Murff Turf Farm has been operating as a sod farm in Crosby, Texas for the past 52 years. The founder, Bill Murff passed away just a few years ago and now his three children, Scott, Lindy and Reneé lead the business forward.
Bill Murff was a teacher in the 1960s that got into landscaping during his summer breaks. He found that he kept needing more grass than he could get. He would buy sod from a nearby town but then he ultimately decided he wanted to grow his own grass on the 15 acres of land he owned. So, he founded Murff Turf Farm in 1969.
“He planted his first crop and killed it all with chemicals. Then he replanted about 10 acres of sod. He would have his customers come while he was teaching school and cut their own grass with his hand sod cutter,” Lindy Murff said.
Then Bill bought 15 more acres of land next door to expand his operations. In 1974 he quit teaching and became a full-time sod farmer. Bill was a very innovative farmer, one who bought land and planted sod continually until he grew the farm business into its now nearly 4,000 acres of turfgrass. Sometimes he would buy land and start growing before irrigation systems were even set up.
Lindy said that they have meetings with their farm managers every morning and they have little sayings that Bill used to say at these meetings. Lately, Murff Turf Farms has had a slight dry spell and could really use some rain. “Dad would always say ‘well, we’re one day closer to a rain.’ So every day we don’t get rain, even though it’s a drought, we’re one day closer,” Lindy said.
When Lindy was a young teenager working on the farm, he remembers there were many days when they’d be stacking their last pallet of grass of the day and all the kids were getting excited to go play. “And it seemed like dad always would come out and say ‘we need to cut 20 more pallets’ and we’d all be like ‘oh no not 20 more’,” Lindy laughed. “We didn’t understand the importance of selling the grass, we just wanted to get our work done to go swimming or something.”
“It’s those little things you know. He always had little sayings,” he continued. “Dad passed away five years ago. He taught us a lot. He taught us how to work. He looked at things fairly simply and we’ve kind of carried that on.”
Lindy said they focus on trying to produce a good quality product and get it to the customers. “The more things you add on, I feel like the more things you maybe take away from the farm.” He said that’s one of the reasons they don’t have an installation department or maintenance department. “Some people can do that and that’s good. It’s just not what we do.”
Lindy is the youngest sibling and said he enjoys working with his brother and sister. He said when their dad passed at first they wondered who would be the big boss, but now they just come to a consensus and don’t need a “main” leader. “We have a good working relationship. Sometimes it can be challenging because we have different ideas but on the whole, we work pretty well together and are able to make group decisions. It’s worked out pretty well.”
Scott Murff manages the finances and administration side of the business, Lindy Murff oversees the farming operations and lease acquisitions and their sister Reneé Martin is in charge of sales and the office work pertaining to customers.
“When their father passed away these three did an incredible job of taking over and pushing their sod operations forward,” shared Roberto Gurgel, Sod Solutions Executive Director of Research.
Lindy said they’re a family business through and through. All three of his children, in addition to grandchildren, operate the business today. Cousin and nephew, Mark Walker and Brad Walker operate the logistics of hauling the majority of the turf the farm sells. “Mark’s work ethic has been a great strength and has helped bolster the success of Murff Turf Farm,” Lindy said.
Lindy explained the turfgrass industry has changed since his dad started the business in the advent of new grasses, such as working with Sod Solutions with new varieties. With a lot of competition in Texas, sod farms have to keep up with what are the newest and best varieties available to them.
“The biggest changes would be the new grasses that are coming out, and the automation of the harvesting equipment,” he said.
Currently, Murff Turf grows several Sod Solutions’ turfgrass varieties, including Palmetto® St. Augustine, EMPIRE® Zoysia, Celebration® Bermudagrass and Innovation™ Zoysiagrass. They also grow Geo® Zoysia and replaced some of their Discovery® Bermudagrass with Innovation recently.
Murff Turf used to do some golf course supplying but don’t do much anymore. They supplied the turfgrass (Tif 419 Bermuda) outside of the Houston Texans NRG Stadium about 15 years ago. They also supplied turfgrass for the grounds of the Astros Minute Maid Park and Hermann Park Golf Course in Houston.
“We don’t really do high-end sports. We do a lot of local Independent School District (ISD) sports fields in the Houston-metro area,” he said. They’ve used Latitude 36® on three high school sports fields in the Houston area and sell a lot of Celebration, but most of it goes to landscapers and homeowners.
“Celebration, from a production standpoint, it makes such a good block. It’ll block at a very young age and it gets really dense. It holds up great to traffic,” Lindy said.
He shared he did something that may have cost him business in the long run but is a solution for the schools he works with. Many of the school’s sports fields that had Tif 419 Bermuda or another common bermuda almost annually would require them to go back and replace the sod between the hash marks, from end zone to end zone, where a lot of the traffic takes place on the field. “Once we started putting Celebration on there it kind of went away because the Celebration held up so good to traffic, they don’t have to replace it year over year,” Lindy shared. “They might go four or five years now before they replace it.”
He said Celebration’s traffic tolerance stood up to the playing on the field and has caused them to have to do fewer replacements.
