Agrovista UK Limited to acquire Maxwell Amenity

Agrovista UK Limited to acquire Maxwell Amenity: An agreement has been reached between Agrovista and the majority shareholders of Maxwell Amenity, and the transaction is expected to conclude in the next couple of months once the parties have finalised certain preparatory steps.  

Upon completion, Maxwell Amenity and Sherriff Amenity, the professional turf and landscape division of Agrovista, are to join forces.  This merger will bring together two of the most experienced and progressive teams in the professional turf sector.

Agrovista UK Limited to acquire Maxwell Amenity

The new business will focus on combining the skills and expertise of their respective teams to provide UK wide coverage, giving customers the highest standards of advice, products and service to meet the challenges currently facing the industry.

Commenting on the announcement, Managing Director of Agrovista UK, Chris Clayton said, “The acquisition is an exciting opportunity to grow the sales of amenity products by Agrovista through acquiring a business which is complementary to our current amenity business, Sherriff Amenity. The acquisition will allow Agrovista to extend its reach into customer channels in which it is currently underrepresented and better leverage the combined cost and asset base of both businesses.”

MD of Maxwell Amenity, Dave Saltman, stated, “We are very excited about the merger; both our teams have highly qualified and knowledgeable staff. Together with the greater research and product development support available, the new business will be a leading force in the professional turf sector, providing all customers with an even greater level of service.”

The new business will be headed by a combined senior management team.

This team will be working together over the coming weeks and months to ensure a smooth integration.

The team will be in touch with all customers to discuss the exciting new prospects that this merger will bring.

For more information, please visit www.agrovista.co.uk

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Armorgard arrives in strength at SALTEX

Armorgard arrives in strength at SALTEX: Armorgard is a  leading innovator for solutions that improve safety, productivity and efficiency. The selection of products at Saltex represents the Armorgard range of unique engineered tool vaults, van boxes, site boxes and other site storage.

Every product is exclusive to Armorgard and built on a strong foundation of security, with the highest reputation for strength, reliability and effectiveness. Landscapers, greenkeepers, groundsmen and contractors will find the Armorgard StrimmerSafe Rack upright storage system the ultimate protection for what are the most commonly stolen power tools. The multi-purpose rack keeps your brushcutters, hedge cutters and chainsaws under high security with twin 5-lever deadlocks, and the rack can be bolted to a wall for additional security.

Armorgard arrives in strength at SALTEX

Flambank FB2 is an ultra-tough, lockable vault for storing hazardous chemicals and flammables, specially designed to comply with all relevant COSHH regulations. TuffBank TB2 is a new and improved version of Armorgard’s best-selling tool and equipment storage solution, with hardened steel plates and anti-jemmy features making it virtually impossible to break into. Enhancement includes SlamStop for safety and PowerShelf to turn the product into a secure charging station.

The COSHH compliant Forma-Stor is a quick-assembly, modular storage unit purpose-designed for safe storage of hazardous substances on site. The flat-packed unit can be constructed in around ten minutes and features 30-minute fire resistance, air vents and a fully welded sump to prevent leaks into the environment. Anyone looking for a cost-effective, secure container for storing and transporting hazardous fuels and chemicals will find Armorgard’s TransBank is purpose-built for the task and meets full HSE regulations. Protection from theft, fire and leakage is secure with this heavy-duty steel plate container.

Also displayed at Saltex will be a FlamBank FBC4 which can be seen on the Tudor Environmental stand. All the products featured are designed by Armorgard’s great team and you’re invited to see for yourself on stand K189

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An insight into Yokohama Stadium

An insight into Yokohama Stadium: What an exciting tournament it has been so far! With just over a week until the final, let’s look into the incredible stadium where the final is taking place – International Stadium Yokohama.

The Rugby World Cup Final 2019 will be held in the International Stadium Yokohama, with the finalists still to be confirmed after this weekend’s semi-finals. This remarkable venue has a bespoke Bolt-Down Bottom Hinge System which is similar to that designed for the “Sliding Pitch” in the Sapporo Dome. Harrod Sport’s Design Team worked closely with our Japanese distributor; Kofu Field Co. Ltd to create these innovative designs ready for the tournament.

An insight into Yokohama Stadium

The biggest challenge encountered in the Yokohama Stadium was that there had previously been a smaller set of rugby posts in place. So, we had to develop something that could be installed over the original sockets, but with the added complication of needing to increase the foundation strength to cater for the greater forces imposed by the 17m tall posts. This was overcome by designing the Bolt-down Hinge Assembly installed with 6 of M20 Stainless Steel Indented Foundation Bolts at each upright.

