Can sand dressing provide a solution to worm casts?

Can sand dressing provide a solution to worm casts?: Mansfield Sand has revealed that an increasing number of sports turf mangers are relying on a sand dressing as a solution to earthworm casting.

“After over three decades of greenkeeping and a few years of winter sports turf management, I am fully aware of the frustration caused by worm casts,” said Gary Cunningham, Football & Golf Sales Representative for Mansfield Sand.

Can sand dressing provide a solution to worm casts?

Can sand dressing provide a solution to worm casts?

“Whilst most earthworm activity goes unnoticed and has a role to play in soil management, its activity can have a detrimental impact on managed amenity grass surfaces. Besides being unsightly, it can lead to the deterioration in playing surfaces – allowing weed infestation, less resistance to turf disease and damage to mowing equipment. All of these inevitably also lead to increased management costs.”

Historically, surface casting was controlled by various chemical solutions. However, over recent years these options have been withdrawn from the market due to environmental protection concerns. This has left turf managers looking for alternative solutions to an age-old inconvenience.

There are several great articles and studies which have been published, and in each situation, sand dressing is shown to supress casting worm activity to some extent on managed areas.

Whilst this is not a quick fix and does depend on several factors such as local climate, soil temperature and time of year, what is apparent is that a sustained programme of sand dressing problem areas does reduce casting worm activity. In turn, casts become a sandier loam which can be easily dispersed without any smearing. This will also lessen the material build-up and not cause any issues with mowing equipment.

Mansfield Sand provides two well-known grades of silica sand to the sports market, MM35 and MM40 – which are sourced directly from the company’s Two Oaks quarry in Mansfield.

“Regular topdressing with MM35 or MM40 can help to manage casting worm activity,” continued Gary. “It can certainly help to make it easier once you build up the level of sand in the rootzone.

“Furthermore, using the right grade of high-quality sand is vital to the overall health and performance of a managed sports surface. Therefore, sports facilities that regularly apply sand dressings as part of their management programme, benefit from improved rootzones leading to better drainage and plant health.

“We may never be able to supress casting earthworm activity completely, but more and more turf managers are significantly reducing them by topdressing with sand.”

From winter sports pitches, golf courses, bowling greens and all amenity turf areas – Mansfield Sand has a solution for all, and the products have long been relied upon at stadium and training ground facilities; championship golf courses and world class show jumping arenas.

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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.”

How Golf Course Can Save Bees

How Golf Course Can Save Bees: The putting greens are perfectly smooth, every blade of grass is polished and preened to perfection. No stray clumps of moss or random dandelion leaf to cause even the slightest bump.

Bunkers of fine sand dazzle under the Georgia sun. The crystal-clear water sparkles. Even Augusta National Golf Club’s fairways’ rough edges would put most ordinary folks’ gardens to shame.

How Golf Course Can Save Bees

The clock is ticking down to this year’s US Masters tournament, when the lovingly manicured Augusta course almost overshadows the golf and televised HD action leaves armchair players dreaming of putting on the smoothest of greens at one of the world’s most beautiful courses.

It is also when greenkeepers at Scotland’s 550-plus golf courses brace themselves for the annual Augusta fallout from golfers demanding to know why their course isn’t as perfectly polished.

“It’s the ‘Augusta effect’,” says Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Geo Foundation, which works with courses around the world to help them become more in tune in nature and more sustainable.

“Golfers watch the Masters and think their local golf course should look like that. And that can put pressure on greenkeepers to meet these aspirations and increased demands.”

At Augusta, the green staff often stress how the former indigo plantation’s smooth turf and the perfect blooms of the dogwoods and azaleas are largely thanks to good irrigation, perfect timing and Mother Nature.

However, golf has been in a long battle with environmentalists who argue pesticides, fertilisers, heavy use of water and intensive landscaping means golf courses are no more than overworked “green deserts”.

With water resources under pressure from climate change and rising populations, along with mounting concern over the loss of bees, butterflies and other pollinators and the impact on food production, golf is having to strike the balance between raising its environmental score and meeting players’ ever-rising expectations.

