Case for the defence

Case for the defence: The Christmas and New Year festivities are now just a lingering memory but though the days are starting to lengthen, there’s a long way to go before the onset of warmer weather.

With the turf suffering from prolonged periods of wet weather, waterlogged and weakened roots, the grass will be stressed and more open to disease attack. Deciding on which fungicide to defend your turf territory is key to ensuring a successful outcome. For winter applications, the requirement is to identify fungicides that contain ‘actives’ which work well under cool and cold conditions and, where possible, provide added physiological benefits.

Case for the defence

Particularly effective under cool, cold conditions is the broad spectrum turf fungicide Eland and applications now will provide disease protection for up to 50 days.

This long term protection is achieved through the spray deposit being held on the leaf long enough to penetrate and be held within the leaf tissue, which serves as a fungicide reservoir constantly releasing its active ingredient, pyraclostrobin, to provide long term protection.

Eland is specially suited to being applied as a preventative treatment, especially when disease pressure is high. It is very effective against all stages of the fungus within minutes of being applied and can restrain mycelial growth to provide additional curative activity.

Case for the defence

In addition to its proven abilities as a turf fungicide, research has shown Eland to have a number of additional physiological benefits.

Such benefits include improving plant health in the form of stress management under cold conditions and during aerification. This has the effect of helping the plant and root system to endure a stressful event and overcome stress through root system retention.

In addition to combating Microdochium Patch attack, a major benefit during early winter months is that applications of pyraclostrobin allows a plant to recover more quickly from root damage or surface foliar damage caused by ball mark injury.

Of course, prevention is always preferable and more effective than reacting after the event. STRI research trials prove that preventative disease control programmes outperform curative options when analysed for turf quality, colour and presence of Microdochium Patch (right).

The eight months trial compared nine preventative and three curative programmes, as well as one untreated plot. The first three programmes used purely preventative fungicides from Bayer. The rest of the preventative plots used a combination of Rigby Taylor fungicides, together as tank mixes with plant health products to reflect a more realistic approach. See bar chart, below right.

Case for the defence

In general, preventative programmes five to seven (see graph RT prog’s 1, 2 and 3) showed the most consistent results across turf colour, quality and Microdochium Patch presence by using an integrated approach with both fungicides and plant health products. The fungicides within the curative programmes (11 -13) were applied as and when disease developed to an unacceptable level, mimicking traditional control strategies. It is important to note that none of the trial plots had any cultural controls or biological practices applied prior to or during the trial, other than mowing and switching, which was carried out when necessary.

Pre-planning and control are essential requirements as it may be necessary to integrate some of the aforementioned products into the winter programme, which will enable the plant to resist or repel disease attack and be in an ideal state to advance into the spring in a healthy state.

Revolution in professional turf care

Revolution in professional turf care: Strained sports turf surfaces are particularly stressed by the influence of walking on, playing on or driving on, which can lead to a change in the physical or chemical properties of the soil due to compaction. 

Compaction has negative effects on the vital growth of a healthy and durable grass population as well as on the functional safety due to the often highly reduced air and water permeability of the soil, a lack of water and nutrients available to plants, poor regeneration growth and changes in soil organic structure.

Revolution in professional turf care

The remedy can be found with the airter light 14160 – pneumatic soil aeration device for professionals, which loosens the lawn root zone homogeneously into a depth of 22 cm and supplies it with fresh oxygen.

This is done by steplessly adjustable compressed air in a continuous process. A football field can be completely processed in seven hours.

A total of 14 specially developed compressed air injection lances with triple jets push up to one million litres of air per pitch into the ground in an efficient working process.

The airter aerates the root zone homogeneously and with full coverage without any significant visible damage to the top surface. The penetration depth can be selected to match local soil conditions by using different lances so the soil compaction can be reduced up to 30% (verifiably tested). As a result, water flow and air circulation improve remarkably. Novokraft’s airsoftroll roller technology guarantees low ground pressure during sustainable aeration of the root zone with oxygen! Unique and unrivalled!