Also, our unique Winched Rugby Lifters were used at all World Cup venues to ensure that the 17m posts could be erected without the use of any powered vehicles or lifting system.

These posts had to satisfy earthquake requirements. In Japan, it is stated in the Building Standards Act that when you want to install any permanent or non-permanent architectural buildings/objects that exceeds the height of 15m, the owner needs to submit the building certification to the government and that includes tiresome data of the installation site and structure calculation data, CAD drawings (with detail materials and dimensions stated) of the installed building/object.

An insight into Yokohama Stadium

If we had not provided the adequate information and drawings, we would have not been allowed to install 17m rugby posts in Japan. Also, all drawings and structural analysis documentation needed to be interpreted into Japanese for approval by the Japanese Government!

Innovation is at the forefront of what we do at Harrod Sport, and we are privileged to have worked on such a historic and thoroughly entertaining tournament.

For further information please contact Molly Spring (Sales & Marketing Coordinator) on molly@harrod.uk.com or 01502 583515.

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Full steam ahead

Full steam ahead: Iseki UK was launched in 2017 into a rocky economic environment but with exactly the right man steering the ship. Two years on David Withers has proven his worth as a “Captain” and the company, now based in Ipswich, is making steady progress. 

“We are up on last year which is pretty good,” said David, in answer to the most obvious of opening questions – “How are you doing?”

Full steam ahead

“We are going to sell more this year and make less money and the reason for that has been the collapse in the value of the pound.

That’s even more of a problem for a company which brings in all of its goods from Germany and France – 80% Germany and 20% France,” revealed David, who returned to the UK following his time in the States as President and CEO of Jacobsen.

“The economy is not in great shape and causing a lot of uncertainty but the biggest single impact for us is that exchange rate.”

To highlight the point he added that the pound had devalued by 13% in the previous two months and that Iseki had recently been forced to increase its own prices by 3% to 5%.

“We are going to see inflationary pressures coming in and I don’t think that the economy is going to be strong enough for wages to keep up with inflation.”

Like so many other companies Iseki were prepared for the original Brexit timetable of March 31 and had brought in sufficient parts stock to ensure no issues over that period.

“Then it didn’t happen so, having had a good quarter one, when we were doing a lot to prepare, there was a hangover in quarter two and from April things never really got going.

Now we have prepared again and we are once more full of inventory,” said David, speaking a few weeks before the more recent October 31 Brexit date.

The company has secured additional warehouse space, through a relationship with one of the transport companies on the Ipswich Europark with which they share a postcode to cope over the period.

Any issue of delays at ports is not of huge concern to David, given the nature of the Iseki business.

“If our deliveries take an extra week to get through, it will be irritating but it’s not life-threatening,” was his pragmatic view.

As to the wider issue of ensuring the Iseki brand is available the length and breadth of the country the company is making real progress in bolstering its dealer network.

“What has really worked for us is that we have clarified in our minds what our distribution strategy should be. We find that for many of our dealers we are either the simplest and easiest product a dealer sells – because they also deal with combine harvesters or 500 horsepower tractors and forestry harvesters – and we are the lowest value product they sell.

“Conversely, for other dealers, we are at the upper end of their portfolio. They might be selling products like Mountfield, Honda and Stiga, but don’t have a diesel product other than ours. In these cases we are the most complicated product they sell.”

Many dealers, often classic garden dealers, have been asked if they would like to have a diesel offering in their portfolio.

“We are up to about 16 new dealers but we still have some gaps and we have space for another 30 or so.”

Having spent most of his more recent life at the top end of business life – prior to his time at Jacobsen he was Managing Director of Ransomes Jacobsen, based just down the road from his new home on that Ipswich Europark – he is enjoying building a new business from the beginning.

“I enjoy the closeness with the market, the customers and our staff whereas before there were layers between me and the other people.

That’s fun. But there are plusses and minuses. I find booking my own travel intensely irritating, as I’d never had to do that before,” he said with a smile.

Another area of potential expansion for the company may come on the back of that new dealer network.

“I look forward to the business growing and having more resource and ability to do things. For example one of the things you might see us doing over the next 12 months is bolt on additional products to our range.

“We have had a lot of people asking us if we could distribute for them. I didn’t want to do that to begin with as It was important to get Iseki moving, but now that we have all the infrastructure in place and our polices and procedures are in order we will look at it.

“It would be products of similar standard and reliability and that which are complementary to our own products.”

All forward thinking moves and proving once again that, when the seas become rough and the waves are high, having a capable Captain is so important.

Getting turf through winter

Getting turf through winter: Geoff Fenn, of Advanced Grass Solutions, helps you navigate the trials and tribulations of the winter months.