“Golf in Scotland is recognised as one of the most environmental and sustainable in the world,” insists Smith, whose organisation offers a certification scheme and green flags for courses which meet environmental and sustainability targets.

“One challenge is biodiversity and habitat, the use of water, fertilisers and pesticides. Another is achieving zero waste to landfill and avoiding or recycling waste.”

At St Andrews’ famous links courses, wildflowers nod in the breeze in fairway buffer zones to help attract pollinating insects, and bee hives have been introduced. Bird boxes and bird feeders are dotted around, and there are sheep grazing on the fringes of the Castle Course.

Last summer, a “bug hotel” for beetles, centipedes and spiders popped up near the seventh hole of the Old Course and at the Jubilee greenkeeping sheds. Golfers who had paid handsomely to play the Old Course even had to avoid the famous Hell Bunker when at least 20 sand martins moved in after struggling to find nesting space in the weed-clogged West Sands dunes.

A telegraph pole at the Castle Course became a nest for a pair of kestrels who obliged by producing a chick, and greenkeepers have worked with RSPB Scotland to encourage corn buntings by laying grain for them to eat and planting wildflowers for food and shelter.

Running alongside is a determined effort to minimise the use of pesticides, ease back on fertiliser and rethink water, energy and general waste.

All of which is particularly important in light of a troubling report from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire, which warned climate change, habitat loss and pesticides had led to widespread losses of wild bees and hoverflies, posing a potential future threat to agriculture.

“Everything we do, we try to do it so we minimise any impact,” says Jon Wood, course manager at the Castle Course. “We’re not using as much pesticide or fertiliser, we’re looking at best practices for waste management.”

While St Andrews Links Trust has been working with agriculture company Syngenta to introduce its biodiversity programme Operation Pollinator, which encourages bee and butterfly-friendly measures at golf courses and farms, clubs around the country are taking steps to raise standards.

Royal Dornock Golf Club used spoil from old buildings as base material and recycled wood and timber for a new shed. Designed to absorb the heat of the sun, the building features self-sustainable LED lighting and solar-heated water, while electric vehicles have been introduced to the fleet.

Outside, a new water feature is home to waterlilies, bulrushes, cattail, heron, moorhen, dragonfly, frogs, newts and insects.

At Trump Turnberry’s Ailsa course, old sleepers have been used to rebuild the Ayrshire Coastal Path, while at Dundonald Links in Troon, environmental work has encouraged small blue butterflies to return to the area.

And in East Lothian, Gullane Golf Club’s green waste is collected for compost, and wetland habitats created to increase biodiversity.

At Fairmont St Andrews, head greenkeeper John Mitchell, has undertaken a beekeeping course and overseen the planting of a “bee lawn” the size of a football pitch in front of the hotel to attract more pollinators. “It helps make people more aware of what we’re doing here because it’s very visual,” he says. “Hopefully by the end of this year we will have our own honey.”

Caroline Hedley, Scottish Golf’s environment manager, says the costs of coping with climate change-related issues such as drainage, drought and water charges are on greenkeepers’ minds.

“Greenkeepers are very keen and very attracted to more sustainable courses,” she says. “That’s from Open venues to even small clubs. They are being more sustainable, frugal and efficient.”

Golf management lecturer Ian Butcher teaches the next generation of greenkeepers at Scotland’s Rural College’s Elmwood campus in Fife, where students recently used the college’s 18-hole golf course as a design template for a course of the future designed around ecological, environmental and sustainability issues.

He says: “We need to make sure that students are aware of water management, wildlife and habitat management, as well as aspects that can enhance the location rather than manicure it.

“Golf is in a process of evolution, not least in working with nature rather than against it.

“There’s a trend in golf industry to bring courses back to a more natural state,” he adds. “The millennial generation want golf to be sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

A crucial element, he adds, involves managing the expectations of golfers weaned on television championship courses, and reminding them that a more “hands off” approach means they may share their round with diseased turf, occasional weeds and more wildlife.