Advantages at a glance

• Effective and sustainable aeration of hybrid, sports and golf surfaces.
• Reduction of pesticide use and prevention of black layer through active ventilation. Efficient and biological pest control (e.g. larvae & grubs).
• Improved water absorption/storage within the root zone enabling shorter irrigation cycles and reduced water consumption, especially during the vegetation and heat periods.
• A measurable, homogeneous de-compaction of about 30% in the treated root zone layer.
• Reduction of downtime (no need for post-processing work, play areas can be walked on and played on directly, less waterlogging due to improved separating effect).
• Reduction of maintenance time (reduction of traditional aeration intervals and top-dressing needs, lower patch work and over-seeding requirements).
• Low maintenance cost (simple pneumatic/hydraulic system).
• Scientifically validated system (STRI in the UK and University of Hohenheim in Germany).
• Efficient operation (continuous operation, simple machine operation, high productivity).

The airter can demonstrably loosen the hardened hybrid turf systems. In all hybrid turf systems, the root zone cannot be optimally and professionally ventilated using conventional mechanical loosening methods (e.g. deep loosening with solid chisels).

Over time, these procedures inevitably lead to vertical compaction of the lawn base layer.

Novokraft has developed the airter to solve this problem and to professionally loosen the root zone. This prevents the formation of decomposition gases, which are toxic for lawn roots.

Practical tests on new hybrid turf fields have shown that with the loosening effect of the airter, the players subsequently felt the fields to be much softer.

Likewise, this homogeneous pneumatic loosening method massively improves all bioactivity in the soil. The airter is also ideally suited for the reliable maintenance of water permeability.

Prevention better than cure

Prevention better than cure: Ian Robson Prosport UK & Ireland Importer/Distributor for Foley United, explains why relief grinding maximises the performance of reels by giving a factory finish every time.

Firstly, why is having sharp cylinders (reels) that are the correct shape so important anyway? The answer is obvious – unhealthy turf brings a whole host of other issues which are costly to correct. Therefore, prevention is a far more economic approach than a cure.

Prevention better than cure

A huge amount of research and development has gone into designing a cutting unit to produce the cleanest cut possible with the least amount of fraying and tissue damage to the plant.

The result is that all manufacturers of grass cutting equipment supply new units with relief ground edges.

Why Relief Grind?

Tests carried out by leading manufacturers have established that relief ground cylinders stay on cut up to three times longer than spun ground ones and require less horse power to drive the unit, resulting in greater fuel efficiency and less stress on the hydraulic power systems. In addition, a relief ground cylinder will withstand the abrasive effects of top dressing far better than one spun ground because the relief edge on both the bedknife and the cylinder allows the top dressing to clear the cutting blades easily, helping to prevent the dulling effect seen on spun only units.

Continual relief grinding also decreases the squeezing and tearing of the grass as the units get dull, and most importantly it allows the cylinder to be returned to a factory specification perfect cylinder as quickly as possible.

The overall cleaner cut achieved by relief grinding gives a better after-cut appearance, increased recovery rate due to the clean cut of the grass and reduces the stress on components because less horsepower is needed to drive the cylinder.

Horse Power Study

As a reel wears flat and loses shape (becomes coned), more stress and strain is put on the cutting systems.

Using the figures from the above study a 5-gang cutting unit with relief can require up to 4.5 HP (5 x 0.88HP = 4.5HP) to drive the cutting units therefore a 35HP engine has 30.5HP remaining to drive the rest of the traction system. A 5-gang unit which has been spun ground only, can require up to 13Hp (5 x 2.59HP = 13HP) leaving only 22HP to drive the rest of the traction system.

So, it has been established that relief grinding your cutting units saves you money not only by reducing workshop maintenance time with far fewer grinds but also through a reduction in fuel costs and replacement parts.

It is also important to acknowledge what relief grinding does for a reel. By removing metal from the trailing edge of the blade it forms a relief angle, which reduces the contact area of the cutting edges, resulting in less friction, longer wear life. Typically, when a new mower is delivered the reels will be a perfect cylindrical shape. Over time the blade naturally loses shape, and the sharp edge it arrives with becomes flat and dull, often meaning the reel is no longer a perfect cylinder from end to end. This is referred to as ‘coning’ and a natural point for grinding to take place.

