Last season's conditions proved a testing time to cope with the huge variability in British weather conditions - from the threat of extreme drought, to the wettest summer on record for many.
It was especially difficult for golf course managers, where firm fast surfaces are required to meet the demands of the modern player. Over the 2012 season Ray Hunt, Technical Sales - Regional Manager at ALS, worked with James Braithwaite, Course Manager at the Long Ashton Golf Club in Somerset, to test the attributes of Qualibra for his greens and club members.
Keeping putting surfaces firm
The original soil-based greens of Long Ashton Golf Club have always posed a challenge for Course Manager, James Braithwaite, to keep the course open and avoid the use of temporary greens as much as possible. With an almost continuous deluge of over 380mm of rainfall in Bristol for June to August, however, last year it proved an incredibly difficult season.
Seeking to address the issues, James carried out a trial with Ray using Qualibra on nine greens, and another market leading wetting agent on his other nine. He applied both on a monthly basis, at exactly the same time and according to their recommended application rates.
James reported that, despite using Qualibra on the more difficult greens, the results were that they were firmer and dryer at the surface than his other nine holes, resulting in faster, more consistent, putting surfaces - with less impact of foot printing and pitch marks.
"The wet conditions of last summer were without doubt been an exacting situation," he said. "We have seen excellent results with Qualibra, despite the heavy rainfall experienced. My intention is to go with a full programme across all greens this year." Furthermore, James has now proposed a major investment plan to the club's members to completely rebuild 14 greens with a USGA spec sand construction, to resolve drainage difficulties.
Ray added that having the penetrant and polymer qualities together in one wetting agent had clearly worked well in moving water away from the surface to achieve firmer conditions, whilst holding moisture at a lower level in the soil profile that could encourage root development.
Ray also recommends the dual action of Qualibra can help greenkeepers make better use of irrigation scheduling, and conserve of water resources in a dry season.
He advises that applying a higher volume of water less frequently is a more efficient use of irrigation, compared to the little and often approach. "Applying more water less frequently helps to rehydrate the soil more effectively to depth, and significantly reduces the effect of evaporation from the soil surface in hot summer conditions."
Ray advocates the dual action of Qualibra can eliminate the risks of creating soft surfaces after a heavy rain or irrigation and help alleviate dry patch or hydrophobic soils more effectively. "Creating a dry surface, whilst holding greater soil moisture reserves deep and evenly in the root zone, gives more efficient utilisation of water and encourages root development further down into the soil profile, which can further aide plant health," he added.
Hold onto water for healthy root uptake
The use of Qualibra to hold soil moisture more evenly through the soil profile could aide nutrient uptake and the efficiency of fertiliser applications, according to Syngenta Technical Manager, Dr Simon Watson.
He reports a 'green-up effect' repeatedly experienced during greenkeepers' user-trials with Qualibra is believed to be the result of enhanced uptake of nutrients.
New research is looking to assess the effect of soil moisture being distributed more evenly through the soil with the use of Qualibra, and thereby increasing the area of contact between the roots and soil water, that will enhance uptake of nutrients. "Where roots are growing in hydrophobic soils - or even small pockets of hydrophobicity within the soil profile - there will be lengths of the root that have little or no contact with soil moisture, even in wet conditions," he warned.
"The use of Qualibra creates a more even distribution of soil moisture throughout the soil profile, and thereby along a greater length of the root mass. This could lead to a greater nutrient uptake. Even in a wet season the issue of hydrophobicity can still lead to dry patches within the soil profile."
Simon advised that to achieve the desired even spread requires the right sort of wetting agent. It needs a combination of sufficient penetrant to move the water and achieve the spread along the roots and through hydrophobic soils, along with effective polymer retention of moisture through the root zone. A conventional polymer wetting agent is unlikely to provide sufficient even distribution of moisture to achieve such a benefit.
With soil moisture being held more effectively deeper in the soil profile there would be a reduced leaching of nutrients, which results in more available for root uptake and increasing the efficiency of fertiliser applications. This would also have an implication for the environmental impact of nutrient loss through groundwater, he added.
Golf courses and other sports facilities are going to have to stop using mains water for irrigation within the next five years, according to latest reports, warns Roger Davey of Somerset-based Irritech. That will have major implications for turf health and playing surface quality for the 70% of clubs in the region currently dependent on mains water - and drive initiatives for more effective use of available water resources.
Mr Davey highlighted that turf managers need to balance the benefit of clean water from the mains, against the high cost of around £1.50 per m3. With one of his clients using up to £600 of water a night and a budget of £45,000 a year for irrigation water alone, the potential for enhancing efficiency and utilising other resources is immense, he reported.
"Golf courses will have to prove they have an efficient and sustainable policy for their use of irrigation water, if they want to get and keep an abstraction licence," he advised. He believes at least a 10% saving on water use is readily achievable with most current irrigations systems by enhancing efficiency.
Whilst the cost of borehole water can be as low as five pence per m3 and could pay for the investment in just three years, greenkeepers and clubs have to be aware of the potential risks of water quality. Other sources for stored water, including rainwater harvesting and treated grey water or sewage effluent from a hotel complex, for example, could also provide valuable alternatives.
"There is an inherent risk for human and turf health involved with using stored water," warned Roger. "But if you have management systems for judicious risk assessment, it can be entirely viable."
For further information or to purchase Qualibra contact:
Ray Hunt, Technical Sales Manager 07815578920 or
ALS (Amenity Land Solutions) on 01952 641949 - firstname.lastname@example.org.