0 A year of extremes

We can debate climate change and its possible causes 'ad infinitum', but there's no doubting the extremes of weather that we have had to endure so far this year.

January and February followed on from December with near record amounts of rainfall, and with the added Siberian cold snaps that turned sodden ground into blocks of ice for weeks at a time.

Temperatures then didn't start to warm up sufficiently for any grass growth until the third week in April, and it seemed that, once the rainfall stopped, it wasn't coming back anytime soon as we bypassed spring and headed straight into summer.

As I write this on the 8th August, we have recorded just 19mm of rain in nine weeks; an amount that we often saw on a daily basis last winter. This summer's recorded dry weather has exceeded the summer of '76 and is on par now with 1961.

For me, and many others, this has been a year of unfounded criticism of playing surfaces, all brought about by our weather. Whilst we as an industry always seem to complain that the weather is never right, dealing with extremes has made the job much, much harder.

What do you tell your manager when the ground is at saturation point and water has nowhere to go, or that (as in recent months) the water available to you is barely keeping grass alive, let alone enabling you to grow in newly seeded grass.

For the last two and a half months, we have emptied our irrigation tanks every single day and its still not been enough. Even the fire service understandably declined to help, as it was non-essential use of water and their priority was fire-fighting only.

Living in rural Shropshire, farming makes the local news regularly and all I've heard this year is much the same as the sports turf industry. Earlier this year, it was "ground is too wet to get livestock outside"; "too wet to cultivate and sow crops" and, for the last ten weeks, "no grass to feed the animals"; "only one silage cut this year"; "crops failing through drought". Livestock farmers are already using up their winter feed stocks, when there would normally be plenty of good grazing land available.

Anyone without irrigation will have given up weeks ago, as the grass first turned dormant and then started dying back. The ground has cracked, and deep fissures have appeared on heavier soils. It will take some significant and sustained rainfall to bring everything back, and this autumn could see an unprecedented, but necessary, amount of re-renovation and seeding, hopefully in time to get new grass up and established before the winter comes.

The additional seed required this autumn will, no doubt, eat into this current harvest stock and perhaps lead to a seed shortage and price rise next year.

The weather will have affected the industry a great deal - lower machinery sales, lower fertiliser, seed and chemical sales. Only the irrigation companies - probably - will be enjoying this hot, dry weather.

However, the grass that has survived will be in good shape for this winter, as plants have had to go down in search of water and the depth of rooting is fantastic.

Good luck this autumn.

Cheers
Dave Saltman

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