The decision then sits between touch-up and spin grinding, or relief grinding. If there is sufficient relief still on the reel then a quick touch-up is fine but once more than 50% of the relief has gone my advice would be to relief grind again and remove any coning. Failure to remove the coning will eventually be seen in an uneven cut appearance of your turf.

But, the main question mentioned at the beginning comes back; how to get the most out of your workshop resources by choosing the most effective method to sharpen your cutting units. The answer is to trust the manufacturers judgement and return the reels as close to the original factory standard as possible, and for that, relief grinding is the best option. The bonus is this method also maximises performance and gives the best cut.

STIHL waters run deep

STIHL waters run deep: It was there from about 20 minutes into the journey and I couldn’t shift it, not that in all honesty I really wanted it to leave. 

The musical piece which had infiltrated my brain is a tune called “Pop Looks Bach” but it is better known as the theme tune for “Ski Sunday” and the reason that it had become my latest earworm was that we were heading into the Alps, or more accurately the Tyrolian section of the Alps, not far over the German border into Austria.

STIHL waters run deep

And the reason our group, comprising of trade journalists, gardening writers from the national press and our hosts, were traveling to this hotbed of Alpine sports was, ironically, to visit a factory which produces lawnmowers and related outdoor ground maintenance equipment.

STIHL is a name renowned the world over. It is synonymous with high quality grounds care equipment whether it be chainsaws, leaf blowers, and more recently professional and domestic ride on or pedestrian mowing equipment.

But not only is it one of the best known names in the world it is also a company which has manufacturing bases all over the world too.

We were being taken to Kufstein, in the Austrian Tyrol, which had originally been home to the Viking company, but which had been bought by STIHL in 1992 and whose name was integrated into the STIHL brand just last year.

Viking’s first product was a domestic shredder in 1981, but it wasn’t until 1984 that they began producing 1984 that they began producing their own line of lawn mowers and it that those products, something which STIHL saw as squaring the circle and allowing them to offer a full portfolio of garden and landscape maintenance equipment, that brought about the union between the two.

With backdrops of snow covered peaks the factory, which has grown from 20,000 square metres to 43,000 square metres in recent times and increased staffing levels from 373 in 2015 to 650 now, is at the cutting edge of technology. So much so that we weren’t allowed to photograph any of the work going on inside.

STIHL waters run deep

The company takes particular pride in its staff who jokingly admit that, such is the length of time that most employees remain at the company, the probationary period is 10 years.

The sheer scale of the production facility at Kufstein is such that a tour of the factory takes over two hours, more if you spend longer than the allotted time watching, for example, the stress tests that every element of a machine must survive – something it was good to see the unique mono handle bars on the mowers dealing with it with considerable aplomb Suffice to say, the recently installed robotic parts’ picker proved to be extremely mesmeric and some of us had to be dragged away.

The man who is now a brand name as much as a family name – up there with the likes of (Henry) Ford; (Enzo) Ferrari; (Willian Henry) Hoover; (Walt) Disney; (Gianni) Versace and (Ronald) MacDonald – is Andreas Stihl.

Andreas was an engineer and a Swiss national, and he designed and hand built the first chainsaw back in 1926.

Andreas was onto a winner and the STIHL name soon became popular, and also synonymous with professional grade chainsaws and soon became the number-one selling chainsaw company in the world, a title that the company can still boast.

Company headquarters is in Waiblingen, Germany but has assembly facilities spread across the world in Brazil, China, Switzerland and the United States in addition to the plant in Kufstein and a sales and marketing base in Camberley, Surrey,

Now the company boasts a product range that cannot disappoint any amateur gardener or professional turf or estates manager.

Power tools (cordless, gasoline, or electric) – chainsaws, pruners, brushcutters, shredders, scarifiers, tillers, sweepers, blowers, sprayers pressure washers, pedestrian mowers, ride on mowers, hand tools and forestry accessories, Personal Protective Equipment and more recently, some superb imow robot mowers, the technology for which is growing at a pace.

STIHL waters run deep

The staff, who are blessed with the finest “views out the window” to be found anywhere in the world, are universally keen to explain and demonstrate their products.

