Feature Article - September 2020
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Grounded in Best Practices

High-Demand Outdoor Spaces Require Smart Management

By Dave Ramont

Sustainable Choices

So-called green practices are an ever-evolving part of grounds strategies, and we examined some sustainability initiatives being implemented.

At USD, Salazar said they have a central control system operating the irrigation system. "The system receives weather data that includes air temperature, humidity and evaporation rates. With this information, our system then regulates the duration of our watering cycles."

Beaulieu said their system is also centrally controlled now, "maximizing efficient water use, minimizing waste and reducing repair time and minimizing landscape damage from faulty components. And we recently launched a biocontrol program to utilize flower and root weevils for helping to reduce spotted knapweed populations."

McCaughey explained how they work with their Turf Research department and extension office to use fertilizers that provide the longest slow release with minimal product. "We're able to apply one time in the spring and get season-long coverage with no leaching or flush of growth while also increasing soil health. We looked into organic products but it would've been more detrimental and less sustainable."

Penn State was also one of the first universities to compost food waste from dining halls. "We also compost all the green waste on campus, which is then used back on campus as mulch, compost or blended soil."

McCaughey also said they've switched out all their two-stroke engine equipment and hand mowers to battery-powered versions, and they've started changing their zero-turn mowers to battery-powered versions as well. Plus, they have solar offset for the charging stations. "With these changes we reduced our fuel use (from 2018 to 2019) by almost 1,800 gallons, not to mention the reduction in noise pollution and fuel spills."

They've also started reducing the size of their vehicles—from dump and pickup trucks to utility vehicles—and they're using multi-use equipment that utilizes different attachments and bodies for one piece, reducing their fleet further.

The Right Stuff

Equipment can help groundskeepers work more efficiently, and the experts at a Moline, Ill.-based company manufacturing lawn & garden, construction, forestry and agriculture equipment described some popular choices for grounds maintenance, including the zero-turn mowers, good for mowing large areas. Some feature self-sharpening blades, a relatively new innovation. "They're particularly efficient in areas with lots of objects to mow around, like trees and landscaping."

Wide-area mowers—with three mower decks—are also good for large areas. Front mowers are popular too, and can be equipped with attachments to tackle other tasks, such as snow blowing and plowing. For maintaining sports fields, the new reel mowers feature a high-performance electric reel drive. The control display enables users to input commands such as mow speed, turf speed, transport speed and service timers, while also capturing on-board service diagnostics.

The company's Material Collection Systems, equipped with heavy-duty blowers, are ideal where leaves or grass clippings need to be collected. "(We) offer two types of systems," said a company spokesperson, "a three-bag option as well as a dump-from-seat solution."

Where visual appeal is critical, striping kits are useful. "The operator can mow in a specific direction and the kit will move the grass blades, creating a striped pattern."

Compact utility tractors are the "Swiss army knife of equipment." There are hundreds of implements available, transforming the tractor to tackle many tasks including mowing, aerating, grading, loading, snow removal, digging and trenching. Utility vehicles are ideal for transporting people, equipment and materials, and like the tractors they can accommodate a wide variety of attachments for tasks like spraying or seeding, and can be customized with a heated cab for winter.

As far as new technologies benefitting the industry, Bruno at PGMS said robotics is a growing trend, including "autonomous mowers, electric equipment and drones, continued opportunities with ARC-GIS for tree inventory, charge carbon to enhance microbial activity in soils, and not-as-new but continued alternatives to reduce pesticide usage." She mentioned a couple sessions that will take place at their October conference, including an Innovation Roundtable, to help members explore new technologies.