0 Implications of global warming on turf grass

Best Technical Merit Award Answers- November 2003

By Editor

Following the success of the Technical Merit Award 2003, sponsored by Tillers Turf. Pitchcare have been publishing some of the best answers submitted to the monthly scenario questions. Here are the best of the November answers. This was the last month of the Technical Merit Award, but don't despair because we hope to launch a new season of the Award once we have a new sponsor in place.

November Scenario question

Discuss the possible implications of global warming on turfgrass establishment, maintenance and management in the UK in the foreseeable future?

Answer 1) Recent human activity over the past one hundred years or so has had, and will continue to have some effect on the Earths climate.

Changes in climate are the result of gradual changes in prevalent weather conditions, which will affect turfgrass management in the future Long-term predictions have already been made concerning the Earths climate over the next century, with weather changes in the UK predicted as:

· Summers becoming drier and longer

· Winters becoming predominantly wetter

· Disease outbreaks increasing, as conditions become more favourable.

· Changes in species composition. Other grasses could become more common as conditions favour their growth.

· Wind speeds are likely to increase Climate change predictions or forecasts, carried out by reputable organisations enable other organisations and individuals to predict more accurately how future changes in the climate will affect them, and most importantly how these affects are to be managed.

This essay will examine how the future changes in climate may affect turfgrass establishment, maintenance and management, and make suggestions on how turf culture in the UK will change to adapt to climate change.

Turfgrass establishment: Climate change will affect the growing conditions of Turf grasses, causing many turfgrass managers to assess and change their establishment processes.

The affects that future climate change could have on turfgrass establishment are:

· Extended growing seasons

· Earlier and later over seeding

· More dependence on irrigation and drainage.

An example of how future climate change and how it could affect future turfgrass establishment has been reflected in the 2003 season. After the wet winter of 2002/2003 many sports surfaces deteriorated, caused mainly by excessive rainfall and inadequate drainage during periods of intensive use.

At the end of the season the preceding summer months proved to be very difficult for many turfgrass managers, as the usual wet April period remained dry, the trend continuing through the summer into the colder autumn months. This has meant that the over seeding of many sports surfaces without irrigation have been severely hampered this season.

Turf grasses generally need to be established on surfaces that have adequate drainage to reduce winter damage, and suitable irrigation to encourage growth during dry summer months. If the future climate is going to be similar to this year, serious consideration must be given to address the problems of inadequate drainage and irrigation, to ensure that turfgrass can be established effectively, to continue producing high quality playing surfaces.

Turfgrass maintenance: Future climate change and further government legislation will affect turfgrass maintenance in the future. Established grass swards with longer growing periods will require changes in maintenance regimes to ensure that they are kept healthy and to the highest possible standards.

Irrigation practices will become more accurate as water use becomes increasingly more restricted in the future. Water restrictions due to shortages, particularly in summer, are more likely because of reduced rainfall and increased use. Reducing water shortages will require that turfgrass irrigation provide the correct amount of water, at the correct time, accurately.

Disease outbreaks could increase due to the extended growing periods expected and become more devastating as more and more chemical controls are being removed from the turfgrass market.

Future maintenance practices will have to become more effective in the future to ensure continuing turfgrass health, with the onus on prevention rather than cure. Future turfgrass maintenance will always retain its basic principles; aeration, scarification, mowing, irrigation, topdressing, fertilising, and brushing, with monitoring, analysis and accuracy becoming an essential part of maintenance programs to ensure continued success.

Turfgrass management: Management will have the most significant and important effect on how turfgrass is affected in the future. Guesswork and spontaneity will be replaced by clearly planned more informed approaches to turfgrass maintenance. Managers in the future will continue to develop into highly skilled individuals that use resources appropriately and effectively. They will also be current with modern ideals and advances in technology, can identify accurately any problems that may occur, and most importantly identify the most suitable course of action to solve the problem in the most economic and environmentally friendly way.

Water management will increase, as future irrigation systems will not be able to rely solely on mains water, or boreholes to meet demands; other options will have to be assessed. Water use will also have to be measured, some type of storage will need to be considered, and on areas requiring high amounts of irrigation- the possibility of a closed irrigation system.

If winters are becoming increasingly wetter drainage systems could be modified to become the future backfills of our summer irrigation systems. Waste management is another future issue that will have an impact on turfgrass management.

Environmentally friendly waste control options will need to be assessed and implemented in the future due to increasing landfill costs. The majority of our waste is green; therefore, collecting, composting and redistributing waste on our courses or playing fields is going to become more common with added benefits to the environment.

Summary: The seeds of change are already blowing in the wind, with many turfgrass managers already implementing management strategies to reduce the affects of future change. The profile of our industry in the future will rise as climate change causes turfgrass management to become more precise. The turfgrass industry will continue to develop into a highly skilled, competent and respected industry. Information, education and training will be vital to ensure the success of this industry in future years. Hopefully we will all see our place in the future and strive to achieve this. Without a doubt this profession is one of the most rewarding, inspiring, diverse and challenging, with future changes in the climate, causing exciting changes in the profession!

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Answer 2) The "warming" bit of global warming may not be the immediate threat; it is the increasingly seasonal rainfall pattern. In the last 20 years or so a significant trend has been observed, where Summer months are becoming drier and a very high proportion of the annual rainfall is delivered during warmer wetter Winter months.

2003 may not be a great example, since the dry Summer has continued into a relatively dry Autumn ... but think back to 2002, where it didn't stop raining in October and November, in 8 weeks some parts of southern England received over 750mm of rain which is more than 60% of the average annual amount. And remember the floods, which seem to be increasingly common.

A secondary effect of so much rain cloud will be further reduction in already low Winter light levels, this has already had enough impact to force some commercial growers to transfer winter operations to Spain and Portugal. The consequence, if this trend continues, will be mud bath pitches, surfaces being washed away, and water logged root zones, especially on grounds with a high water table and heavy soils.

The triple whammy of sodden root zone, nutrient leaching and poor light will make difficult winter growing conditions even worse. And warm surface moisture will encourage fungal disease.

The most important weapon in a Groundsmen's armoury will be an excellent drainage system, followed closely by aeration (deep to open up pores and feed the drains; shallow to allow water to infiltrate and move through the root zone) and dressings with coarse sand and other free-draining materials.

We may also need to pay more attention to disease control, and breeders may need to develop grass varieties with even better tolerance of dull wet conditions and resistance to disease.

If we don't do all these things well artificial pitch technology may be needed. Conversely, if the trend for dry summer months continues, we will need better irrigation systems and control of water costs. And additional aeration to relieve compaction in heavy soils, which dry hard.

Clubs on heavy clay soils such as the London basin may struggle with cracks and heaving, broken drains etc. So, invest 50% of your portfolio in manufacturers and companies providing drainage and aeration services, and 25% into the turf irrigation industry. 10% in companies providing free-draining dressing solutions, 10% on the developers of new grasses and disease control, and as a long shot put 5% on companies creating mixed-type grass and artificial turf pitches.

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