The annual seminar held at the Holiday Inn in Newport, South Wales held at the end of March, offered some interesting and some useful information by the invited speakers.
The shows sponsors listed at the bottom provided some light relief from the serious stuff, particularly The Trainer demonstration from Harrod UK. The Trainer is a mechanical ball deliverer shaped like an enormous football. The machine holds 25 balls and will place a ball at any speed to the same spot, every time.
After an introduction from Terry Morrison (Seminar Chairman), the welcome address was delivered by Andy Williamson of the Football League.
Mr Williamson acknowledged the hard work that Groundsmen had endured during a season condensed for the forthcoming World Cup. He went on to say that ITV Digitals decision to renege on their television deal was nothing more than corporate mugging by the TV giants and would have a wide spread effect on club finances. He hoped that Carlton and Granada would not welsh on their duty, otherwise severe constraints would be placed on football.
Then it was down to the technical business as the seminar got underway with our beloved Dr Steven Baker (STRI). Dr Baker delivered a fact-based report on the effects of rubber crumb in sports turf.
He showed in detail a number of situations where rubber crumb (Four different grades) was incorporated into the ground either as part of a root zone mix or as a top dressing.
He showed how in the right circumstances and use, that rubber crumb would reduce hardness, decrease the opportunity of compaction and decrease the abrasion to the plant therefore improving longevity. He also showed to some degree that this medium would also aid drainage and root development.
Though, before you all go out and invest in a few tons of shredded car tyres, I suggest that you get a copy of his report. The size of crumb varied results dramatically, and it is important to understand that quantities used will also affect its beneficial qualities.
The next speaker was Dr David Lawson, talking about the effectiveness of Nitrogen fertilisers.
The talk started with a statement that Ammonium sulphate encourages Bents and discourages Poa, and that slow release fertilisers have provided better wear tolerance for football turf.
The tests were carried out on an area of perennial ryegrass on a sandy loam. Two 6g/m2 applications were made of each of the following Nitrogen based feeds to the respective grass areas. The applications were made on the 18th September and 18th December last year.
Each strip of ryegrass was treated with one of the following feeds.
Ammonium sulphate, Ammonium nitrate, Potassium Nitrate, Urea, Dried Blood, Hoof and Horn, Sierrablen (coated), Sierraform (urea form) and Terralift (an organic poultry manure).
These areas have been placed under a regime of weekly wear using a 'mechanical boot' machine to provide similar patterns of wear to an intensively used football pitch.
Although the tests haven't yet been completed the Potassium nitrate performance was poor, the initial aesthetic effects of Ammonium sulphate and Nitrate were very good, but their longer term ability to aid plant recovery were poor.
Of the more traditional test feeds, Dried Blood provided good long-term recovery, but would be extremely expensive to use commercially. The best long-term results were undoubtedly produced by the slow release feeds of Sierrablen and Sierraform.
Dr Lawson concluded that it is important to know the make up of your Nitrogen fertilisers. Many of the feeds currently on the market, use forms of Nitrogen that are either lost to the soil or are not readily taken up by the plant.
You could be wasting large amounts of money on your normal regular feeds, and as research is proving, it seems worthwhile investing a few extra pounds into your bags of feed for a longer term, more economic and beneficial fertiliser.
We then had the pleasure of listening to Dr Alan Gange talk about Bio stimulant use on football pitches.
He stated that we would see the banning of most inorganic chemicals inside the next ten years, and we should start to look at the beneficial use of microbes. The use of biological control is already well practiced in the Agricultural and Horticultural industries. I.E. the use of friendly fungus, pests and microbes to combat problems in turf.
There are over a 100 bio stimulants on the market in the UK alone, and there has to be much more research into their benefits, but some of these products have been proven successes in the market place for years.
The use of seaweed adds carbon to the soil and has high levels of plant hormones. Carbon will significantly enhance plant growth.
Other bio stimulants can include bacteria, which will offer a number of different solutions to soil problems, amongst them 'thatch eaters' and growth stimulators.
I ran a trial at Molineux for a season using a particular product. I made seven liquid applications of bacteria in solution starting in April through to August. For the previous four years, we had spent an average £4,500 a season on fungicidal sprays, to eradicate leaf spot and fusarium. The 'Bug' program, including the contracted spraying cost £2,900. During this season, we were able to reduce our fertiliser regime (further cost saving) and we had no incidence of disease, the pitch looked healthier and there was increased root growth. The following year the particular product was unavailable and we returned to fungicidal sprays and more fertilisers.
Dr Gange concluded that some of the benefits of microbes included increased plant growth, stronger rooting, better survival chances under stress, better disease and pest resistance, thatch reduction, control of Poa, nematode reduction and increased photosynthesis. All of the above is dependent on the plant species, temperature, soil type, aeration, PH, salinity and water logging.
He then finished by saying that it was important to do soil tests to ascertain what microbial population was in the soil prior to applications, and then at regular intervals throughout the use of these products.
The morning session ended with Mike Harbridge from PSD who, delivered a speech on the construction and maintenance of Academy/training pitches.
He stated that the design of facilities varied greatly, citing climate, soil type, and topography as key factors. He also said that each club had different ideas, so there was also a need to consider the number of pitches, level and standard of usage and usage patterns. Weather is obviously a major factor and Mr Harbridge made the point that there are an average 250 growing days in the South of the country to 190 days in the North.
The levels of professional use show that indigenous soils cannot cope, which is why sand based pitches have come to the fore.
Some facilities now require all year round use with the introduction of Academy summer use. Traditional maintenance now fits around continual wear and renovation and remedial work are built into the calendar where, individual pitches are brought out of use for a period of time for repair.
He went on to talk about different types of construction, drainage specifications and Irrigation, but made the point that the pitches deterioration begins from day one and that good maintenance techniques need to be employed to slow down this process.
He finished by saying that clubs needed to have a better understanding of the knowledge and experience involved, the choice and availability of staff and staff levels and machinery suitability. In short there had to be more investment into training, personnel and equipment.
From my point of view the Industry is doing its best to improve, and is using fact based experience and trials to cope with ever increasing demands made by sport.
I know that I have made a few comments this year about stadium surfaces and how, generally they have been very poor. There is enough good information out there to improve on what we have, so we now have to have a concerted effort in educating our employers.
If only there were more chairmen like David Sheepshanks at Ipswich Town!
The other sponsors of the show were Fleet Line Markers, Complete Weed Control, Toro Lely (UK), AGCO Ltd (Massey Ferguson), Biotal, Vitax and Kestrel Golf and Sports Ltd.