Turfseed & consumables

Trials are essential to develop products for the turf consumables market. Sally Drury reports on the latest projects underway at the Sports Turf Research Institute.

Rigby Taylor: company’s sports wear trial involves 24 grass seed mixtures and blends using a differential-slip wear machine - image: HW
Rigby Taylor: company’s sports wear trial involves 24 grass seed mixtures and blends using a differential-slip wear machine - image: HW

Research and development is at the heart of the turf consumables market. Without trials, there would be no product launches. Many companies work with the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) at Bingley in Yorkshire. Each year the STRI and its partners share news of some of the most innovative products and techniques being tested by the research team.
This year eight trials were highlighted — some in early stages, others near completion. Some provide new and exciting ways of using existing products while others focus on developing the products, mixtures and blends that the industry will be using in the future.

1. Committed to continuous product development, Rigby Taylor is looking at a range of grass seeding solutions in a sports wear trial. The trial involves 24 grass seed mixtures and blends, with wear delivered by a differential-slip wear machine — the same as used to generate wear data for the Turfgrass Seed booklet. Sowing was done in July 2014 and significant differences noted between the mixtures during emergence, with R14CR, including creeping perennial ryegrass, having fast and early establishment.

While top-performing diploids individually achieve higher wear scores than creeping and tetraploid ryegrasses in turfgrass seed trials, both demonstrated their excellent wear capabilities when combined with the diploids. When it came to disease tolerance, the benefits of the ryegrasses should not be underestimated. Creeping ryegrass cultivar Fiesta 4 provided significant improvements to leaf-spot tolerance while mixtures and blends containing the creeping or tetraploid ryegrasses had superior tolerance to red thread.

As a direct result of the trial outcomes, Rigby Taylor has introduced a 100 per cent perennial ryegrass blend, R25 CRT. A balanced combination of creeping, tetraploid and top-performing diploid perennial ryegrasses, it delivers fast establishment, excellent wear tolerance and superior combined disease tolerance.

2. ICL, formerly Everris, is also busy with seed developments. Breeding from US and European sources to cater for a wide range of climatic conditions, the company recently introduced more varieties at STRI and is currently undergoing EU registration for five new Poa pratensis, seven perennial ryegrasses for sports and lawns, six new fescues and two new Agrostis spp. including a creeping bent and a browntop.

Also at STRI, a grow-in trial is laid out to investigate improved ways of establishing a healthy sward from seed quickly and effectively. Of interest to anyone carrying out seeding work, particularly in a short closed season, the trial began in spring 2015 and involved an integrated approach looking at the effects of different pre-seeder fertiliser in conjunction with seed treatments and a wetting agent on the grow-in of a winter games pitch with a high-sand root zone.

Results indicate that the nutrition type — conventional, slow-release and controlled-release — provided no advantage to the germination and establishment of the turf. But Sierrablen Plus increased seeding density on five sampling occasions and significantly improved traction by the seventh week.

3. All turf managers know aeration is key to promoting healthy growth. Helping groundsmen decide which method will improve results, Campey Turf Care has established trials to collate scientific evidence on two mechanical methods — the Imants Sandcat and the GT Air Inject Air2G2.

Used four times a year on putting surfaces and with measurements taken on the effects on turf quality and health, surface compaction, water retention and ball-roll characteristics, the Sandcat has so far produced a consistently dry, firm and true playing surface. Water infiltration rates were more than double those on untreated turf. The Sandcat moves quickly, aerating and applying sand to a depth of up to 3cm in a single pass and completing 500sq m in just 2.5 hours.

The AT Air Inject Air2G2 works differently. It injects air to a depth of 25-30cm, fracturing the ground horizontally and forcing air upward to decompact the soil. Investigations show it creates a network of fissures through which roots develop and grow deep, while there is no disruption to the playing surface.

4. Water management in turf remains a primary objective in the production of a quality, healthy sward. The ability of Syngenta’s Qualibra to move water away from the surface, yet hold soil moisture deep and evenly in the soil root zone, is accepted. New research at STRI is now investigating how its application can help reduce thatch levels in a playing surface. Results are expected soon.

5. Over the past two years, Aquatrols company Farmura has been evaluating a range of experimental stress management products — each a specifically designed formulation comprised of plant extracts, amino acids and micro and/or macronutrients. The trials are part of a larger programme underway within the UK and in co-operation with scientists from institutions across Europe.

At STRI, five formulations are being compared to an untreated control. Treatments were initiated in spring 2015 and applied monthly throughout the growing season, assessments being made for turf quality and colour, chlorophyll index, root length, sward density and volumetric water content.

Although none of the products are yet commercially available, a number show promise in producing green-up within 24 hours and in keeping the plants stress-free. So far preliminary observations indicate treatments had a near-term effect on turf-colour response, with early-season visual assessments showing a trend of increased colour intensity in several treatments as well as differences in colour darkness. Evaluations are ongoing at seven locations throughout Europe and will continue into spring 2016 to evaluate winter hardiness.

Trials are also established to demonstrate the performance of different wetting agents under a variety of irrigation regimes, evaluating results of turf colour, quality and dry patch management. New work is looking at the opportunities for improved water management to help get the best possible results with seed germination and turf establishment.

6. A series of trials has been conducted by Sherriff Amenity looking at the benefits of utilising additional nutrients, adjuvants and biostimulants with fungicide to control turf diseases. With uncertainty over the level of use of many chemicals in the future, work is now directed at studying the efficacy of reduced rates of active ingredients and also considering the wider advantages of using a fungicide package.

Current trials seek to establish the strength of disease control and look at what more can be achieved from the combination of products for turf quality, visual colour, smoothness and trueness. Data are being recorded by Sherriff Amenity’s new Turf Reports system, chronicling the effects of the products along with environmental information.

7. Safeguarding turf health is also highlighted with work by Bayer. The company’s StressGard formulation technology has already been proven (STRI 2012) to be effective and reliable in disease management and stress reduction within the product Interface. It protects chloroplasts from damage by ultraviolet light. With more chloroplasts available, the more the plant can photosynthesis — leading to a healthier surface. Bayer has now developed a new sports turf fungicide, yet to be launched, that also uses StressGard while also introducing a whole new active ingredient with a new mode of action. Initial observations are of greener plots for both the Interface and new product treatments.

8. Typically golf greens and sports fields are constructed with a 300mm sand-dominated root zone overlying a fine-gravel drainage layer. But as the cost of sand has become more expensive, with some grades difficult to obtain, STRI has been looking to reduce the depth of sand needed. This research, begun in 2013, is also looking at the benefits of using sustainable water drainage systems.

The trial investigates two treatment factors. Firstly, the depth of root zone material over the BLUE2GREEN Sport System, and secondly, two contrasting root zone materials. BLUE2GREEN incorporates a modified sand root zone over an interlocking raft of Permavoid 85 modular drainage cells. A geotextile membance is used to prevent the root zone from migrating into the drainage layer.

Additional trials at STRI’s Redland facility in Brisbane, Australia, have been established to determine the effect of the BLUE2GREEN system when used in subsurface irrigation mode and particularly looking at the relationship between capillary rise through the wicking system and root zone depth/type.

To date the work has shown that root zone depth and type have a significant effect on surface performance, with a 200mm root zone depth giving good results. A high-quality turf has been maintained with both root zones and at all installation depths.

Research on the wicking irrigation system showed the capillary rise at an appropriate root zone depth being successful at sustaining Bermuda grass growth during a hot summer period when other turf maintained with surface irrigation was suffering from drought. Naturally, because the irrigation is from below, the roots were encouraged to go down deeper.

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