Autumn and winter are tough for turf. Low light, cold temperatures, poor weather and regular play mean plants can become stressed, weakened and susceptible to disease. What can we do as Turf Managers to maintain quality through a long winter?

Getting turf through winter

With the reduction in availability (and lower curative abilities) of amenity fungicides, putting together an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan can help reduce disease outbreaks on your site.

Firstly, do not underestimate the importance of correct nutrition. Understand the growth requirements of your surface and make sure nitrogen inputs will produce the exact level of growth you require. In winter sports with high wear you need a higher level of growth for recovery from divots and scars – monitor your growth rate by measuring clipping yield and change inputs to match the growth your site requires. Do not overfeed, do not underfeed – easier said than done but it’s crucial to get the plant in a healthy state with good carbohydrate reserves going into cold weather.

Pay close attention to the source of nitrogen you use – colder weather requires nitrogen with an ammoniacal or nitrate source as these are instantly available. Urea/methylene urea requires some warmth for bacteria to convert it into a plant-available form.

Everything nutritionally should be balanced – beware of the consequences of over-applying anything – excess nutrition can cause plant stresses that reduce health and bring on disease. Soil health can also be adversely affected by too much iron, sulphur and many other compounds used to the detriment of beneficial soil biology. Try to use products that declare exactly what’s in them so you know what effects these can have both short and long-term.

Try to set aside small trial areas to test if products and practices are genuinely having a beneficial effect on your site. Don’t believe all the hype or claims of products until you have seen good research or proved to yourself they have a benefit to you.

There are times when disease pressure simply overwhelms all the good factors we encourage in our turf and outbreaks happen anyway, but by getting as many things as ‘correct’ as we can, disease can be limited to a level that you may find ‘acceptable’.

What are some of the factors we can use/influence to reduce disease?

• Thatch Control – Reduce the home of pathi
• Nutrition – Get the balance right
• Airflow – Increase airflow around each plant
• Shade – Reduce shade and increase light
• pH – slightly acidic soil and leaf surface will reduce disease
• Dew/Moisture – reduce leaf wetness to prevent infection
• Drainage – keep surfaces firm and dry
• Grass Species – the right species for the right site
• Soil biological management – control thatch and diseases and improve health
• Fungicides – understand active ingredients and when they work best.

Each individual control method may not add up to a significant difference in disease levels but getting many of the pieces in the puzzle lined up correctly, we can reduce fungicide use and reduce disease activity.

Disease spores can live in thatch layers and when conditions are suitable, they will spread and attack the plant. Reduce thatch to minimal levels and you reduce the amount of disease spores. Try to encourage a healthy, balanced microbial population in your soil by adding high quality carbon-rich organic fertilisers and reducing chemical inputs to as low as possible.

This will then ensure natural thatch breakdown by soil microbes is maximised, leading to less invasive thatch removal practices to achieve the desired results.

Encouraging beneficial biology helps create a ‘suppressive soil’ that reduces pathogen populations leading to lessaggressive disease outbreaks. Biology alone cannot stop disease, but it can massively help reduce its impact. An unhealthy anaerobic soil with black layer

SHADE & AIRFLOW

Trees, buildings or spectator stands surrounding your turf cast shade and limit the energy a plant can produce for itself. Plants convert light energy into ‘plant-available’ energy such as sugars and carbohydrates. By cutting off sunlight you are cutting off the potential energy available for each plant and weakening it.

Think of grass plant leaves like mini solar panels – without sufficient sunlight they cannot produce enough energy to keep a healthy plant alive.

Removal of trees you will often also allow better airflow around the plant. This can be just enough to keep the leaf a little bit drier which can reduce disease. Leaf moisture is a key element for Microdochium development.

Apps such as Sun Seeker show the path of the sun and just how little sunlight turf often receives.

The public perception is planting trees is a great idea and removing trees is some form of ‘environmental vandalism’. The truth is sportsturf and trees really are not happy bedfellows. Grass is naturally adapted to open spaces with plenty of light, not shady areas under trees.

There are so many ways of managing turf and no one single correct method. Manage all the elements as best you can on your site is all you can do. You may still get stress and disease – but it will be much less than it could have been.

Can Europe be pesticide-free by 2050?

Can Europe be pesticide-free by 2050?: With the ecological consequences of food production and agricultural practices coming under increased scrutiny, and being reassessed and remodelled, a leading biopesticide technology developer believes Europe can be free of its reliance upon toxic pesticides by 2050. 

Emerging advances in biopesticides and biostimulants – eco-friendly, nature-based alternatives to the harsh, chemical pesticides we have used for many decades to control pests & diseases and increase yield – are transforming the industry. And they are ushering in a new era of cleaner agronomy that could see Europe being pesticide free in the next 30 years, envisions Dr Minshad Ansari Founder and CEO of Bionema Ltd, UK. Bionema Ltd, a Wales-based BioTech firm, develops natural products to protect crops from pests and diseases and reduce the use of synthetic pesticides.

