Graff’s Turf Farm: Established Grower & Innovator of Drought-Tolerant, Low-Maintenance Turfs

Interview with Marty Thiel, Co-Owner

Graff’s Turf Farms, Inc.
P.O. Box 715
Fort Morgan, Colo. 80701

When did Graff’s get started and what are your products?

The farm was initially established in 1979, by Randy and Betsy Graff in Fort Morgan, Colo. The Graff’s son, James, and I bought the business in 2007. Today we grow 300 to 400 acres of sod annually depending on demand. Our main varieties include Kentucky bluegrass, tall and fine fescues and buffalo grass. It generally takes about 10 to 14 months for us to harvest a crop from the time we seed it.

Who are your primary customers?

The commercial market is our main business focus where we sell to landscape companies, municipalities, schools, cemeteries, athletic fields, and golf courses. We also do some direct sales to homeowner customers. We used to have a good out-of-state market to a variety of western states and especially New Mexico, but with the rise of Japanese beetle restrictions, that market has essentially shut down for us.

Graff’s delivery truck

How is water supply affecting your business?

We’ve observed several trends over the past few years. We’ve noticed that the size of homeowner yards has definitely decreased. Within the past five years we’ve seen an increase in the use of tall fescue, which is a more drought-tolerant grass that has a deeper root system than Kentucky bluegrass. We’re constantly learning from turf grass research, too, and experimenting with different varieties that use less water. For example, we are now producing buffalo grass bred for Colorado that uses less water and requires less mowing. We’ve even experimented with Bermuda grass, always looking for other turf types that can be adapted to our climate.

What new products are coming?

We have partnered with Scotts to produce and sell ProVista Kentucky bluegrass into Colorado and the surrounding states. This new variety requires half the mowing, is shade tolerant and glysophate tolerant. It’s great for parks, commercial/residential landscapes and golf courses.

Graff’s Sod Harvesting

With the concerns for water, do you think turf landscapes will disappear?

If we do our job right, as an industry, to educate the end users, I don’t think it will disappear where it is adapted and culturally accepted. For example, Kentucky bluegrass is more drought tolerant than most people realize, and it will go dormant when the weather turns very hot. But people don’t necessarily understand that – they see a brown (dormant) lawn and think it’s dead. With better education, we can help them understand the growth cycles better and be more comfortable with seasonal changes.

What do you think the future holds for artificial turf?

It will be very strong and is having a tremendous impact now on the ‘live’ turf market. We recognize this and that’s why we sell artificial turf, too. We have to stay flexible in the products we sell, seek diversification where it makes sense, and follow the research to ensure our future remains viable.

What do you like most about being a CNGA member?

We’re a member because we like to support everyone that supports us. Every plant that CNGA members sell finds its way into a landscape that often has a turf component – that’s always good for our business. So we want to support an organization like CNGA that helps us all stay successful.