TGA Conference to spark Industry into life
By David Saltman
The inaugural National Turf Conference was held yesterday (24/10/02) at the East of England Showground, Peterborough. It was well attended and offered a broad selection of speakers drawing on all aspects of our Industry.
David Waring, Chairman of the TGA and MD of Sovereign Turf, competently chaired the conference.
After David's opening speech, Dr Ruth Mann took the floor discussing the results of a survey on Turfgrass pests and diseases. The opening point that she made was that despite sending out over 3000 questionnaires, only 7% were filled in and returned.
(Maybe it is a sign of the apathy in our Industry to progress, that people cannot find the time to fill in a survey, designed to benefit the future research into changing patterns of pests and diseases. A survey, where the conclusions can be acted upon to benefit those very same people). Ed's notes.
Dr Ruth Mann stated that pests and diseases continuously fluctuate in response to the environment around them. The heavy rainfall experienced over the last five years, and the milder winters have helped these pathogens and pests to increase their numbers. The diseases, many of which are water borne have had ample opportunity to spread with the increase in standing water, while the lack of prolonged cold weather in the winter months has meant the survival of many of the larvae produced by our biggest pests.
She specifically talked about the spread of diseases such as anthracnose, red thread and yellow tuft, in many parts of the country due to the possible global warming, anthracnose in particular, seemed to be as widespread as fusarium. With mild and wet winters, diseases are able to increase their spread of spores, increase germination and therefore infection of other plants under stress.
In respect of anthracnose, Ruth stated that the increase might be as a direct result of an increase in nematode worms, eating their way into the basal stems of the grass, improving access for the pathogen.
Red thread, has always been associated with low fertility and free water availability, however it seems that there are new strains of red thread that have developed a nitrogen tolerance and incidences of red thread have been found on higher fertile golf greens. Red thread was traditionally a summer/autumn disease, but like many of the other pests and diseases, the changing weather patterns have increased the time that they are prevalent and red thread has been active from the spring onwards.
Similarly, yellow tuft was a spring and autumn disease, using ample amounts of standing water to spread. With the flooding that we have experienced in the last five years, yellow tuft has flourished, causing excessive tillering, poor rooting with small yellow spots on the leaf of the plant.
Ruth already highlighting the milder winters as a cause for the boom in populations for both pests and diseases discussed the reduction in chemicals still available for legal use as the other main contributing factor.
Leather jackets and cockchafers are becoming a bigger problem, although leather jackets can still be controlled with chloropyrifos in their younger pupae state (although there is evidence that they have developed a resistance build up to this chemical), there is now no product that is effective against cockchafers. After the withdrawal of Carbaryl and gamma-HCH, we are defenceless. Equally interesting is the spread of cockchafers. Historically these Stag beetle larvae were found in the south of the country, but they have in recent years been found migrating north and even as far as Scotland. Last year many playing surfaces in the Northwest were devastated by animal damage rooting for these grubs.
In her summary, Ruth said that there needs to be more help in providing data for research, but her fears are that as warmer annual temperatures continue to rise, our country will see new pests and diseases colonising our sports grass areas. In particular Take All in Poa annua, Descampsia and fescues; Rhizoctoma, Anthracnose basal rot on creeping bent, nematodes and frit fly.
In the past, insecticides kept these pests under control, now that many are unavailable we need to look at new treatments or even changes in our cultural practice.
Following Ruth was the dynamic Martyn Jones, who's chosen subject was the ecology of Turfgrass establishment. He asked 'How do grasses compete with each other, what selection of species should be chosen and what ranges will grasses survive in?'
He questioned whether isolated field and laboratory trials of seeds are indicative of their ability to survive in a real situation and he defined the word Ecology as a study of organisms in relation to their environment. Martyn also said that in a complex ecological system there was stability for the plant population, whereas in sports grass situations where there is little diversity the eco-balance could become unbalanced very quickly.
Where there are only one or two species in an environment, competition for the available resources is strong because all the plants from the same species require the same elements in the ground; this results in the formation of resource depletion zones. Resource depletion zones reduce plant population, if there is no additional food and water provided by an outside source.
Martyn then introduced us to Tilman's model, where changes in ph, soil moisture, shade, cutting heights and nitrogen availability can have dramatic changes in a particular species survival. The gradual or sudden change in any of the above will determine whether a species will be strong, weak or not survive at all in that new environment.
Using the Tilman graph, Martyn illustrated how two grasses, such as perennial ryegrass and poa annua would optimally survive at differing levels of the above list. It was therefore possible to get rid of one plant species by altering levels of a particular ingredient of their requirements. More importantly, the model can be used to determine which species would survive best in a particular environment. In other words if ph was low and soil moisture high, then certain imported turf grasses whether seeded or supplied in turf may not survive and their dwindling population would become invaded by a stronger species more suitably adept in those particular conditions.