Can Europe be pesticide-free by 2050?

Minshad chaired the Biopesticides Summit, which was held in July 2019, in Swansea. The Summit gathered hundreds of policy-makers and experts from industry and academia, to discuss the most pressing issues and threats facing crop production today and, crucially, the need to bring more sustainable alternatives to marketplace swiftly.

“We are living in very crucial times for food production and land management. Safe, responsible and sustainable food production is a cornerstone of the continued survival of life, and some of the most exciting solutions to the biggest problems facing food production are to be found within nature,” said Minshad.

“These biopesticides are, in many cases, already being developed or used successfully, and others are well within our grasp. In fact, I believe Europe can be free of its reliance upon toxic pesticides by 2050.

“We are at a point in time where the public is more aware of, or more vocal about their expectations, when it comes to the impact the practices of industry upon our environment. And public scrutiny is a very powerful driver of the practices of the biopesticide industry.

“It is very clear that we have reached a watershed moment. There is a growing acceptance among food producers that practices need to be modernised. There is a groundswell of public awareness that we cannot continue to lean upon traditional, damaging pesticides, some of which we have been using for many decades, to support production,” he said.

“The long-term negative effects of using chemical pesticides on the fertility of our land, and the threat this brings to our survival, is well documented. Also, health experts and scientists have been flagging up links between pesticide use and a host of diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, brain, prostate and kidney cancers, for many years.”

The World Health Organisation reports that pesticides are responsible for up to five million cases of poisoning each year, of which 20,000 are lethal. And, it says, pesticides affect children and infants disproportionately.

Can Europe be pesticide-free by 2050?

“The evidence to support wholesale change is there, credible science is there, the will is there, and, to some extent, the funding is increasingly there to ensure efficacious new products to fill the gap in the market created by the removal of pesticides. The remaining hurdles are largely around the slow pace of regulation and licencing these products for the marketplace,” he added.

Some of Europe’s largest growers are already reaping the benefits of using non-toxic alternatives to chemical pesticides. In Spain’s notorious ‘Sea of Plastic’, the 30,000 hectare corner of Almeria which produces most of the fruits and vegetables that are consumed throughout Europe, sachets of miniscule mites are used, which are draped from pepper, tomato and courgette plants, and attack the parasites that threaten these crops. In fact, the use of insecticides in Almeria has, according to local authorities, dropped by 40 percent since 2007.

Dr Ansari says: “The biopesticide movement has experienced a very interesting development arc over the past few decades. Our use of insecticides surged in the 1960s, at a time when, at least in the Western World, there was a public awakening to the fact that our chemical-laden environment was perhaps hostile to health and life.

“However, global population pressures have driven producers to increase their output and to find ever more efficient ways of meeting demand. Insecticides have done much to help meet those needs. But, they have done so at great cost to human health, to the environment and to the long-term viability of our soil. Growers are also having to meet the man-made challenge of crop resistance to those chemicals we have been using so liberally for years.”

Firms like Bionema, Ecolibrium Biologicals, Maxstim, Aphea.Bio and many others, often working in collaboration with researchers at key universities, represent a growing number of experts who are spearheading change.

“There is still work to be done to educate farmers, many of whom are in a holding pattern of disinfecting their land with fungicides, and using other chemical agents, simply because this is what they have always done, and because these chemicals are being recommended and sold to them by companies they have dealt with over many years and which they trust.

“However, the biopesticide market is expected to grow from $3 billion dollars in 2016 to almost $10 billion dollars by 2025. Around 30% of plant protection tools now available are biological, and more than 50% of new regulatory applications are biological products.

“But the regulatory barriers are complex, and they are consistent challenges. They require the efficacy of a biopesticide to be quantified and proved, they require the biopesticide to pose minimal or zero risk, toxicological and eco-toxicological evaluations, and other stringent tests. These tests have been put in place for chemical pesticides, but they are perhaps not appropriate for biopesticides. Meeting the current requirements can be prohibitively expensive for biopesticide developers, many of which are SMEs.”

New man at the helm

New man at the helm: The new Chair of the IOG is a man who is a believer in evolution not revolution and, such has been the strides taken by the Institute on the recent past, you can be sure that there wouldn’t be a need for any U turns or radical changes in approach under his stewardship. 

David Carpenter has been a member of the IOG Board for nine years and played a key part in the move of Saltex from Windsor Racecourse north to the NEC in Birmingham and he has seen levels of professionalism across the board increase during his time involved.

