IPM - Proactive Pest Management in Sports Turf

Ray Huntin Chemicals & Fertilisers

The management of pests in sports turf can be labour intensive, disruptive to end users and maintenance teams and, not to be forgotten in these times of austerity, highly expensive.

However, as with most things in life, if you have a plan, the negative aspects can be alleviated to an acceptable level.

In this article, Ray Hunt discusses ways and means of doing so with regard to the management of pests in sport turf

Weeds, diseases or insects - nearly every golf course or sports pitch will be a welcome habitat to one or all of the above. It is only when these pests build up greater numbers to cause considerable damage that they need to be controlled. Only by dealing with them, short and long term, can we actually get on with the business of growth healthy soils and the surface preparation required of the modern day sports facility, be it a golf course or sports pitch.

The development and implementation of a pest management plan requires planning, a keen and fully experienced eye and, most importantly, knowledge of your facility and its needs.

It also requires a thorough understanding of the problem, including identification of the pest and the damage it causes, its life cycle, environmental or cultural conditions that favour its development and methods of control.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a pest management system that is becoming the norm in the sportsturf industry, with professional managers wishing to be proactive rather than reactive in their management style. In fact, even though you may not currently document and record keep, as I didn't for a number of years as a golf course manager, you probably already go through most of the process of IPM subconsciously without even recognising the process.

It incorporates all suitable control measures to keep pest and disease damage below an acceptable level. The use of the techniques will result in effective pest control with reduced impact on the environment. It is important to understand that it is not chemical-free management, however, a successful IPM programme will result in more efficient use of pesticides, which usually means a reduction in their use.

IPM involves establishing a pest threshold level that is consistent with the intended function of the sportsturf, thorough on site monitoring and record keeping and consideration of different pest control measures. Together, these components form the basis for the decision making process that will determine the success of any IPM programme.

The aim of an IPM programme is to keep pest populations or damage at a level that is acceptable in order to deliver the requirements of your facility. This level is often known as the threshold level. On any sportsturf facility, the way in which it looks is important, but playability is the main focus. Therefore, the pest threshold level for golf putting greens is vastly different to that of golf course roughs.

The aim of an IPM programme is frequent, careful monitoring of pest activity. If the monitoring programme is successful, pests can be detected early and controlled before the threshold level is exceeded. By keeping good records of previous pest activity, managers will know where and when to look for subsequent issues.

The various pest control options used in the programme include cultural, biological, genetic and chemical.

Cultural practices could include the use of certified seed to reduce the introduction of weeds into a newly established turf. Many sportsturf managers are working to a lower pH in order to deter the threat of worm and disease activity. Without doubt, good management techniques, including correct irrigation, nutrient input and appropriate routine maintenance procedures, also contribute in a not unsubstantial way to pest invasion and control; getting the basics right is often fundamental in pest control.

Biological pest control methods include using parasitic or other biological options to control turfgrass pests. Biological solutions include bacteria, fungi or nematodes. These options are very effective, particularly the use of live parasitic nematodes to control grub invasion.

I have personally experienced one such serious situation where a golf course was in danger of losing visitor and membership business through chafer grub damage to prime in play areas. The introduction of parasitic nematodes clearly had a dramatic and successful impact on their populations, thereby alleviating the damage to the golf course and its business.

Genetic control solutions include using pest-resistant grass seed species and varieties. Although no grass species or variety is immune to all diseases and insects, some are better able to withstand damage from certain pests than others.

Chemical control with conventional pesticides is also an important part of an IPM programme. It is essential to choose the correct pesticide for the target pest, and to apply pesticides only when necessary. It is also vitally important to vary pesticides so that pests are less likely to develop resistance to the chemical. It is worth remembering, however, that prediction and preventative measures are far better than waiting for the disease to show or even to get to an advanced stage before treating. If you can see damage, the disease will be well established within your turf. This is where a good and accurate IPM is useful and can help you predict likely 'at risk' periods where you may consider preventative action.

There are some steps you can consider in order to develop an IPM programme. The first is assessing site conditions and characteristics, followed by making a survey of pests, determining pest response threshold levels, developing a monitoring and record-keeping programme and, finally, making the decisions that lead to the selection of control options.

When assessing site conditions, the objective is to collate all site-related information that can affect the health of your grass plants, and the degree to which they can withstand pest infestation.

During the site assessment, you should examine the amount of shade present, the density of woodland or other barriers surrounding the grass surfaces that may restrict air movement, soil fertility, soil compaction, drainage, the current cultural programme and how the grass surface is being used. Any site condition that can limit grass vigour or favour a potential pest should be noted so that steps can be taken to correct the situation.

Dense planting of trees around golf greens restricts air movement and may increase the likelihood of disease. Removing some of the trees will improve air flow and encourage drying, thereby reducing the potential for disease.

