Brandon Chambley, Farm Manager at Super-Sod, has been up to his ears (maybe knees?) in sod since he started harvesting it when he was 14 years old and big enough and tall enough to hand stack. He started working full-time in the sod industry at 19 while also going to college, eventually landing a job at Atlanta Sod, which later became part of Super-Sod where he works today in Cartersville, Georgia. He’s seen a lot of changes and new technologies come through during his 30 year Turfgrass farming career, but what he’s seeing now he describes as transformational, especially in overcoming labor challenges.
Brandon shared his perspective from his many years working with sod. “Nobody wants to go out there and sit on a mower for 17 hours a day. You will not hire labor that enjoys doing that now. So we need autonomy. Nobody wants to do it for eight hours a day at this point. That’s where autonomy comes in. It’s the same thing with doing processes like running an aggravator or some sort of tillage method that you may Implement in your process. It’s a very slow pace. A process so that’s really boring for people to sit on a tractor moving at one and a half miles per hour. I personally cannot do it myself. I’d go crazy!”
Brandon remembers well the day that Sabanto pulled up to his sod farm on September 11th with Steward in tow. He remarked, “I’ve got it marked in my calendar. It was a defining moment for our organization.” When pressed for more details on that statement, Brandon elaborated:
Autonomy just really changes the process of how we’re able to farm. In this business, there’s plenty of unknowns that are always going to be out there. But the one thing that we established very quickly, as far as being comfortable with Steward, is that you have that resource every single day. It eliminates the stress that happens when two new employees that you just hired don’t show up and now everyone has to scramble to do the work that has to be done”
Brandon explained that he and others at Super-Sod have been experimenting with autonomy for several years, but things changed the day that Steward arrived. He went on to say, “The defining moment comes back to this. The Steward autonomy kit is the first breakthrough where we really see, okay, we don’t have to just think about one or two autonomy units. We can imagine ourselves having a fleet. One that has Steward applied to a fleet of tractors. That’s the defining moment because it really will change every dynamic of how we farm.”
Since Steward took over mowing operations at Brandon’s farm in Cartersville it has mowed over 1,700 acres. He’s run it day and night and taught three other operators to run it in just a matter of a few hours. Not long after he started using Steward, Brandon called me one day from his son’s football practice while Steward was mowing back at his farm. He’s even run it remotely in Georgia while working at another Super-Sod farm in Tennessee. When asked about dependability, Brandon commented, “It just simply works.”
Changes to expect with autonomy
Brandon has had several folks out to see Steward run in their fields and they want to know what to expect. Brandon explained, “When I talk with folks that are considering autonomy for their operation they have a picture in their mind of what it’s going to look like. I tell them don’t be surprised when you take that picture and you crumble it up and throw it away. Everybody imagines this thing’s just gonna run off in a ditch and climb a tree. I have yet to have that happen, and trust me, I tried to make it happen!”
Brandon left no stone unturned when it came to testing Steward’s abilities. He went on to say , “You guys probably didn’t know it, but I was putting all sorts of things in its path to see if it would collide with it. We tested it with pallets, pivots and even a mini excavator. I wasn’t trying to damage the machine but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to fail, because I’d rather hit a mini excavator versus hitting a human being. It never hit a thing”.
Brandon explained that Steward has allowed them to do things that they wanted to do before, but just didn’t have the capability. For example, he mentioned that they no longer mow their grass, they trim it. “The results are obvious,” he said, “the grass is just healthier, everyone can see it, and it’s because instead of taking off one-half or one inch at a time, we now cut one quarter of an inch on each pass.” Super-sod is now effectively mowing twice as many acres each week as before using this method, but without twice the equipment or operators. With Steward doing the work, time is not a factor because it can run continuously and run longer than they could with employees driving their tractors.
Higher productivity, healthier grass and less wear and tear
Brandon’s years of hands-on experience comes to light in regards to upping productivity. He said, “I always taught the guys when I knew we were hitting it right. I was hearing feedback from our operators when they would say, ’I can’t tell where I’ve already gone’. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear from them. If I was hearing the opposite, ‘I can tell exactly where I mow every time’ that tells me that we’re not doing a good enough job. Because if you’re staying on top of your mowing, you should never tell where you’ve mowed out”.
Brandon explained that autonomy makes operations more efficient. “The precision is what makes the difference,” he went on to say. “With a manual operator you’re often looking at 12 to 14 inches of overlap – I know, I’ve followed mowers in the field – but with Steward, we have only one inch of overlap on both sides of the deck”.
Brandon summed up his improvements in productivity by saying, “The beauty of Steward’s RTX GPS is now we’re never going to miss a spot, even when trimming. And we’re not mowing the same grass twice. That’s the advantage when you start implementing that level of precision in your mowing.” Of course this level of accuracy translates into fields getting finished in less time, and with less fuel.
Precision autonomy also means that more acres are mowed in between service intervals,” Brandon explained. “We’re also maintaining our equipment better than before. When an operator has 14 to 16 hours of mowing all day, they tend to rush service. Now they have time to be more thorough, which means less wear and tear on our equipment.”
Versatility of an automated tractor
Though late in the season, Brandon has already pulled an Agrivator with Steward, as well as rolling with it. Next season, with more units online, he plans to use them for seeding and application as well. Brandon pointed out, “It’s the versatility that first attracted us to an autonomous tractor solution. We have so many other operations beyond mowing that Steward will help us with.”
This success story is a testament to the transformative power of autonomy in agriculture. It’s not just about efficiency — it’s about unlocking new possibilities and taking farming to the next level.
If you’re curious about how autonomy can revolutionize your operations, we’d love to show you — Book A Demo today! 🤝