New man at the helm

“I certainly don’t think that I need to take anything by the scruff of the neck. I have every confidence in the rest of the Board and the Executive team and we have been working together as a group extremely well,” explained David, who can call on his vast and relevant experience from working for the Sports Council and the Lottery Fund.

“I’m not suddenly going to change direction unless there is good reason to do so.” That is not to say that David, who took over the reins from David Teasdale, is going to be passive. He is a deep thinker on the subject of groundsmanship and the issues that are inherent in an industry which rarely gets the credit it deserves.

“I am concerned about the lack of new people coming into the industry, both as volunteers and professionals and I’d certainly like to see more young people entering the profession.

I’d also like to see more women in grounds management and I’d like to see more black and ethnic minorities represented in our profession.

“Such is the lack of level of entry, we can’t afford to not have half the population as potential ground staff,” he said.

He is not overly concerned with the elite side of the industry in terms of surface quality, after all we have many of the finest grounds managers in the world. But at the community end of the industry which impacts most on the greatest number of people there are real issues that must be addressed.

GanTIP has already conclusively identified that natural pitches are not in good condition at community level but already Jason and his team have tackled and improved nearly
4,000 community football pitches. They are doing a great job.

“I do see a scenario where community facilities could actually get worse before they get better. Local authorities are not recruiting and we have to find other routes into the profession. A lot of the volunteers we do have are older people and they are not going to be around forever and we need new younger people to work alongside and eventually take over,”

“We also know that with a little more investment there is an opportunity to make significant improvement.”

On education and professional development David has some interesting views.

“It strikes me that grounds management is where sports coaching was 20 years ago. Then there was no structured pathway for coaching and coaching appointments were very random, particularly outside of perhaps football and cricket.

“The status of the coach was really quite low. As a result of a more structured approach and clear pathways that status is much higher and coaches now receive much more respect. I think that is possible for grounds management if we are able improve the pathway quite significantly.”

One of the ways in which this could be achieved is an education process for operations managers, such as Contract Managers, Bursars and Arena Managers, who are ultimately responsible for grounds management.

“I think this process will take much longer than my time as Chair but it is a very important aspect and one which requires significant input. It is ridiculous that so many sports rely on good surfaces yet groundsmen and women don’t have the same parallel standing as those carrying out other functions within the organisation.”

He does have another interesting idea, which he stresses is his own and not IOG policy.

“I’d like to see education for the volunteer side of the industry available on a free of charge basis. Obviously that would require sponsorship support and we would have to go to the respective sports councils or sport governing bodies to agree volunteer programmes but I do think it is something worth exploring.”

David is also well aware of the change to the role of many groundsmen and women at that elite end.

“Groudscare managers now have to be so flexible. Not only have they to prepare surfaces which are scrutinised on TV and often criticised by players, past and present – when often it is as a result of bad play not bad surfaces – and then have to move seamlessly into preparing a stadium for an arena concert.

“They are working incredibly long hours, late into the night, and sometimes overnight to ensure that concerns booked by the commercial department are a success. I don’t think there is enough recognition for how much effort goes into it all.”

David was appointed to the Board as an independent member nine years ago after he had carried out some consultancy work for the IOG’s Chief Executive Geoff Webb in 2005.

“I also did a study in 2007 in which I called groundsmanship the hidden profession. I was basically saying that there was great work being done and some really good people involved but that they didn’t really have any profile at all.

“In 2010 Geoff asked me to join the Board and I have been really pleased that I accepted his offer because it has been quite an eventful time over the last eight or nine years and the organisation has made really good progress.”

Much of that progress can be seen with the success of the move of Saltex to the NEC in Birmingham, a move that David was involved heavily.

“We agonised about it for quite a long time to be frank but we knew that Windsor was staring to fail and that the status quo was not going to work. We had to shake it up and do something, and we’ve had a successful four years so far.

“The key is for us to keep the Show fresh and innovative, introduce new things and new thinking and we will try to keep it going for strength to strength. Fortunately, we have some good thinkers around the table and people who feed in good ideas and Geoff himself is very good on that front.”

David was elected Chair at the IOG’s AGM in September and firmly believes that progress will be made.

“I feel that I am taking over at quite a good time with regard to where we’ve managed to get to but we must lift the bar higher. We must push forward. For example, we have just appointed an agency to work with us with the aim of lifting the profile of the industry. Their work will not be launched until next spring but we are working very hard behind the scenes with the agency and I see this as the next stage of our challenge.”

Life is full of challenges but if you have a carpenter at the heart of things you can be sure of stability and a well-constructed future.