“Less or no pesticides means you will get some diseases,” adds Butcher. “There needs to be a threshold of tolerance. It’s natural and it’s not going to affect the game.

“Even Augusta can’t be in tournament condition all the time.”

The US Masters begins on Thursday with the final round a week today. British hopes rest with Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. Patrick Reed defends.

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Wimbledon Can Cope With Heat

Wimbledon Can Cope With Heat: Wimbledon’s head groundsman Neil Stubley has denied the grass is longer at the All England Club this year and is confident the courts can handle the heat.

Rafael Nadal said on Saturday he thought the grass was longer than in previous years but Stubley, the head of courts and horticulture, said: “Still 8mm, that’s the height we’ve played for many years now and it’s exactly the same this year.”

Wimbledon Can Cope With Heat

Last year the state of the courts during a hot first week of play was criticised by a number of players, with France’s Kristina Mladenovic branding them dangerous.

With temperatures again soaring into the high 20s and potentially above, Stubley knows there could be complaints again, but is not unduly worried.

He said: “It’s always in the back of your mind. If we have a spike in temperature then the potential risk that may come with that.

“This year compared to last year we’re about three or four degrees lower. With perennial rye grass, the upper ceiling is 28, 29 degrees, once you go above that the plant naturally will start to stress because it’s a living surface.

“At the moment we’re at that top level but because we can afford to get the irrigation on in the evenings because we’ve got nice weather, at the moment we’re nicely in control.

“We’re constantly monitoring the forecasts and the forecasts are looking like this for next week. We’re very happy with where we are.”

Stubley refuted allegations last year that the courts were not in as good condition and continues to insist the issue was purely cosmetic.

He said: “The courts were still wearing the same, it’s just that the plant was under stress and it just looked slightly different.

“But all of the data we were getting back during the championships was telling us they were exactly where they needed to be.

“We’ve stuck with the same grasses, we’re doing the same processes. This year we’ve been fortunate that we’ve had no disruptions at all in the practice week, we’ve had nine full days of practice, which for the tournament and the players is really good.”

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Can The MLS Be World-Class On 3G?

Can The MLS Be World-Class On 3G?: Reliably unconventional, Zlatan Ibrahimovic spurned a $100m offer from China in order to take a $1.5m-per-year offer from the Los Angeles Galaxy, according to Sports Illustrated. But will the striker be eccentric enough to turn up for an away game against the New England Revolution?

After his matchwinning debut in last Saturday’s Los Angeles derby – the most deranged 90 minutes in MLS history – everyone wants to see the Swede play.
Still, the 36-year-old has recently returned from a serious knee injury, so Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy’s coaching staff will have judgment calls to make later in the season as the league’s most famous name tries to stay healthy. The Galaxy have four MLS fixtures on artificial turf scheduled between June and October (though Ibrahimovic may yet  play at this summer’s World Cup). Fearing injury, some veteran stars have skipped games on artificial surfaces over the years, dealing blows to MLS’s reputation.

Can A League Be World-Class On 3G?

The only time Thierry Henry played on the widely-reviled artificial turf of Gillette Stadium, the home of the Revolution, was a play-off game in 2014 that turned out to be the last match of his career. Didier Drogba also sought to avoid fake grass. David Beckham, usually so emollient in interviews, was an anti-turf absolutist: “Every game, every team should have grass, without a doubt,” he told reporters in 2007.

We wait to see whether a man who once slammed France merely because he thought a referee had a bad game will have any thoughts to share on a subject that tends to provoke strong emotions.

The league added to its synthetic collection last year when Atlanta and Minnesota  – who face off last Saturday – joined Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and New England. (Minnesota’s permanent home, set to open next year, will have grass).

This clearly matters to the players. An ESPN anonymous survey of current MLS members published last month asked whether an artificial surface would influence a player’s decision to join a team: 63% said yes. Perhaps not unrelated, another question asked them to name the toughest place to play in MLS and four of the top eight answers were teams with artificial turf.