Some, if you are lucky, are even happy to share their chocolate with groups of journalists!

What is evident is that the care shown in assembling a machine is matched by the care shown in ensuring that part has been added just as it should and that it is ready to move on to the next stage of production.

Our group of 25 was treated royally during the two days of the trip. We ate and, purely in the interests of not being reluctant guests, drank well at our wonderful hotel and two unforgettable restaurants, including the oldest restaurant in the whole of Austria.

We also took in a traditional Christmas market and the Riedel glass factory – another world renowned company in what is a relatively small Austrian town – where we watched some of the finest wine glasses in the world being produced – four highly trained people to make one glass!

With an unexpected additional cargo of wine glass, it made the flight home rather anxious for some of our party.

It was a superb, and informative, trip and a big thank you to everyone at STIHL, and HROC, for making it such a rewarding visit for us all.

I can also add that despite the surroundings no skis, nor indeed lederhosen, were donned during the trip but that earworm is still there and beginning to become a little tiresome.

Better with a bit of Buttar…

Better with a bit of Buttar…: In his first interview since taking over as Head Groundsman at Twickenham, Jim Buttar speaks to Scott MacCallum about his new role.

Sunday February 23 will be a huge occasion at Twickenham.

Better with a bit of Buttar...

It is the first chance for the 82,000 supporters to congratulate England on a fine World Cup. Sure, they didn’t get over the line in the final against South Africa, but they snatched away the cloak of invincibility from New Zealand in the semi. A feat worthy of congratulation in itself.

With Ireland the opponents it is sure to be a massive match and when the 46 players take to the field for the anthems there will be much emotion.

Add another one to that list. Number 47 will also be full of emotion, pride and a few nerves. His chest will swell and the odd tear will be wiped away as those anthems ring out.

Except, except, except…

That was the introduction to this article I had fully intended writing, until “number 47”, recently appointed Head Groundsman Jim Buttar, answered the question I had specifically posed
to elicit the appropriate response.

It was an answer which wouldn’t delight any feature writer, but would certainly please his new employer, the Rugby Football Union, and give them confidence that they had appointed the right man.

Question: “How do you think you will feel when the teams run out on February 23rd for your first Six Nations game against Ireland – Nervous, excited, proud? What do you think your emotions will be?”

Answer: “To be honest, Scott, you get to that point in your career when you’ve done a certain number of games that you have gained the ability to tune out. You are aware that it is going on but busy focussing on pitch performance and noting where scrums have taken place for repair etc.”

Thanks Jim!

In fairness, perhaps having sensed my disappointment, he did go on to throw me a bit of a bone.

“How will I feel? I think I’ll probably be a little bit excited, with it being my first match under England Rugby. It will be slightly different to what I’m used to doing.”

Better with a bit of Buttar...

But then he couldn’t help himself. “On the whole I’ll be cool, calm and collected and too busy to have my mind on other things.”

Taking over from the redoubtable Keith Kent is a big task, but Jim boasts a strong CV, one which suggests he is a good fit to maintain one of the most iconic patches of turf in, not just UK sport, but worldwide.

He was Stadium Head Groundsman at White Hart Lane for a number of years before moving to become Pitch Consultant for ProPitch, a role which saw him jetting around the world working on pitches at events such as the Champions’ League, the African Cup of Nations, the Club World Cup and the Asian Cup.

It was while travelling between two countries in his ProPitch role that he saw the advert for the Twickenham Head Groundsman job and decided to throw his hat in the ring.

“My time at ProPitch pushed me right out of my comfort zone and put me in places where I had to deliver pitches where there weren’t the resources, and there was often a language barrier.

It was a very good test for me as a manager and as a groundsman.

“I must also pay tribute to Dean Gilasbey, who was there to guide me in many of the scenarios we dealt with and how to deal with different climates and countries,” explained Jim.

Better with a bit of Buttar...

The opportunity to work with the RFU at such a magnificent national stadium as Twickenham came at a time when was spending more time away from his wife and three young children than he was at home.

