Supplement Feature - September 2011
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Tomorrow's Turf

Budgets and the Environment Drive Trends in Natural and Synthetic Sports Fields

By Julie Knudson

SDSU's weed pressure is fairly low, and with pre-emergent applications, Hostick said he's able to control most weeds. "Our most difficult period is when we try and make the transition from ryegrass in the winter to bermudagrass," he said. "We just about have to go with a chemical solution because the transition just doesn't happen quick enough, as close as we are to the coast."

Hostick said his keys to a good grass field continue to be maintenance, aerification and fertilization. "That's what makes the field. If you don't have the capacity to put somebody on it three days a week, you really should be looking at synthetics in my opinion."

Abby McNeal, CSFM, past president of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and current director of turf management at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., said, "Our fertilizer program is ever-evolving."

Her team starts each year with a generic road map, but tweaks it as needed to address issues such as a budget cycle that changes midway through the growing season, "which gives us a challenge to figure out how we finish off one budget cycle and start a new budget cycle."

It's a situation that McNeal said isn't uncommon. "I know I'm not the only turf manager that has that issue, but we look at best practices and spending our dollars that way. I've used some coated products, some longer extended release products to help to get a little bit more out of our fertility program and then supplement in between."

To minimize environmental impact as well as product and labor costs, the team at Wake Forest favors a largely reactive weed, pest and disease program. "We will do preventive [measures] because we have had a couple fields that have had some grub-related issues, so we will do a more preventive application during the right cycles of the year," McNeal said. "After that, our weed management program is to just grow strong, healthy grass and spray as few chemicals as we have to." She believes it's a program that's not only better for the students using the fields on a regular basis, but also for the visiting athletes or campers that come through.

One change the team at Wake Forest has made from previous years is the addition of a growth regulator to help increase the fields' density as well as to reduce vertical growth. "We still mow just as often, but the density on our plant is a lot healthier," McNeal said, adding that the incorporation of liquid fertilizers and changes to their granular program combined with the growth regulator for overall good results. "It was a combination of all of those things that have given us the results that we see today," she said.

Sports field managers' concerted efforts to employ more environmentally friendly management practices is something Mark Novak, sport group leader at the Boston-based engineering and consulting firm Stantec, is noticing more these days, and he knows how difficult it can be to implement effectively. "I've seen communities and municipalities trying to make a more focused effort towards organically maintaining their fields. That is a tough jump to make, though. It takes a lot of expertise, and it's a lot of trial and error."