By Anne O'Brien, Key Account Manager for WRAP's (the Waste & Resources Action Programme) Organics programme
The trend towards sustainable and environmentally-friendly landscaping practices is gathering pace. Today, more and more grounds managers, groundsmen and greenkeepers are looking for cost effective products and methods to use on their pitches and sports fields which they know will deliver quality results and give them the edge over their competitors but also make a contribution to the environment.
In such a competitive market, suppliers need to look at ways in which they can offer customers sustainable services without increasing the cost base of their ongoing business. Using compost manufactured from recycled garden material offers one way to do this. Through a growing number of trials, compost has been proven to improve soil quality, nourish plants without the addition of artificial fertilisers, suppress diseases and improve the water-holding capacity of soil.
Increasingly, groundsmen are considering the option of using compost in place of traditional peat-based products, allowing them to minimise use of artificial fertilisers in order to maintain soil and turf health. The key benefits of compost are starting to persuade groundsmen to consider the alternatives.
This is its most basic of benefits. Compost contains slow release nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, plus useful amounts of other minerals, all of which ensure the growth of excellent quality, healthy turf, often without the need for inorganic fertilisers. Recent trials at Avisford Park Golf Club indicate that the use of a 80:20 ratio sand/compost top dressing on tees and greens can reduce the requirement for autumn fertilisers by 50%.
Retains soil moisture
Taking steps to reduce the level of water usage should tick a number of boxes for sports turf professionals at this time. For the first time since 1995, last summer the government was asked to grant three drought orders enabling water companies to ban the non-essential use of water, including car washing, the filling of swimming pools and the watering of parks and sports grounds. Furthermore, keeping watering to a minimum can also offer significant cost and labour savings.
Compost enhances and improves soil structure through the addition of organic matter, leaving soil better able to soak up and retain water and therefore reducing the frequency with which the pitch needs to be watered. During the prolonged dry weather of 2006, fairways treated with compost at Avisford Park Golf Club recovered faster than untreated areas.
Richard Stillwell manager ay Avisford Golf Course said; "I've always been an advocate of recycling whenever possible," says Richard, "and compost is one of the most natural ways to reuse organic waste such as grass clippings or hedge trimmings."
Protects against turf diseases
Controlling disease is a very important aspect of turf management, but it can be problematic if, like many organisations today, a club wants to 'go green' and limit its use of artificial chemical fungicides. A recent report by WRAP indicates that compost can be an "all natural" alternative in the fight against soil-borne pathogens such as Fusarium patch and dollar spot.
While keeping turf in overall good condition is the best all-round strategy to combat these conditions, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the active microbial agents in compost - when used either as a component in the topsoil when establishing/refurbishing pitches, or applied as a turf top dressing - can fight the fungi and other organisms which cause turf disease.
According to Eddie Neath, a groundsman at Chelmsford Football Club with 40 years' experience, healthy grass begins with a healthy soil. "Using compost ensures that the plant's natural immune system is in the best condition possible to resist disease."
Preventing soil compaction and wear
Wind, rain, pounding football boots and sliding tackles pose a significant threat to the condition of soil and these factors all increase the rate at which soil on a sports pitch can wear.
Compost, however, contains the chemical building blocks which are the precursors to the creation of strong soil. Organic matter supports the creation of humic substances which bind soil particles into aggregates. These groups of particles bind to each other more strongly than to adjacent particles, keeping soil grounded and more resistant to compaction and wear.
Newbury Racecourse, one of the UK's most prestigious sporting venues, stages around 30 race meetings every year and busy staff face an ongoing battle to ensure turf returns to form as quickly as possible. They combine a pre-prepared mix of compost, soil and sand with post-meet divots and new grass seed.
Richard Osgood, Estate Manager and Clerk of the Course, said, "With compost we have seen germination happen a lot faster, and over the winter months the new growth has been exceptional."
Being part of a growing trend
According to a survey that WRAP undertook at last year's Saltex, eighty six per cent of the industry now has a positive attitude towards compost produced from recycled garden waste.
The research found that 97 per cent of those surveyed view sustainability as a key concern in the industry. The survey also revealed that this concern is translating into action, with 93 per cent of the sports turf and landscaping sector using recycled products as often as they can.
A recent WRAP market assessment shows that compost is now being specified in a quarter of landscape contracts so, perhaps it is now time for sports turf professionals maintaining football, cricket and rugby pitches and race and golf courses around the UK to realize the benefits of compost too.
For more information on compost or to find a supplier near you please visit the WRAP Organics website - www.wrap.org.uk/composting
- or call the freephone helpline on 0808 100 2040.