Supplement Feature - September 2013
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Grounds for Innovation

Turf Trends for Today & Tomorrow

By Chris Gelbach

Embracing Turf Management

This is part of a larger embrace of science and professional maintenance techniques. "If you were to go back five, certainly 10 years, the idea was, let's mow the field and that's pretty much it," said Langner. "Now, aerification practices, overseeding and doing a topdressing program are all relatively common."

Pest management has also become more targeted and selective. "You're going to start seeing more and more environmentally friendly fields," said Tarantino. "This will include integrated pest management programs where managers use pesticides, herbicides and fungicides only when necessary and fight pests off with biological means and better horticultural practices instead."

These better environmental practices can also involve the collection of storm water for irrigation use in the design of new sports facilities. Goatley noted one particularly innovative application at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., in which a 50,000-gallon collection system was built into a synthetic field, with that water then being pumped back onto a natural grass baseball field.

According to Langner, among the other practices being embraced are watering more deeply and less frequently to get water down to the roots, mowing less frequently, looking at the pH of soil more frequently and understanding the nutrient uptake of the plant. "How much is your fertilizer being used by your plant, and how much is it going to leach off the site when it rains or you're going to irrigate?" he said. "That's something I think we could all improve on."

Turf Technologies

A variety of new technologies are being embraced to assist in these turf-management improvements. One example is the technology allowing for remote moisture monitoring and watering via computer or smartphone that is already in place at some Division I and professional fields. "They're still expensive, but we've got some really neat systems out there for monitoring soil moisture remotely that will greatly improve how we manage our water," Goatley said.

Mowing companies are also starting to employ GPS technology to evaluate fields for spots that are too hard, too compacted and too wet. These programs can even suggest a fertilization program for the field.

Clegg hammers are additionally being used more to monitor surface hardness, particularly on synthetic fields, as part of an increased emphasis on safety and concussion awareness. Also related to this trend is a new generation of shock pads for use under synthetic turf that offers a longer warranty and can be recycled into itself again.

And improved rotary mowers are enabling turf managers to maintain their natural grass at a higher level for a lower cost. "Before, when I'd tell people to put in a Bermuda grass field, I'd say you needed a reel mower to maintain it," Goatley said. "I've come 180 on that. The quality of cut with these new rotary mowers and the floating deck technology allows mowing at a height of one inch with rotary mowers, which we really couldn't do before. And they're a lot easier to maintain and adjust than the reel mowers are."