Machinery at the touch of a button

Machinery at the touch of a button: We live in an age where we can carry out any amount of business from a laptop, tablet, even a phone. Where once we had to engage the services of an advisor or expert we can now do what we need do from the comfort of our own sofa, or from the layby of a busy road. 

Our fine industry has long been regarded as traditional – loving the personal touch of a sales rep we’ve know for years and the strangely comforting pleasure derived from kicking a tyre or two – but it is not adverse to dabbling with the modern age.

Machinery at the touch of a button

Thanks to a new company we too have the option to purchase high quality used machinery by the touch of a button.

Grass Plant has been set up by Martin Guy, a sports and amenity turf industry entrepreneur of over 30 years standing, to enable machinery dealers to offer their used machinery to end users and potential customers in a similar manner to that of Auto Trader, in the domestic vehicle market.

“Grass Plant has come about following my work with another of my companies – Martin Guy Developments. I’ve operated and owned golf courses for many years so contracting has been a big part of the business,” said Martin.

“With contracting comes a lot of equipment and at any one time we can be holding in in excess of £1.5 million worth of machinery because of the nature of work that we do.”

Having such a stock of machinery means that Martin spends a lot of time with machinery sales people and he began to realise that as an end user, and someone who buys and sells himself he saw the benefits of an on-line trading platform for used machinery.

“Grass Plant was formed as a company four years ago with this concept in mind but the website to enable it to work didn’t come to fruition until the start of this year. I wanted to make sure that the website was completely correct and fit for purpose but now it is set, it is evolving and moving and people are beginning to subscribe to it.”

The business model does work on a subscription basis. If a dealer has a number of machines to sell he will be given a flat rate for them to be advertised on the site and the dealer can put whatever they like onto the site and remove or refresh at will.

“The end user then can see what is available and have a choice of what machine they are looking for. There might be a three old version of the machine with a lot of hours on the clock they want of a five year old version with fewer, so the potential customer can see what is their best fit,” explained Martin, adding that 99% of his current clients are main machinery dealers.

“They are selling new and buying it back and need an outlet for what comes back in. It’s not uncommon for a mainline dealer to be sitting on £1 million worth of used stock.”

With the current uncertainty in the economy well maintained used machinery is particularly attractive while the concept of machinery packages being leased to clubs ensures that there is a ready supply of machines, well maintained, after three or five years which the dealer then has to move on.

Martin, through Martin Guy Developments, currently maintains six golf courses, 23 football pitches and five cricket grounds so the company is also a first hand end user of an array of machinery.

“As Grass Plant develops we are going to start reviewing equipment as well. We will be giving full warts and all trials so potential purchasers can see what us, an a contractor, feels about the machine,” revealed Martin.

With everything now in place and the website tried and tested, Saltex will be the opportunity for Grass Plant to raise general awareness within the industry.

“Our on-line digital figures are going up and up, doubling and trebling month on month and our social media profile is growing to. Saltex will be important to us, as will BTME while January, February and March are the key months for machinery purchase.”

Our industry may well be traditional but thanks to Grass Plant it does not stop us from enjoying the benefits of the 21st century!

Thunderbirds are go!

Thunderbirds are go!: Ask Darren Baldwin about some of the technical innovation contained within the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and his answer brings a smile to the face of many of a certain age.

“It’s very much Thunderbirds stuff, if I’m honest,” explained the man who has seen it all during his 23 years as Head of Playing Surfaces and Estates at the club.

Thunderbirds are go!

Those of us who can remember the booming countdown voice of the Thunderbirds narrator not to mention the wobbly puppetry, will immediately know where he is coming from. Floors sliding open to release International Rescue vehicles from the Tracy Island headquarters, each piloted by a member of the Tracy family.

I’m not sure if Darren sees himself as any one member of the cast, but given what he has to deal with in terms of the above and below the pitch technology, he could quite easily stand in for Brains, but minus the big glasses!

To replace the Tarkett PlayMaster surface, which Spurs play their matches on, with the artificial Turf Nation pitch for the NFL matches, which will be regular features at the 62,062 capacity stadium, the natural pitch is split into sections, slides out and parked in what is otherwise a car park under the stadium, where the LED grow lights, fans and irrigation ensures it thrives in its unfamiliar temporary environment.

The NFL pitch is therefore revealed to create a perfect theatre for a sport which is becoming increasingly popular on this side of the pond.

The NFL pitch is six feet lower than its natural turf brother, meaning those in the first few rows of the stadium can see the play over the plethora of six foot five tight ends and line backers, coaches, physios etc who spend so much of their time on the touchline.

Thunderbirds are go!

That is just an example of what goes on at what must be currently the most talked about stadium in the world of sport, never mind the UK.