Martyn went on to talk about Carrying capacity-this represents the maximum number of individuals that can survive in an environment. A population will grow in time to a maximum number providing a 100% canopy as shown below.
With the establishment of a fescue/ bent seed mix, if sown together the fescue will germinate and establish far quicker than the bent grasses, so fescues would dominate the initial sward. Poa as a weed grass, would also self seed so invariably in a newly seeded area the colonisation would be as shown in the graph below.
As fescues tend not to enjoy close mowing, there would be a rapid improvement in the populations of both the bents and the poa about half way along the time bar as close mowing was introduced. However if Agrostis spp. is sown 7-10 days in advance of the Festuca spp in the summer months, then the bents get a really great chance to start establishment quickly and reach carrying capacity, as shown below.
More importantly, because the Bents are established with reduced initial competition, the fact that the fescues would suffer under close mowing (again half way along the time bar) means that there is still little chance of poa making inroads into the overall carrying capacity of the population.
Martyn explained that this sounds easy in theory, but there are far more controls that need to be taken into account in practice.
The next speaker was Brian Morron, from Gotelee & Goldsmith Solicitors. Brian managed to talk briefly in half an hour about Employment Law, but was quick to point out that he could equally spend the next six months explaining it in fine detail. In summary he stressed the importance of staff having a contract of employment, as it is a legal requirement that covers both the employee and the employer.
He also talked about the changes in legislation for small businesses, the extension of maternity and paternity leave, stress and other legal claims being made on employers by their employees. This subject is vast and a potential minefield, but something that has to be addressed by all companies. Equally it would be unfair for me to try to convey Brian's speech in this article for fear of not presenting the facts correctly. I would suggest that with all things legal, you leave it to the experts.
The morning session was not yet over, but at least we could get back to turf related matters with Robert Laycock talking about the TGA, and the assessment and quantifying of the quality of cultivated turf. Robert is the consultant agronomist for the Turf Growers Association and part of his talk showed how the industry had pulled its socks up by providing self-regulating certificates of quality for the turf grown in the UK today.
He started by stating that in the 70's the only turf grown was meadow turf, whereas today the majority of all turf grown is cultivated. He asked 'what makes a good quality turf?' The answers were the use of correct grass species, turf fit for the purpose, free of broad leaved weeds, clean of pests and disease, green and in good condition on arrival, not to heavy and the correct dimensions. The other major point was that delivered turf was of the right age, not too young that it fell apart, and not too old that there was a high level of thatch in the turf.
The TGA was set up by the turf growers to provide some regulation in the Industry, and the certification of the turf is a relatively new scheme. The scheme is voluntary not mandatory, and provides a certificate to describe the turf condition when harvested. The self-certification is carried out by an experienced member of the team and allows for an independent review and assessment of the turf in the event of a dispute, between the supplier and end user. The scheme was set up to help customers trust the source of the turf, the measurements on the certificate are relevant, simple to check and repeatable.
The previously written British standards for Turf growers were set in 1965 and are very out of date. The TGA are helping to rewrite the new British Standards.
This is a significant step, introducing regulation, which will ensure quality production and delivery from reputable turf suppliers.
Robert added that this certification would enable the end user to determine the choice of grasses grown, the right soil or root zone mix and whether reinforcing such as netting be incorporated in the delivered turf.
Following this he talked about improvements made in assessing grass content using a point quadrat to determine percentage of species in a given turf and the guidelines set out by the TGA. The maximum level of thatch found in a cultivated turf should be no more than 10mm in thickness and the soil/root zone should be at least 5- 15mm in depth. The height of sward should be no more than 35mm in length when it arrives on site.
After a packed morning of discussion, and a very good buffet lunch, we waited with eager anticipation for the 'grave yard shift', the first afternoon session, delivered by Alan Ferguson, Head Groundsman of Ipswich Town football club. Alan described with vigour the day-to-day management and effective maintenance of premier football pitches. He started by saying that stadiums have changed beyond recognition over the last ten to fifteen years with the introduction of spectator safety and comfort. The role of the Groundsman in these stadiums has changed radically, and has required the Groundsman to become an environmental manager.
With a huge reduction in airflow and light, management techniques have changed and he called for more interaction between Groundsmen and architects in stadium design. He highlighted his own club Ipswich as an example of this interaction, where stands have been developed to incorporate special ventilation panels that can be opened on non-match days to allow air movement within the confines of the stands.
The collection of data, using weather stations, has enabled Alan to build a precise maintenance regime suited to the microclimate at Portman Road.