As you can imagine the interview process was rigorous and demanding, while his opportunity to view the pitch itself was limited as the stadium was being prepared for a Metallica concert!

“The whole process was how I expected it would be for an elite sporting organisation – very stringent, very thorough, with lots and lots of queries and questions. Afterward there were a million things going through my mind, and I must admit, a little self doubt. As usual I sought counsel from my mentor, my Dad, who I can always rely on for sound advice.

“That advice and being at an age now when I think that’s done, park it and see what happens, saw me through and it worked out,” he revealed.

He has already prepared the pitch for a Barbarians verses Fiji match and, as we talked, he was a couple of days away from the Varsity Match. Overall, however, he has had a good chance to bed in before the start of the Six Nations.

“Because I started in a World Cup year there were no Autumn Internationals, so it’s given me time to get up to speed with policies and meeting all the different teams of people who work for the RFU. I am slowing starting to remember names now.”

Having majored in football for most of his career a move into the oval ball game presents a different set of challenges.

But he is confident that while there are differences, it is fundamentally about plant health.

“With hybrid reinforcement the grass plant for rugby are very similar to football and they are only to move so far before they able to get traction, even during scrummaging, so the aim for a rugby groundsman is the same as every other groundsman – make sure the turf is as healthy as it can possibly be,” explained Jim, who added that it was a case of working to deal with the stress of sports being played on the pitch, and in the stadium environment “We have an array of products we can use to pre-condition the pitch and help it recover as quickly as possible while the introduction of stadium lighting rigs which came out in 20052006 has been a real game changer.

There was a learning curve with something so new but in the last three or four years everyone has got to the point where we understand what they can do and how to get them to work at their best – some underestimate what they can do and others overestimate.

It was trial and error for a few years,” said Jim, who will be working with the rigs of Dutch company, SGL.

Better with a bit of Buttar...

Jim is an advocate of pitch performance data and using the evidence provided to develop the best maintenance practices for the pitch and to help other stakeholders understand with data to measure pitch performance.

“There are many variables, the most obvious one being the weather, which we can’t do anything about, but we can gain a bit of control over other variables and by checking data and tweaking practices where necessary we say that we’ve done everything possible to make the playing surface as good as it can be.”

Although born in Kendal, Jim is very much a Northamptonshire lad, commuting home daily when he was at Tottenham and it is something he will continue to do in his new role.

“It gives me time to catch up with my voicemails and make my phone calls. I like it where we live, it’s, nice, quiet and out of the way.”

As a youngster, career wise, it was toss-up between a Governmentsponsored groundsmanship apprenticeship and following his father into the Weetabix company on an engineering apprenticeship. The popular breakfast cereal manufacturer missed out and groundsmanship gained a new recruit. The thought of working in sports and being outside were the big attractions for me and making my decision And so it was a week before his 17th birthday he started at Kimbolton School, in Cambridgeshire, which combined with day release to Moulton College, in Northampton, to give him a solid start in the industry.

“I absolutely loved Kimbolton. I was working predominately on cricket and athletics, and I spent three and a half years there during which time I completed my Level 2 and started my Level 3. Then an opportunity came up at Rushden and Diamonds Football Club and I went in as an Assistant Groundsman. Three years later I was Grounds Manager. I was 22. My then boss had left to go down to Tottenham Hotspur and when a position came up there, I went for the job.

“I was 23 and thought it was now or never! I did have the option to stay but it was a chance to go and work at the very top end and it was a good time for me to go.”

That was in 2003 and by 2005 he was Stadium Head Groundsman, a position he held until 2017 when White Hart Lane closed.

He holds his first bosses in extremely high esteem and still uses the qualities he saw in them as part of his own skills’ package.

Better with a bit of Buttar...

“The Head Groundsman at Kimbolton was Andy Trainell and he was one of those guys who showed me what it took to deliver good surfaces. You have to work hard and if you think it’s not good enough then the likelihood is that it won’t be good enough. He was of the work hard, play hard mentality.

“Ray Bailey, Head Groundsman at Rushden and Diamonds, was a very laid back character, but he showed me that if things were starting to go wrong, just how quickly and easy it was to fix. Just because it doesn’t look good now doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to be looking good when we need it to look good.

