Expectations in the turfgrass industry have changed. It does not matter whether it is golf, bowls, football or rugby, average is no longer acceptable. Players want the best surface or they will take their game somewhere else. At the same time, clubs and councils are under financial pressure.
Using the most appropriate seed, fertilisers and other turf consumables can help, but there would be no new products without research and development. Many companies work with the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) in Bingley, Yorkshire.
Each year for the past six years, STRI and its partners have shared news of some of the most innovative products and techniques being tested by the research team.
This year the STRI research open days were attended by more than 200 turf managers, all keen to take a look at products in development and to hear about exciting new ways of using existing products.
Among current trials, STRI is investigating and trialling the SISgrass reinforced natural turf system, SWDsystems’ temporary pitches, Wiedenmann’s Core Recycler and Terra Spike machines and Bayer’s Phytobac system for the safe disposal of plant-protection products. But on the consumables side there was news of wetting agents and thatch-digesting enzymes as well as integrated turf management using dew dispersants, fungicides and iron.
Pot trials: Qualibra (right) showed greater level of germination and better coverage
New research into Syngenta’s Qualibra wetting agent, which has the best attributes of both penetrant-type (water moving) and polymer-type (water holding) products, shows capability to help turf managers deliver consistently better turf surfaces from seeding and right through the season.
Latest trials at STRI indicate that germination and establishment of turf seedlings could be enhanced by the use of Qualibra before or at the time of renovation. The studies looked at the effects of hydrophobic root zones on seedling establishment and clearly showed that all grass species tested germinated faster and established stronger with Qualibra treatments.
The pot-based trial used commercial sports turf seed of ryegrass, fescue and bentgrass species. Seed was sown into a root zone sprayed with different rates of Qualibra at either five days before sowing or at the time of sowing and compared to sowings made into untreated root zone.
"Germination speed of ryegrass was up to 250 per cent greater, with 100 per cent better coverage 49 days after sowing," explains Syngenta technical services manager Marcela Munoz. "Fescue achieved 200 per cent greater coverage over the same period.
Applying five days before sowing and at half rate was not so effective because there was not so much contact with the seed. "In untreated pots the majority of seeds did not germinate or if they did germinate the resulting plants did not tiller and spread as much. The trial also showed prolonged benefits from higher Qualibra application rates."
Results are now being confirmed in practical golf course and sports pitch applications. In another study, STRI demonstrated that Qualibra enables soil to hold sufficient moisture to optimise turf health and playability but without retaining excess water that could risk creating soft surfaces or promote the build-up of thatch often associated with polymer-only wetting agents.
In a field trial, some plants were stressed and the moisture kept below 25 per cent by covering the plots. Applications of standard wetting agents and of Qualibra at 20 litres per hectare were made and compared to untreated plots. The trials showed that under drought conditions Qualibra retained surface hardness within plus/minus six per cent throughout the summer, compared to 22 per cent variability on untreated turf. "
Applied separately, polymer and penetrant wetting agents created greater inconsistency," says Syngenta business manager Daniel Lightfoot. Crucially, under an intensive irrigation programme Qualibra-treated plots still maintained surface hardness.
Thatch layer: problem for turf managers
STRI and Farmura, an Aquatrols company, are studying the biodegradation of organic matter and thatch using a novel enzyme system. Thatch is a major problem for turfgrass managers.
It accumulates because more biomass is produced than is degraded. A range of equipment is available for the mechanical and cultural removal of thatch but it tends to be labour-intensive, costly and can be disruptive to play. There are various products on the market, many based on cellulose and hemicellulose degrading enzymes.
Most are limited in their efficacy because plant cell walls contain lignin, which is resistant to microbial degradation.
However, enzymes that preferentially degrade lignin offer the potential of enhancing the rate of organic matter degradation and hence thatch reduction and elimination. The understanding behind this study is that, applied in concentrated form, these ligninolytic enzymes will degrade lignin, thus allowing the soil microbes to get at the cellulose and hemicellulose, and degrade that more rapidly.
Applications of the enzyme can be made using normal application equipment, without damaging turf or disrupting play. There is lots of background to the work at STRI. Scientists at the USA’s University of Georgia, working with and funded by the Golf Superintendents Association of America, the Georgia Golf Environmental Foundation and the Georgia Gold Course Superintendents Association, have already developed a novel approach using fungal lignin-degrading enzymes to breakdown lignin, enabling microbes to work on the cellulose and hemicellulose, and thus manage the thatch.
This technology is protected by a US patent and pending global patents, but the research behind it involved a series of greenhouse and field evaluations between 2008 and 2016. The investigation looked at treatment rate and frequency of application and performance in both warm-season (Bermuda grass) and cool-season (bentgrass) turfgrass. Field evaluations used a split plot design in turf maintained at green height at the University of Georgia experiment station.
Plots were monitored for thatch thickness, total organic carbon, saturated hydraulic conductivity and turf quality. After six months, the thatch layer was reduced significantly in both Bermuda grass and bentgrass greens where the treatment had been applied. Saturated hydraulic conductivity in both species plots was also significantly improved. Total organic carbon content was significantly lower in the treated Bermuda grass plots.
In a further two-year study on bentgrass, University of Georgia researchers found that four enzyme applications approximately 12 weeks apart were effective at reducing the thickness of the thatch layer. Effects were similar to when core aeration and sand top dressing were carried out twice a year. But increasing the frequency of enzyme application did not improve performance, although greater reductions in thatch layer thickness were achieved when the enzyme was combined with core aeration and sand top dressing.
At Bingley, a two-year trial has been established to look at the effectiveness of the enzyme, applied with and without a soil surfactant, under typical northern European environmental and climatic conditions.
Treatments will also be compared with two frequencies of aeration. Measurements to be taken include thatch thickness, air-filled porosity, hydraulic conductivity, weight loss on ignition, water repellency, soil volumetric water content and turf quality. If all goes well, we could see a brand new tool for the treatment and management of thatch within a few years.
Integrated turf management
During autumn months it is critical that incidences of disease are minimised on fine-turf surfaces. The dispersal of dew by swishing (pictured) has long been regarded as important in this respect. But do dew suppressant/dispersal products such as H2Pro DewSmart actually help reduce Microdochium patch? If used in combination with fungicides, is the effectiveness of the treatments enhanced or inhibited? And what effect does Greenmaster Liquid Effect Fe have in reducing the incidence of Microdochium patch when applied preventively or curatively? ICL and STRI set out to ascertain the answers in an autumn integrated turf management (ITM) trial.
Conducted at Bingley throughout the autumn of 2015, it was set up as a randomised and replicated complete block design of 14 treatment combinations, including untreated control plots. It was shown that using a dew dispersant in a programmed approach can significantly reduce disease outbreaks. However, while it clearly had a positive effect, it did not completely prevent the outbreak of Microdochium.
The trial also indicated that dew dispersants and some fungicides are compatible. But care is needed. No benefit was found from combining DewSmart with a fungicide. For Instrata and Medallion there was no negative impact when used with DewSmart, but when DewSmart was used with Banner Maxx the effectiveness was adversely affected.
The third study showed that applying Greenmaster Liquid Effect Fe curatively at the first sign of disease attack reduced the disease development, although the levels of disease sustained would not be considered acceptable in the management of fine turf. Applying Effect Fe preventively, as a turf hardener, neither reduced disease incidence or severity.
STRI research manager Mark Ferguson concluded that "there are significant benefits from suppressing dew formation with H2PRO DewSmart and treating emerging Microdochium attacks with Greenmaster Liquid Effect Fe, but these methods should only be considered as part of an ITM programme — and DewSmart should not be used with Banner Maxx".