Turf management - The cutting edge of sports turf research

Research efforts directed at improving sports turf were shown off to groundsmen last month, Sally Drury reports.

Station 6 at the STRI research event showed a trial comparing fertiliser inputs on cultivars - image: HW
Station 6 at the STRI research event showed a trial comparing fertiliser inputs on cultivars - image: HW

Proving that greenkeepers and groundsmen are thirsty for knowledge, more than 125 attended the Sports Turf Research Institute's (STRI) first research event on 21 September, at the Bingley research centre in Yorkshire. In a station-rotation format, groups of delegates were shown the latest machinery, products and techniques being tested and developed for the effective management of sports turf.

This year's event focused on seven research aspects, supported by Bayer, Becker Underwood, Everris (formerly Scotts), R&K Kensett, Ransomes Jacobsen, Sherriff Amenity and Syngenta - each currently having research conducted at Bingley and investing time and resources into developments with the support of the STRI research team.

Station 1: Graden research

Latest work backs R&K Kensett managing director Keith Kensett's suggestion that by targeting the top 20mm with the Graden Contour Sand Injection machine, with hollow coring at 20-40mm, a massive 25 per cent of organic matter can be removed during one renovation.

Hollow coring removes the organic matter at the deeper depth but, by following immediately with the Graden Contour Sand Injection, surface organic matter is removed and the slits are backfilled with kiln-dried sand and overseeded at the same time. Greens can be brought back into play as soon as work is completed and the result is a smoother, firmer surface. Kensett has used this process on many European Tour courses, including France's Le Golf National.

Everris and Syngenta are taking the work further by looking at the effect of the Graden in relation to overseeding with bent grasses in a Poa annua-dominant sward. With all plots "Gradened", research is comparing the effect of applying a slow-release Sierraform and a conventional fertiliser on two different types of bent grasses - creeping and typical colonial.

In another treatment, zeolyte or a zeolyte/sand mixture is added to the slits. Early indications are that Alister colonial bentgrass with slow- release Sierraform and clinoptilolite zeolyte is a promising combination.

Station 2: Ransomes Jacobsen

To maintain a fast green speed, some managers will resort to a low height of cut - a solution that can be detrimental to turf health. There is an alternative. Independent research suggests a relationship between frequency of clip (FoC), height of cut (HoC) and green trueness and smoothness. Ransomes Jacobsen believes it has a solution to maintain a higher, healthier HoC but retain the trueness and smoothness demanded by golfers.

The company has developed digitally-controlled mowers where the cutting cylinder speed is related to the forward speed at all times. As the relationship between cylinder speed and forward speed produces the FoC, digital control allows it to be adjusted to suit conditions. The feature has been incorporated into Jacobsen Eclipse mowers.

Marketing and product management director Richard Comely says: "A higher FoC, up to a point, can effectively take off more grass and reduce the distance between the peaks and troughs synonymous with a smooth putting surface. By adjusting the FoC, it is possible to obtain the optimum smoothness and trueness for a given HoC - which could potentially be higher than previously obtainable."

Station 3: root zones and playing performance

The materials used to construct golf greens have a direct influence on drainage rates, water retention and growing environment of the green and, in turn, influence the intensity of maintenance and determine the long-term playing performance of the playing surface. With this in mind, STRI soil scientist Christian Spring is looking at the effects of using different proportions of various grades of sand, fen soil and peat amendments.

"All root zones are not equal. What we choose as the root zone will determine the vegetation, and there can be a high degree of variation between different kinds of sand-based root zone, and they do not all perform to the same level," Spring explains. "The sand and amendment used will have a significant effect on the performance of that root zone as a growing medium and as the foundation of the putting surface. We also have to consider location and rainfall."

Station 4: results built on science

Syngenta invests around £12m a week on global research and developing products. Trials at Bingley are looking at the science of stress, fungicide application at lower water volume and the optimisation of integrated turf management results.

Recent studies suggest that crop protection products have the ability to enhance the health of sports turf exposed to high levels of environmental stress and intensive management practices. A three-year Syngenta-funded PhD project is currently working to understand the physiological and biochemical effects of two products - Heritage Maxx and Primo Maxx - on turf quality.

Turf and landscape technical manager Simon Watson says: "It's about characterising stress, seeing how plants respond and then how Heritage Maxx and Primo Maxx alter those responses." This experiment is likely to be rolled out to the field next year but is raising questions from greenkeepers about affordability at a time of reduced budgets.

Station 5: turf disease management

From finding a new compound to registration and bottling can take between eight and 10 years. It may take 100,000 compounds to find one that works, is safe and economical and eventually receives approval. The total cost can be up to £300m.

Bayer's dollar spot curative trial at the STRI began on 5 August, with a repeat application at the start of September. Bayer suggests a curative/early eradicant programme of Chipco Green followed by Dedicate. For a preventive programme, Dedicate can be followed by Chipco Green.

What is particularly interesting in the trial, however, is a new experimental product. The potential new fungicide cleared the plot of dollar spot despite all surrounding plots being diseased and all plots being under constant pressure.

Station 6: fertilisers and cultivars

With so many fertilisers on the market, making the right choose can be daunting. As part of trials at the STRI, Everris has shown that optimal nutrition will reduce disease pressure while optimising the use of fungicides when required.

This work also looks at how different cultivars perform using different levels of input from conventional fertiliser through to Sierraform GT that contains nitrogen, potassium and silica.

Results indicate that conditions under Sierraform GT were less favourable for Fusarium and when fungicide was applied it worked better on the slow-release programmes than on those plots treated with conventional fertilisers. It is hoped that work can be published in the spring.

Station 7: Vision Pro

A visual spraying aid and turf colourant developed by Becker Underwood and available from Sherriff Amenity, Vision Pro contains natural pigments rather than dyes. It increases soil and surface temperatures and creates a more desirable microclimate for growth. It also increases photosynthetic rates and plant metabolism in periods of slow growth.

Work at the STRI is showing that applying Vision Pro in autumn, winter and spring increases radiation absorbance and decreases reflectance, resulting in increased photosynthesis and potentially faster recovery after periods of slow growth. But it begged a question from one greenkeeper: "If grass wants to be dormant in winter, should we be waking it up and forcing it into lush growth when conditions are far from perfect?"

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