“I was Deputy Head groundsman to Paul Knowles. We made a very good team and really strived to produce the best surfaces we could with the resources we had. I learnt what it took to work as a team, we still talk weekly as friends, he’s really great guy.

“Those were the cherry picks that I took for those two guys,” revealed Jim.

Other motivating driving forces over the last decade have been provided by his peers.

“There has been a generation of groundsmen who have really pushed things along and you really want to be a part of that. They are all delivering surfaces which are the envy of the world. That is what gives us the hunger to strive and keep going.”

Jim is relishing his new role and getting the pitch into the best possible condition for the Six Nations.

Better with a bit of Buttar...

Frustratingly, he has to wait for the third series of matches until that first home fixture, then has a couple of weeks to prepare for the visit of Wales.

He has touched base, via twitter, with his fellow Six Nations comrades-inarms and is looking forward to meeting up with Jim Dawson (Murrayfield), Lee Evans (Principality), Majella Smyth (Aviva) and Tony Stones (Stade de France) once engagement commences.

Before that, and a couple of weeks after we spoke, he had a double header on December 28 with Harlequins playing Leicester Tigers followed immediately by a ladies’ match. It might seem that it’s not much of a Christmas break but, coming from the congested Christmas football schedule, Jim is happy to accept his own festive assignment.

It is exciting times ahead for Jim Buttar and Turf Matters wishes him, and the rest of the grounds team, Deputy Ian Ayling and Assistant Andy Muir, all the very best for the future.

Just one thing please, Jim, give us a bit of a hand with the intro next time!

Don’t score an own goal with your borehole

Don’t score an own goal with your borehole: Last November Norwich City Football Club was named joint fifth in a sustainability league table of all 20 Premier League clubs. 

The table was compiled by BBC Sport, working with the United Nations-backed Sport Positive Summit, and one of the reasons for the club’s success was the fact its Carrow Road pitch is watered via a borehole and the training ground recycles the water from the pitches.

Don’t score an own goal with your borehole

The reality is that many football clubs and other sports facilities, such as golf courses and racecourses, rely on boreholes for the critical irrigation of their sports turf.

Having your own private water supply delivers guaranteed water delivery and keeps costs down, but it also comes with the need to meet certain goals, says Mike Deed, Managing Director of Geoquip Water Solutions, experts in borehole management.

“A lot of the big football clubs have several wells which provide water to their network of training pitches and main ground,” he said.

“It is absolutely essential that playing surfaces are irrigated to the best possible standard and remain in tip top condition throughout the season. If water quality or quantity is affected by borehole problems, then the impact can be wide-ranging.

“Investing in a borehole is a significant capital investment, but given the cost of mains water and the fact that a typical borehole will be expected to deliver a return on investment in less than four years, it can also be very worthwhile – providing you take good care of it.”

The trick, he says, is to make sure that an ongoing monitoring and maintenance programme is built in from day one.

“All too often, borehole owners take a ‘fit and forget’ approach in that they fit the borehole and expect it to continue delivering maximum yield without any proactive maintenance.

“In football terms, it would be like fielding your best team for every single match without addressing their physical or mental needs or considering how they might be able to keep delivering their best without any care or attention.”

Typical borehole problems are likely to include reduced yield, a change in the quality of water and/ or a drop in water pressure.

All three can be caused by contamination, such as iron-related bacteria, iron oxide, manganese oxide and calcium carbonate deposits affecting the pumps, pipes and motors.

Don’t score an own goal with your borehole

If too much iron in the water is allowed to build up, it can cause brown staining on hard and soft landscaping and infrastructure (such as buildings), another reason why boreholes need to be regularly treated.

Other problems will include the encrustation of casings and pipes, clogging of filters – preventing the free entry of groundwater, and potential damage to the borehole wall or pumping equipment.

A monitoring and telemetry programme, with the installation of bespoke panels and dashboards, enables remote data collection from each borehole, allowing the user to see issues such as draw down, water pressure, general temperature and also the temperature of the motor.

Triggers and alarm points can be added to raise alerts when faults or particular combinations of problems arise, enabling early preventive action to take place.