Talking to Darren, as we stood level with the halfway line, mid-way up one of the fabulous and imposing stands, you can feel the pride and sense of achievement which he, along with everyone involved in Spurs, feels.

The initial vision for a replacement for the old White Hart Lane, with its capacity of 36,284, came with the arrival of the new Chairman, Daniel Levy, way back in 2001.

“He had a vision that we needed to improve facilities, both for the fans and the players, so he looked at everything from the stadium to the training ground. We also needed to increase capacity to be in the 60,000 plus bracket alongside other top European clubs,” recalled Darren.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have been here that long so I have also lived that dream from day one, following it through to where we are today.”

It’s fair to say that any vision, no matter how “Blue Sky” would not have come close to living up to reality of what the stadium eventually became.

“It started out as a 60,000 seater bowl and progressed with options and revised visions before it became a multitude of different challenges to overcome. The word that was never to be used in any environment whether that be in the Board Room or on the construction site was ‘No’. What was always said was ‘How can we make it happen?’.”

With Darren’s focus on the playing surfaces, that positive approach was never tested more than the day when a Concert Consultant explained that to put on a full scale concert he would need the venue for 10 days, meaning that Darren’s pitch would have to be parked up under the stadium for all that time. At that time even the best case scenario was that a pitch could only survive under those circumstances for a maximum of three days.

Thunderbirds are go!

“After picking me up off the floor we went back to work to find a way of parking the pitch for 10 days and now, having done extensive testing, and thanks to our friends at SGL lighting, we can park the pitch in the Pitch Pocket for 14 to 15 days,” explained Darren, who worked closely with Julian Franklin, Head of Horticulture and Controlled Environments, at Rothamsted Research, on maintaining turf in the dark.

As a man who grew up looking after turf, being heavily involved in the concrete and steel of a major stadium meant that Darren was well out of his comfort zone.

“To be honest, I’d be in some of the meetings looking at plans and talking to senior engineers and all I’d want to know is what button to push to make it work. It was mind blowing science.

But it has given me a great insight into what goes on in an engineer’s world, as well as the groundsman’s world. It was also important that they knew and understood what we wanted from a turf maintenance perspective and how we wanted things to work.”

The air systems, vacuum systems, undersoil heating were all areas in which Darren could make sure what he and his team would be working with over the next few seasons was the best it could be and that any potential issues were ironed out before they had a chance to become a problem.

“What we have with the natural pitch is a series of trays containing 500mm of pitch build suspended three feet off the ground. We did a lot of vibration testing because what we couldn’t have was a situation where we had seven or eight players jump at a corner, all land at the same time and have the pitch vibrate. We’d be known as the Wobbly Pitch!”

The work done with SGL has been equally state-of-the-art and seen grow lighting taken to a new level at the stadium.

“A lot of design went into the wheeled rigs and, based on the experiences we had with lighting rigs we worked on the things which we felt could be improved. For example, lugging cables back and forward and having cables lying or suspended above the grass. Our system now has about five metres of cable which connects to the main power supply on the perimeter wall and that’s it. No part of the six trusses we have touch the grass – they span the width of the playing surface and operate on tracks to move up and down the pitch. We wanted the option to raise them so we could work underneath the lights while we also wanted the ability to irrigate from above them.

“In the past we’d have occasions when the lights were operating, and the irrigation has come on. Sodium bulbs don’t like the eight bar pressure of a sprinkler hitting them and they tend to shatter. So now we have an irrigation system built into the top of the trusses,” said Darren, of the trusses which are stored under the pitch when not in use.

Truly Thunderbirds indeed! Darren also ensured that the stadium had sufficient space for the machinery and equipment required to maintain the pitch.

Thunderbirds are go!

“With the new stadium we had one chance to be the kid in the sweet shop and get what we wanted and although there wasn’t a bottomless pit of money, by any stretch, we did look at what we wanted and have the machinery to carry out the job. We’ve got a mix between electric and petrol mowers – ATT on electric and Dennis Premiers for the petrol. We use the electric ones most of the week and the petrol for the last cut before a game to get the defining pattern, with that little more weight, for the finish.

“We also have storage space for the SGL lights, the fans and the mists, which we needed last summer when when it was 42 degrees pitch side. It was absolutely scorching and rye grass doesn’t like it that hot.”

The desire, and “can do” attitude at Spurs, does come with a downside, however, and that came in delays and a mind-boggling final bill for the stadium – it is probably currently the most expensive stadium in the world – a reported figure in excess of an eyewatering £1 billion is not denied.

“It took three and a half years to build and we ended up eight months late on our target date. That was frustrating for everyone, none more so than those of us at the sharp end. But it was important that we got it right.”

During that period the team played their home games at Wembley, so the team didn’t have the rush or routine of match day preparation.