Alan described Groundsmanship as putting together all the elements of a jigsaw to provide an answer. The pieces of the jigsaw, being the requirements of the plant, balanced against use of the pitch using all the techniques available to the Groundsman. Our management of pitches revolves around mowing, aeration, top dressing, scarifying, verticutting, brushing, fertilising, rolling, seeding and irrigation. The key is knowing the right time to do a specific operation.
Alan concluded that with careful management and the addition of a suitable rain/frost protection system, it is possible to provide a top quality surface, in most stadium situations all season.
Our next speaker was Mogens Toft Jensen, the Danish Head of Marketing for the DLF-Trifolium group. Mogens talked about the breeding and production of high quality amenity grasses and how breeders are tackling the rising demand for higher quality.
He described the professional market as focused on varieties, technical qualities and technical services. Although important, there is less focus on price unlike the consumer market. He said that the driving force for breeders, is producing seeds to the top of the recommended lists, and producing quality cultivars with increased tolerances each year.
Over the last ten to twelve years, breeders have doubled the leaf density of perennial ryegrasses reaching a near optimum shoot density. As well as shoot density, breeders have also focused on the fineness of the leaf and disease tolerance.
More recently there has also been an emphasis towards shade tolerant varieties and plants that produce a reduced amount of clippings per cut. The former is important for stadium environments, the latter for local authority contracting.
He summarised by saying that natural grass will be in direct competition with third generation synthetic surfaces, soon to appear, and it was in the interests of the industry, that the breeders can come up with 'superior breeds' to keep natural grass as the preferred choice.
He noted two new varieties that have been developed recently, one was the tetraploid variety 'Juventus', which has better disease, drought and stress tolerance as well as deeper rooting and improved density. Juventus is not yet available in the UK. Another new variety is Poa reptans, which forms a uniform, dense turf at greens height with strong upright habit; it is perennial and stoloniferous with excellent seedling vigour and thrives in both sun and shade.
The final speaker of the day was Dr Alan Gange, Senior Lecturer in environmental biology at Royal Holloway, University of London. Alan started by saying that there are generic features for healthy turf, such as good root production, efficient nutrient recycling, high chlorophyll content (good colour) as well as previously mentioned resistance to drought, disease and weed infestation.
He said that sustainability is the important issue in turf production, particularly in light of a forced decrease in chemical and fertiliser usage and the increased charges of water use.
Therefore a more natural approach is needed to make turf production and maintenance more sustainable. He suggested that while the 'muck and magic' formulas were now more widespread, there had been many misinterpretations and that there was still much work required to provide proven answers on the use of naturally produced microbes.
However science proves that in the soil, microbes, actinomycetes, fungi and algae are all commonly found and they have both chemical and physical roles to play in the ecological system. Soil microbes break down organic compounds, primarily carbon and also cellulose and lignin. They form humus, which is a long-term energy store.
Microbes are also good at binding particles together so they help stabilise the soil. Added to that they also carry out nutrient cycling and many fix nitrogen ready for the plant uptake. Soil microbes also carry out important biological roles in terms of the enhancement of root growth, drought resistance, the reduced need of fertiliser, disease protection and even the control of poa.
For many years it has been thought that the use of broad-spectrum fungicides has possibly led to low levels of microbial activity in sports turf. Alan Gange thinks that this is not the significant reason as thatch in soil is a very good barrier and tends to trap the active ingredients of pesticides. More likely is the compaction, which reduces air space, for the microbes to breathe and more significantly, mowing, which is an unfortunate fact of our industry.
In short plants, through their leaves take in carbon dioxide and feed the carbon to the roots. This carbon exudes from the roots and the bacteria can feed on the carbon. Regular mowing at low cutting heights reduces the available leaf and far less carbon is sent down to the roots by the plant. Therefore cutting off the food supply to the microbes.
Methods of increasing the microbial population can include the addition of a decomposition ingredient like seaweed extract, a carbon source, a fungal (mycorrhizal) product or a combination of the three. Alternative operations would be to aerate far more and the reduced use of pesticides.
Alan summed up, saying that soil microbes are found in low numbers on managed turf, because they find themselves food limited. Adding microbes in theory is possible but there needs to be a sustainable food source to keep them there. If the right solution is found then the use of soil microbes could be as effective as many traditional management techniques.
There was indeed a lot of information to take in, but as David Waring took questions from the floor and asked a few of his own, it was apparent that many questions had already been answered. All in all, it is gratifying to know that so many eminent people are involved in research and problem solving on behalf of the Industry. If the many could take even a slightly more involved role, even just by answering the occasional questionnaire, we may well find the answers to keep natural grass at the top of sports agenda.