Downhole cameras also provide a bird’s eye view into the heart of the borehole, allowing images to be taken and, from there, essential decisions regarding maintenance can be taken before the condition of the turf is potentially impacted by poor water quality.

Geoquip works with a number of partners, including Nicholls Boreholes, which recently helped one Premiership club struggling with dwindling yields from its two existing wells.

After site visits and a consultation process, the Nicholls team recommended a BoreSaver Ultra C Pro treatment solution, which now includes a biodegradable marker to guarantee that no chemical residue is left in the water.

A special system was put in place to capture the iron for licensed disposal and the clean water was discharged through the club’s drainage system without fear of causing any blockage or contamination.

As a result, both the club and the Nicholls’ team saw an immediate increase in yield and are now considering a regular treatment plan.

STRIving for success

STRIving for success: Scott MacCallum returned to an old haunt to learn about the phenomenal transformation that has taken place at the STRI.

You invariably get a nice warm feeling when you return somewhere that you haven’t been to in some time. It might be a holiday destination, a pub in one of your old haunts, or just the town where you grew up.

STRIving for success

For me, the most recent example of this, and forgive me if this sounds a little geeky, was the STRI in Bingley, West Yorkshire. It must have been at least 15 years since I last visited, but driving up through the country park and seeing those unassuming looking offices set behind a wall brought back some lovely memories.

That there was a specially-reserved parking space for Turf Matters made it all the more special.

Once I was inside, however, it became apparent that while everything appeared to be extremely similar to what I’d seen a decade and a half before the STRI is now a very different animal.

What was once the go-to body for commercial testing of grass varieties, chemicals and the like; the body, which boasted state-of-theart research laboratories producing ground-breaking innovation, and whose agronomists where to goto guys for golf clubs and sports facilities throughout the land, now has so many more strings to its bow.

Indeed, what was once a hardearned reputation which opened doors UK-wide is now a body with a worldwide reputation, and one which has contributed to the success of some of the biggest sporting events on the planet.

One man who has been with the Institute throughout this remarkable metamorphosis is Richard Stuttart, who joined the STRI in 2003 as a Pesticide Trials Controller straight from university and rose to his current position as Head of Consultancy.

STRIving for success

“You can track the change back to not long before the end of the 2000s, when we were approached by FIFA to assist them with the World Cup
in South Africa. It’s not something which we had done before, but we were brought in because the pitches due to be used for the World Cup were struggling and not at the level they should have been. It was a serious problem,” explained Richard, who also sits on the Institute’s Executive Management Team.

The STRI was brought in with a mere 100 days to go before the start of what proved to be a vibrant and exciting World Cup. If you remember, the assault on the eardrums from the vuluzelas was a constant reminder that this particular World Cup was the first to be held on the African continent.

However, had the STRI not become involved, it may not have been the ringing in our ears for which the 2010 World Cup would have been remembered, but the less than satisfactory playing surfaces.

“Standards are massively variable all over the world so that’s why FIFA engaged us. We assessed all the venues and put management strategies in place to bring them up to speed,” said Richard, adding that it was not just for all for all the main pitches but all the training pitches as well.

It was a mighty task, made all the more so by the fact that in some instances there was only a matter of weeks in which to affect an improvement, but making a success of what was perhaps not Mission Impossible but more Mission Extremely Difficult was what put the STRI on the world map.

“A door had been opened and it was just the kind of big step which allowed us to become involved with other worldwide sporting bodies.”

And there is none larger that the Olympics, and with London 2012 just around the corner it was another huge opportunity for the STRI to strut its stuff on the world stage.

“It was another big turning point for us as we were engaged by the London Organising Committee to design and build the Equestrian track in Greenwich Park. This was a massive change for us as it meant we were also involved in the planning of the project.”

Managed by another man in Lee Penrose, who has risen through the ranks at the STRI, from work experience placement to become Group Director, the Institute was the principle contractor in building the track, then running it through the Olympics themselves, and then spent three years reinstating the park for its post-Olympic life.

“The park ended up in better condition than it started, which was a big scoop for us,” recalled Richard.

