Posts

Getting to the roots of sustainability

Getting to the roots of sustainability: Back in April, users of ‘turf Twitter’ bore witness to the effect extreme weather has on the sports turf industry.

A combination of 22 days of ground frost, record levels of sunshine and the fourth driest April on record made the preparing playing surfaces exceptionally challenging. Predictably, May was a washout with relentless heavy rain falling across most of the country.

Getting to the roots of sustainability

Getting to the roots of sustainability

Weather extremes add additional pressures and keep sustainability and climate change issues high on the industry’s agenda. The most commonly described approach to sustainability in turfgrass management is a reduction in inputs, such as fertiliser, fungicides and water, but grass breeders at Barenbrug have given turf managers the ability to underpin their sustainability strategy with Sustainable Grass Technology.

The result of years of specialist breeding, significant investment from the global leader in turfgrass seed production, and numerous independent and in-house trials, grasses in SGT blends have been bred to excel in one or more of four key areas of research;

  • nitrogen use efficiency to reduce fertiliser use and cost
  • drought tolerance to increase survival and reduce the need for irrigation in stress periods
  • increased disease tolerance to reduce fungicide use
  • lower clippings yield to reduce mowing frequency, labour and fuel consumption

“Our breeders had the foresight to anticipate the industry’s needs. These grasses have, in some instances, been decades in the making,” explained Dr David Greenshields, Barenbrug UK’s Amenity Commercial Manager.

“Our aim is to give turf managers all the desirable characteristics that help them meet the demands of the modern game, with minimal inputs, and for surfaces to retain their health, vibrancy and resilience under extreme conditions, such as drought or heavy wear. For turf managers looking to reduce their inputs and all the associated costs without compromising turf quality, using grasses specifically bred for that purpose and proven through independent testing is the ideal starting point.”

SGT’s breeding objectives led to the development of Barprium, a perennial ryegrass cultivar that has set a new benchmark for nitrogen efficiency.

Trials conducted at the STRI from 2016 to 2018 focused on identifying which perennial ryegrass varieties use lower levels of nitrogen most efficiently to deliver acceptable turf quality.

It compared the performance of seven of Barenbrug’s existing high performing perennial ryegrass cultivars against the new cultivar.

When low levels of nitrogen were applied to all cultivars, all performed to a good standard throughout the trials, but Barprium showed greater quality and coverage, even with a 50% nitrogen input. The other seven cultivars all ranked highly in the BSPB Turfgrass Seed Listings, making Barprium’s performance even more impressive.

Strong summer colour in Barprium has also proved an asset to the blend for low input golf fairways.

“SGT Rye Fairway is a great example of our global breeding and trials resource delivering excellent regional solutions. The fi ne fescue cultivars in the mix were selected for their sustainable performance characteristics,” explained David.

“Hardtop hard fescue and Barjessica strong creeping red fescue performed particularly well in periods of heat and drought.

Data from fi ne fescue performance trials conducted in 2018 showed that turf quality of hard fescue was unrivalled during the intense heat and drought of a memorable summer, and the recovery capacity of Barjessica was exceptional. The selected cultivars also provide excellent resistance to Red Thread – perfect for low nutrition fairways.”

David is urging Course Managers to consider the significant benefits of hard fescue on fairways.

“The summer of 2018 bought into sharp focus the situation turf managers face during lengthy periods without rainfall. Hard fescue has been used successfully on the continent, in the US and in Australia where summers are hotter and drier than ‘typical’ ones in the UK.

“It is the default species where there is no irrigation, which demonstrates its natural drought tolerance. It is also resilient and more nitrogen efficient than red fescue, and modern cultivars produce high quality turf.

“It currently makes up 50% and 20% of our two SGT mixtures, and I believe it will play a greater role in the long-term management of medium-fi ne turf with low maintenance requirements.

For new constructions and full renovations, sustainability starts with sowing the right cultivars. For established turf, overseeding with these new cultivars can enable the sward to adapt over time to provide additional resilience when and where it’s needed most.”

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.