Customer Spotlight: Sod Shop

Customer Spotlight: Sod Shop

Taking sod farming to the next level

Back in May 2023, Sabanto dealer Modern Ag delivered a Kubota M5 tractor with the Steward™ autonomy kit installed to the Sod Shop in Lawrence, Kansas. They hitched it up to a new 26’ Progressive roller mower, and the Sod Shop has been mowing three of their fields autonomously ever since.

Derek & Wade (far right) and the Sod Shop team with their Sabanto Steward™.


Owner Wade Wilbur tasked Derek Tjaden, Sod Shop’s farm manager, to bring autonomy into their organization. Derek said that he expected it to change things for the better, but he wasn’t quite prepared for how much impact it’d have. Derek reported, “It’s helped out the whole operation here. Once we got the mower, that were quite a few acres that we didn’t have to have a worker in the seat. We were able to keep a guy that would have normally gone to the farm. Now the install crews are fully manned and our farm feels fully staffed at the same time.”


Tjaden went on to say, “Even though we have fewer staff than last year, we service our customers better and aren’t being pulled in different ways so much. Our transition to autonomy has been more of a movement of people and resources to make things just run a little smoother.”


Derek relayed that when deadlines are tight, sometimes corners are cut when mowing, but Steward always slows down on the turns and lifts the mower and lays it back down when it should. In fact, Derek reported that,

“Not only is Steward doing things right, the amount of maintenance that we perform has dropped by a factor of 10.”

Derek described his daily routine with Steward, “All I have to do is drive the tractor out to the field, switch it into autonomy mode, create a mission and send it on its way. As soon as I see the tractor starting to go, I will leave the field and not think about it again until I get the notification that the tractor is done doing its job. It’s been really flawless.”


Derek commented that using Steward’s vehicle Mission Control software to plan and run autonomous missions was easy to learn. “It took me all of ten minutes to come up to speed. I’ve taken my wife and kids out there and I’ll let my kids hit the play button or pause buttons and they think it’s so cool that they’re controlling a tractor from their phone.” When asked about his experience with Sabanto and their dealer, Modern Ag, Derek commented, “They are very responsive to any questions or suggestions that I’ve had. Service has been great and they’re just very easy to work with and will always take a phone call”.


Impressed by their success, the Sod Shop and Modern Ag recently showcased Steward to over two dozen sod growers, receiving rave reviews. One guest exclaimed, “We see how much control everybody has who’s actually running it, and I don’t feel any hesitation to jump on this platform anymore.”


Derek’s advice to other companies considering autonomy is simple but powerful. “It really opens a lot of doors to how much potential there really is. We’ve learned that it could do so much on our farm and we could do so many other things better as well. I would really challenge them to look further down the road on what they can see themselves doing with autonomy.”


The Sod Shop’s journey with autonomy doesn’t stop at mowing. Derek also planted with it this year, pulling one seed drill with Steward and another with his manually operated tractor in the same field. As soon as he gets a weight mounting bracket from Kubota, he’ll use Steward to roll, aggravate and till their fields. “I wish I had five more units,” Tjaden remarked.


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.


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