“My personal favorite (turfgrass variety) is EMPIRE. I love the look of it, the feel of it and the uniformity of growth of EMPIRE over fine-bladed zoysias. It’s kind of a nice in-between of St. Augustine or fine-bladed zoysia,” Lindy said. “I’ve put it in at my personal home and I’ve put it in our office yard. Of all the grasses we grow, it’s my favorite.”
He also loves the uniform growth pattern of Latitude 36. “As time has gone by, Tif 419 has gotten polluted with off-types or different types of grasses. The genetic purity of the Latitude 36 is really evident when you look across a field. So that’s one thing I really like about Latitude.”
“EMPIRE, Celebration and Palmetto St. Augustine are the biggest Sod Solutions products that we produce. I like the early spring green-up of Palmetto and it’s a little bit smaller blade and finer texture than say Raleigh,” Lindy said.
Innovation is new at Murff Turf. Lindy said they like the look so far and have put some of it out at a local golf course pretty close to their farm called The Clubs of Kingwood. “They are liking it. It’s in heavy, dense shade and seems to be performing well. I like the look of it. It seems to have a little bit more uniformity than Emerald Zoysia,” Lindy said.
Lindy said they had a chemical application incident recently where they had sprayed a growth promotion product on their Innovation but some RoundUp had been left in the tank on accident due to not being washed out properly. “It almost killed the St. Augustine field and it hurt the Innovation pretty bad for a while but it’s really recovered well from a light application of RoundUp, which was an accident on our part,” Lindy shared. He thought that spoke a lot on the recovery time of Innovation, a variety he has on reserve for a job next year.
Relationship with Sod Solutions
Murff Turf often supplies Sod Solutions with sod samples for various shows in Texas. This year’s Texas ASLA conference in Galveston was the first post-pandemic shutdown tradeshow Sod Solutions attended and Gurgel complimented how beautiful all of the samples they supplied for the event were.
The relationship between the sod farm and industry partner is mutual. Lindy said they rely on Roberto Gurgel and appreciate when he is there to help whenever they have an issue. “If I have a problem here in the Houston area, Roberto will go and look at it and analyze it and try to help us work through that problem. Sod Solutions has provided us with products that give us a better profit margin. They produce improved varieties that have basically taken on good commercial use and been accepted by the industry quite well,” he said. Due to that, they can charge a higher price for a product both the farm and the customer like.
Murff Turf Farm has several research plots for Mississippi State University’s Celebration X lines. “If they can come up with a sustainable cross of the Celebration with whatever cross that reduces seed heads, that’s one of the things I’d be most excited about.”
He said he’s just waiting to see how his Innovation goes but thinks there is a lot of good work between Texas A&M and Sod Solutions on new St. Augustine varieties. “We’re excited to see what comes of that because we are faced as an industry with large environmental pressures. Anytime we can get a grass that’s going to use less water, fewer chemicals and less fertilization; we’re not only helping our own bottom line, but we’re also helping the industry and the users as well.”
Trials of 2021
Lindy said that during the pandemic last year, they thought they would miss out on a lot of sales but ended up being up about 25% on sales for the year. He shared they made it through with the health and safety of their employees and haven’t had any problems yet. “We were considered an essential industry and fortunately our industry didn’t see a slowdown.”
When the winter storms hit their farm in February 2021, Lindy said it was really tough. “I lost pretty much every field that I had freshly harvested. I replanted about 250 acres of sod but that was a late start as I was unable to do that until March. It’s going to be a very challenging year in 2022 because I expect inventory shortages here on our farm and I think around the state,” Lindy said. He estimated another 150 acres was set back in growth due to the storm.
Murff Turf Farm saw temperatures as low as 13 degrees and stayed below 20 degrees for about 36 hours. Lindy said the last time they had a similar freeze was in the early 1980s when they were much smaller. “We are probably doing 15 times more volume of sales now than we were doing back then. So although it hurt back then, I was in high school then so I didn’t pay much attention to those kinds of things,” he said.
One thing that Lindy is very hopeful for is that more homeowners will become educated on the irrigation of their lawns and water usage. As he headed into a water board meeting, he explained the board tends to look at lawns and landscapes as the biggest problem with water usage these days. “In my mind, it’s all about education. I grow hundreds of acres of sod without any irrigation supplement. I am growing it by nature, just by rainfall,” Lindy said. “That’s what I’m trying to focus on with this water board. People with their lawns and landscapes don’t have to water nearly as much.”
Lindy said the consumer using more water than they need to puts a negative effect on the perception of the sod industry. He is hopeful that more information about grasses thriving with one watering a week instead of getting water every day would be great for the turfgrass industry and the environment overall.
“I know grass doesn’t need nearly as much water as people put into their lawns,” he said. He recommends homeowners in Texas look into Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension website called WaterMyYard.org and download their app that gives irrigation recommendations based on weather stations located in the different regions of Texas.
Lindy, who graduated college in 1993, is in his 30th year working at the farm full time. He is married with three kids. One just started at Texas A&M the other two are high school and junior high. They reside in Crosby, TX.
For more information about Murf Turf Farm, visit https://murffturf.com .
This article was written by Cecilia Brown.