“I worked at Wembley on match days for the first year and also sent two guys to Wembley full time to work with the maintenance team there. It was a bit different for Karl (Stanley) and his team as they were having to deal with us as well as the international teams.”

The big day came on April 3rd with the first match – against Crystal Palace.

“I’ve been asked many times about my emotions on that first match day, and indeed, the whole project and I say ‘Give me an emotion – I’ve had it’. Excitement, nervousness, stress, worry, lack of sleep. I’ve had them all.”

On that first matchday, with the opening ceremony and the fireworks, it was a fabulous launch to the new Spurs era but Darren remembers one particular element of the day.

“We had a hail storm an hour before kick-off and the whole pitch was white – on April 3rd! I told the guys that we were going to need blowers and snow brushes, but we didn’t know where they were stored,” smiled Darren, as he recalled the bizarre situation.

As we stood in the most modernistic stadium in the world it was a good time to find out what brought Darren, a two-time Groundsman of the Year, to the industry in the first place.

Thunderbirds are go!

“I started out as a three year-old on my dad’s lap ‘steering’ a Land Rover and trailing three sets of gang mowers at Buckhurst Hill Football Club in the mid 70s. About 10 years’ later, like most groundsmen at some stage or another, my dad got the hump when the team started training in the goal area. He threw down the keys and walked off. I picked them up and, at the age of 13, carried on looking after the pitch from then on.

“In October 1988 Steve Braddock gave me the chance to do three weeks’ work experience at Arsenal and he then took me on full time in 1990. I owe everything to Steve and I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He gave me six great years before I got the phone call and asked if I’d be interested in coming here – one of the less publicised transfers between the two north London clubs!”

Without wishing to make him sound like a reality show contestant, it has been a “journey” for Darren and one which he has embraced since he arrived in 1996.

“Back then the club had just opened the training ground at Chigwell and it was regarded as a state-of-the-art training ground although there was no lights or running water in the grounds maintenance facility. Now we have our fantastic new training ground at Enfield with aspirations to expand it to take on Tottenham Hotspur Women, who have turned full time professional this season.

“What really scares me, given how far we have come in 23 years, is what the industry will look like in 23 years from now.”

Who knows what life will be like for ground staff, or anyone else for that matter, in 2042. Safe to say Thunderbirds will remain a fond memory for a diminishing few.

Watch Scott’s interview with Darren on the Turf Matters YouTube channel

ISEKI’s lasting impression at Cosgrove Park

ISEKI’s lasting impression at Cosgrove Park: Set in an area of outstanding natural beauty near Buckinghamshire you will find the multi-million pound Cosgrove Caravan Park, spanning over 190 acres. Park Foreman, Trevor Bird with the help of his team of three gardeners, carefully manicure the site all year round supported by their trusted ISEKI SF235.

When Trevor started at the park four years ago they were using several out-front mulching mowers from a different manufacturer to maintain the grassed areas which left the grounds looking rather scruffy.  Trevor explained; “I knew in order to raise the standards of the park we had to cut and collect the grass from around the site.  With this in mind I contacted our local dealer RT Machinery, explained what I was looking for, and they brought out an ISEKI SF235 on demonstration.

ISEKI's lasting impression at Cosgrove Park

“Held on a rather miserable, rainy day I wasn’t expecting much from the demonstration, but the impressive capability of the ISEKI SF235 to cut and collect all the grass clippings with an excellent finish, even despite the awful weather, sold it for me.  The powerful turbine sucks the grass from the deck and blows it via an oscillating chute into the collector, ensuring the collector is filled to its maximum.  This brilliant feature means there is no annoying clogging up compared to the previous mowers we have owned.

“Used four days a week throughout the whole of the grass cutting season by myself and three members of the team, the mower definitely has its work cut out.  We have found it incredibly comfortable to use, with well-placed mirrors, great driving position and comfortable seat, even after 8 hours of work.”

Disposal of all the grass waste is easily completed with the 2.1m lift clearance into a container with the impressive 950 litre collector, boosting efficiency for Trevor’s team, alongside the large 54” cutting width deck.

“This is the first ISEKI I have purchased and even the little finishing touches are well thought through.  One example is all the hydraulic hoses are tucked neatly away so there is no risk of them being caught whilst out cutting.  It’s the quality design touches like this that make the mower stand out from its competitors.

ISEKI's lasting impression at Cosgrove Park

Having known Richard Taylor for many years I can safely say RT Machinery’s service is second to none.  The back-up provided from the dealership is great and exactly what you look for when purchasing machinery like this.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the ISEKI SF235, with its large 54” deck, impressive collector and superb finish; what is not to like about this machine.”

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