“Being involved in events like the World Cup and the Olympics have brought it to where we are right now and it is thanks to people like Lee, who thought outside the box with regard to the Greenwich Park project, which has got us to the stage where we now have an organisation and people with the skill sets to make these big steps forward.”

The portfolio of services and skills available through the STRI now is truly extensive – Research & Development, Sports Surfaces Design & Construction, Product Testing & Material Analysis, Stadia Pitch Design and Management, Agronomy & Ecology, Sportsturf Consultancy, Planning, Drainage & Irrigation, Aviation, Environment, Green Spaces and Training.

It is so much wider than the previous incarnation of the Institute and not only has the offering to the client become much greater the global reach has developed as well.

The STRI now has bases in Brisbane and Melbourne in Australia as well as Qatar, China and Hong Kong and the name Sports Turf Research Institute is known and
revered everywhere sport is played.

Indeed there are no real equivalents anywhere else.

“There are a number of smaller organisations, and some US universitybased Institutes but they don’t tend to have the range of staff under one roof which we have here. Having been established since 1929 the experts we have gathered under one roof is quite exceptional. Some of those staff have been here for a long time,” said Richard.

STRIving for success

As the man who leads the consultancy department, which offers an A-Z, start to finish service, of Plan – Design – Build – Operate Richard is well place to talk about current requirements for any new or renovation projects and what is being worked on at present.

“I’ve got a staff of five. We have just appointed a higher level Planning Environment Manager and the team has the capability of producing Environmental Impact Assessments, within which we have associates we can bring in to assess the archaeological, cultural heritage, traffic and transport elements of an EIA.

“The fact that we can provide the whole package, that plan, design, build and operate, is where we have our USP and we are able to achieve planning permissions for golf courses and sporting facilities, in challenging environments which is extremely valuable as golf courses are often planned for designated or protected land sites,” said Richard.

The build side has become more significant to the STRI since they established the construction company Carrick Sport, based out of Cumbernauld in Scotland. The company was founded in 2018 and has already been responsible or the recently built pitch at Tynecastle, home of Hearts.

One of the most exciting projects currently underway is in Saudi Arabia for the Riyahd Equestrian Club. The world’s richest horse racing event is being held there on February 29, 2020, and the STRI have been commissioned to covert the allweather track into a grass track.

“We have had staff working over there for some time and, as it is the Saudi winter, the track is being sown out with cool weather grasses. It is another very exciting project for us.”

While the STRI’s worldwide reputation grows at apace the traditional work in the laboratories and on the testing plots continues to be carried out. Indeed, the annual STRI seed booklet remains a must read for everyone in the industry.

Mark Ferguson is one of STRI’s Research Managers and also the Institute’s Mr Wimbledon, spending
time at the All England Club offering agronomic advice and taking court performance measurements to ensure that Neil Stubley has all the data he requires to produce pristine surfaces for the most important tennis event of the year.

STRIving for success

Mark was keen to show me some of the innovative work that is being carried out in addition to the regular patchwork of testing plots for varieties and grass species.

Green roof technology is being trialled which obviously has potential environmental benefits which stretch far beyond the sports’ brief more
associated with the Institute.

“There are a lot of green roofs now within urban landscape developments as they are required to meet certain requirements. What we are doing here helps them meet those requirements. They look good and tick an awful lot of boxes,” explained Mark.

Another product being tested on the extensive site is Permavoid, a product which interested the STRI so much that they took an interest in the company.

“Permavoid is a plastic layer which can replace the gravel banding within a rootzone. It is a really good product and can be placed under any construction whatsoever. It’s been in Holland for years and we think that most water directives or regulations for the building of new sports surfaces will be required to use this to hold water or take water away. You can also put a wick in it to draw moisture up and act as sub surface irrigation,” explained Mark.

It goes to show that while the STRI’s horizons are wider than ever, research is still at the core of the company and continues to produce great results.

I certainly hope that it won’t be 15 years until I return to Bingley but I am sure that however short the break is between this and my next visit there will be more change and more exciting work to discuss.

I just hope that there will still be my reserved Turf Matters parking space.

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


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.”