benefit all the verticals within the green industry.”

Regarding comments from other segments, I had a sod producer ask me while traveling recently, “Why does anyone other than sod producers get to provide public comment if they don’t get to vote?”, which of course is a fair question. If you are wondering that too, the answer is that this type of input is important to USDA because it answers one of their key questions as to whether or not this will burden consumers if producers pass this cost along to them. The answer those industries have presented here is no. It’s also important to point out that while USDA accepts comments from anyone, comments from sod producers carry the most weight. They want those the most, they value those the most, and they weight those the most when considering all of the comments submitted during the public comment period.

Again, this step in the process is just meant to give USDA-AMS a general sense of awareness and support. It is not a vote. Historically speaking though, there have been checkoffs that have failed at this stage due to lack of support, just as there have been checkoffs that have moved forward to a vote. So what are the next steps? As of the writing of this article, we are awaiting an announcement from USDA-AMS on the results of the 60-day public comment period. After they have compiled, reviewed, and summarized all of the comments they will likely provide a recommendation of whether or not there is enough industry support to proceed to the referendum stage. If the answer to that question is no, then it likely all stops here. If the answer to that question is yes, then there will be future announcements on how to register to vote, when the vote will occur, and how it will occur. If it were to pass in a nationwide referendum of sod producers, it would then move on to the next steps of opening the call for nominations for board seats, forming the board, and then ultimately starting the checkoff. There are still many steps to go through in this process, and in the meantime, I’ll continue to get out on the road to visit with producers and answer any questions about this important initiative. 

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