Life after chemicals

Dave Saltmanin Editorial

The start to spring has been far less strenuous than it was last year and, although we encountered a further blip of cold weather entering April, this has largely been a pleasant start to the year.

Living in rural Shropshire, I believe the farming community are much happier bunnies as the fields have mostly been prepared and planted already, something that they couldn't even contemplate at this time last April, as fields remained waterlogged.

Whilst still cool - we even had some snow this week, as I write - there has been growth and recovery and improvements to the playing surfaces as we come out of the winter. Many cricket groundsmen got on earlier with pre-season rolling, and the bowls greens that I have seen locally are in a state of readiness for this season's play.

As a business, we have seen a real knock-on effect from last year, with verti-draining and hollow coring starting at golf clubs as early as January this year. The long hot summer killed off a lot of grasses and people are conscious to get areas oversown in time for a spring grow in. There is no doubt that the best grass seed cultivars will be in short supply as demand, undoubtedly, will outstrip whatever is available. Again, last summer's drought made for poorer harvests of seed.

This year, we lose yet another chemical from our armoury as the EU commission have decided not to renew propiconazole; what lovely people they are! This is pretty much the last true contact fungicide that was available to us, so our options going forward are fairly simple.

For those that have an open budget, the use of regular preventative fungicides is possible. For the majority, a change of tack in grounds management, in terms of bolstering up the soil/rootzone with beneficial microbiology and improvements to the grass strength and health to fend off pathogens and, therefore, disease. Whilst none of this science is new, nor the education available to groundsmen and greenkeepers, we are in an evolving state and need, more than ever, to embrace good cultural practice.

Having worked in stadium environments for thirty years, I was always shy of going 'green', as it was just not worth taking the chance when working within a microclimate, so swore by fungicides. However, in the last few years, and with better suited products available, I have been more open to a non-chemical approach. The regular use of sugar, humates and seaweed, alongside a nutritional regime, has seen me cut out fungicides from the annual programme, without detriment to the grass, and with virtually no visible disease pressure throughout the year. This, despite some big disease windows that we have had to endure over the last two years.

We have also seen very similar results at many other sports venues and golf clubs so, apart from the obvious environmental benefits, there is light at the end of the tunnel and life after chemicals.

Good luck this spring!

Dave Saltman

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