Plant nutrient deficiencies, or excesses and extremes in pH, can weaken the turf and result in increased disease injury or weed encroachment. A soil test should be taken on a quarterly basis so that fertility levels and pH can be determined on a regular basis and adjusted if necessary.

Any turf-limiting soil conditions, such as compaction or poor drainage, should be noted during the site assessment. It may be necessary to implement a robust aeration programme to alleviate these problems.

The cultural programme should be designed to favour the most desirable turf species. Factors such as mowing practices, fertility management, irrigation practices, thatch management and aeration should all be considered. Using disease resistant species from the outset will make life a lot easier.

If traffic across your surface is not managed properly, significant damage can occur and additional pesticide applications may be necessary. On any sportsturf facility, the intensity of use can be so great that the turf suffers from excessive wear and soil compaction. The result is a reduction in grass cover and an increase in weed invasion. This situation can be corrected by distributing traffic to other locations, and by limiting play when the turf is under heat and drought stress, or if the site is excessively wet.

Carrying out a pest survey is an important part of formulating an IPM and involves determining the identity, location and populations of weeds, insects and diseases. It also involves identifying the environmental conditions and times of the year that certain pests are likely to occur or cause damage. The survey should be carried out over a period of several months or years, since certain pests occur only at specific times of the year, whilst others may only occur once every two or three years.

Assessing pest populations can be difficult and time-consuming. It is, however, a very valuable information and can be used as a comparison to monitor success or otherwise.

One way to keep track of weed and disease populations is to record a rough estimate of the infested area. Although this is not a very accurate method, it can provide an indication of the pest population and may be useful in evaluating the effectiveness of control procedures.

The next step is to determine the pest response threshold level. Once the site and pest assessments have been completed, the pest response threshold levels should be established for each pest. This is really a decision to be taken locally in your situation, and with your end users in mind, as what is acceptable in one situation may be different to another. Determining a threshold level involves discussion and agreement between the turf manager and the end user.

Factors to consider in attempting to establish threshold levels are the use of the site, the aesthetic value of the turf, and the potential of a pest to cause serious turf damage. As use will vary for each site, pest response thresholds will differ accordingly. For example, a limited amount of grub damage may be tolerated by some sportsturf managers as the damaged area can be repaired at a later date. However, where serious injury on a sports pitch is a possibility, then the threshold is different.

An important consideration in establishing a pest response threshold level is the potential of the pest in question to cause serious turfgrass damage. Fusarium or Anthracnose, for example, are capable of causing extensive turf damage in a very short time.

The monitoring techniques used in an IPM programme vary depending on the type of pest and the resources available. Frequent visual inspection of the site is the most common means of monitoring. Golf course managers, for example, visually inspect putting greens and fairways daily for signs of disease activity. Look out for signs of disease activity by detected the presence of fungal mycelium early in the morning.

Monitoring weather conditions is one of the best means of anticipating pest development and damage. There is a great amount of information available through the Met Office and some industry websites, such as Syngenta's Greencast, can help to predict possible outbreaks according to current weather conditions.

Accurate records of pest problems at a particular site can be a valuable aid in a successful IPM programme. Record keeping can aid in determining the best location and timing for a pesticide application. A good record-keeping system can reduce the chance of repeating mistakes.

Include the name of the pest, where it occurred and the amount of damage it caused. Other important information could include the approximate date at which the pest or pest damage occurred, the weather conditions present, the control measures used and the results.

Details on pesticide applications should involve the name of the product or products used, rates, formulations, the type of equipment used for the application, the name of the person who applied the treatment and the results obtained from that treatment.

The decision to implement pest control measures in an IPM programme involves using and interpreting information from the site assessment, the pest survey, pest response threshold levels, and the monitoring programme. Site assessment information can be used to develop management strategies designed to improve turf vigour and reduce the level of infestation. Pest survey information can be used to determine which pests are present at the site. Once pest response threshold levels have been determined, a programme can be initiated to monitor populations and pest development.

When, and if, a pest becomes a problem, it should be identified so that the appropriate control measures can be selected. This may involve assistance from reference manuals or from other sources. Once the pest response threshold level has been reached, the decision to use control measures can be made. Control options can include cultural practices, genetic controls, biological and pesticide applications.

The decision to implement particular control options depends on several factors. These include the effectiveness of the control procedure, cost of the treatment, size of the area to be treated, availability of labour, availability of equipment necessary to do the job and the reaction of the end user. It is also important to consider any possible side effects that may result from your course of action.

It is also very useful, and can form part of your plan, to regularly communicate with other sportsturf managers locally, and even further afield, to exchange trends and current pest outbreaks that you or others may be experiencing.

By making educated decisions based on your findings, it is possible, through these methods, to feel more in control and, as a result, provide more consistent playing conditions for your end users, whilst also being kinder to the environment.

Ray Hunt is Technical Sales Manager for Maxwell Amenity