Turf wars are commonplace in North America. Earlier this month the cost of laying temporary grass at BC Place was reportedly among the factors that caused Vancouver to withdraw from contention as a host city for the 2026 World Cup bid, while the use of artificial fields at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada was the subject of failed legal action.

True or not, artificial fields are perceived to increase injury risk and enhance home advantage in a league in which road results are notoriously poor. They are freighted with memories of the North American Soccer League’s dire surfaces, and away from Portland, where complex factors influence the choice, are a sign of MLS’s subservience to American football in shared venues.

Pitch variations invite us to define what counts as “authentic”: a perennial concern for MLS, which is adolescent and distinctive yet obsessed with tradition and how it stacks up against more established leagues. In a quest for instant credibility, newborn franchises such as Atlanta and Minnesota drape themselves in Anglicized affectations such as “United” and “Football Club”. The branding glances towards England where, as the Premier League’s rules tersely state: “No League Match shall be played on an Artificial Surface”. It’s an homage to the kind of Euro superclubs who insist on temporary grass pitches being installed over artificial surfaces when they visit the US on summer tours.

Like shoppers at an urban farmers market, fans instinctively prefer organic to genetically-modified ingredients. Still, turf versus grass is habitually presented as a binary opposition when the reality is more nuanced. Enhanced hybrid surfaces where artificial fibres act to strengthen the natural grass are ubiquitous in England’s top-flight. The expectation of competitive imbalance on turf, one 2016 study found, does not reflect the truth.

A good artificial surface may play truer than a lousy natural one and technology is far advanced from the “Astroturf burn” eras, when players who attempted sliding tackles in shorts often looked like they’d just spent 90 minutes in the company of an arsonist. As the Portland Timbers owner, Merritt Paulson, told FourFourTwo last year: “There is a massive difference between the quality of turf fields that you can host a soccer game on, just like there is a very big difference on the quality of a grass pitch for a game.”

And the argument that artificial turf is only for unserious soccer nations is hard to sustain given its presence in Mexico and France in recent years, while in 2016-17, one-third of the Eredivisie’s teams had it (which prompted a revolt from the Dutch players’ union).

For Wilmer Cabrera, the Houston Dynamo head coach, artifice is just another hill to climb in MLS’ undulating landscape. “Here in MLS you have to play on turf and you have to play on grass, you have to travel 5,000 miles back and forth, you have to play in humidity or cold weather, snow or wind,” he said. “Pounding on [an artificial] surface it’s gonna get you more tired, the muscles are going to suffer a little bit more and the joints, but we don’t make any kind of excuses.” Cabrera’s team beat the Timbers 2-1 at Providence Park in last year’s playoffs before losing 3-0 to the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field in the Western Conference finals.

Houston is arguably the cradle of fake grass, since the Astros baseball team popularised it by using AstroTurf in the Astrodome in the 1960s. Despite the city’s brutal summer weather and the multiple teams that use BBVA Compass Stadium, the Dynamo play on grass that, by last year’s postseason, was so badly cut up that it looked like the field had hosted a tunneling contest for moles.

No stranger to the treatment room, Philippe Senderos would have felt wary about joining Houston if their pitch was plastic. “I think knowing that the Houston Dynamo play on grass was definitely a factor [in me joining the club]. If it would had been on turf I would have had to think about it a little bit more,” he said.

Standing on the Dynamo’s verdant practice field, Andrew Wenger took a pragmatic view. “There’s a lot of aspects that goes into making, or considering, a league the best in the world and that’s probably a very small, minute effect,” the veteran attacker said. “Would you rather have everything be on grass? Yes. But is playing in the climate of North America different from other places in the world? That’s also true. So how do you balance all these balls in the air, and making it the best but also dealing with what we’re presented? That’s a big question.”

Looking to the medium- and long-term, extreme weather from climate change may complicate the use of grass pitches in some parts of the continent, while it’s logical to expect that artificial surfaces will continue to improve, blurring the distinction between synthetic and natural. MLS may never be all-grass, and one day, long after Ibrahimovic is gone, maybe that won’t matter.

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