How does a groundsman or greenkeeper make the right choice when purchasing large pieces of costly equipment, or even replacing a whole fleet? STRI’s grounds manager, Ian Anderson, and research operations manager, Dr Christian Spring, kick some tyres.
An important part of the decision making process is understanding the real-world performance that any piece of equipment can deliver. There’s a plethora of ways this can be evaluated, ranging from technical literature and testimonials through to demonstrations and results of scientific testing.
It is worth considering two different perspectives on machinery testing, one from a groundsman’s point of view and one from a researcher.
Grounds-eye view (Ian Anderson)
As a groundsman, what information do you need or feel the most beneficial before you purchase turf maintenance machinery?
For most groundsmen/greenkeepers, the first step is reading product specifications and testimonials. Next, I look at demonstrations from machinery distributors/manufacturers to try and answer one question, “is this the right machine for me?”.
If you are planning to spend, what could be a significant chunk of your yearly resource budget, would the decision be easier to make if the machine in question had undergone scientifically rigorous and unbiased trialling?
The scientific testing of machinery has grown in the turf industry over the years and is something that manufacturers and distributors have realised is of significant benefit to turf managers, as well as for themselves.
Over the years, STRI has been involved with numerous trials investigating the effects and benefits of various turf maintenance machinery and equipment (Table 1).
When talking to the increasing number of manufacturers who are carrying out testing here at STRI, the reasons for them carrying out this work often vary. However, some of key reasons include:
- Obtaining objective data on the performance and effects of the tested equipment
- Data obtained from trials is unbiased, which gives end users confidence in the benefits of a particular piece of kit
- It is easier to clearly demonstrate the effects of a machine using data, than trying to rely on visual effects alone
- Machinery can be tested under a variety of turf types or ground/weather conditions, which can often be difficult to do under live play conditions
- The optimal usage periods/conditions and setting changes can be evaluated on a trial area, rather than on a live playing surface
- When testing a new piece of kit, testing it on a trial area rather than a live playing surface reduces the risk to the surface if any unexpected effects were observed
As a groundsman, being able to see and quantify the effects of a machine is often critical in assessing whether it is the right bit of kit.
The results of testing can often be critical in understanding the best way to use a piece of equipment and can sometimes be eye opening and change perceptions.
As a groundsman myself, I find relevant data can at times show more than just seeing treatment effects by eye, especially when the impacts are taking place in the soil and not necessarily at the surface.
I remember one manufacturer once saying that they had always wanted to see what their machine would do if they did a second pass at 90 degrees to the first one. They said they would never risk it on an area in play.
I just replied, “let’s try it on STRI’s Trial Facility, as I can always repair the turf if a problem occurred”.
This is the benefit of trial areas where you can experiment with equipment, whereas you wouldn’t think or want to do this on a live sports surface. In the end, the operation was successful, and it is now part of standard practice for that machine, but we would never have known without trialling it first.
Doing the research (Dr Christian Spring)
From a researcher’s point of view, the scientific trialling of turf maintenance equipment usually involves quantifying changes both above ground and below ground. Often these changes are not visible, because they are taking place below ground, or they are relatively small and difficult to observe with the naked eye (such as ball roll characteristics).
The type of effects needing to be quantified very much depends on the operations being carried out. However, typical effects under evaluation would include:
- Improvements in plant health, often expressed as turf quality, turf colour and disease incidence
- Plant growth benefits, often measured as biomass production, rooting depth and sward height
- Soil organic matter reduction
- Soil:water interactions, often measured as soil water content, water infiltration rates and water retention under wet and dry conditions
- Soil compaction and surface hardness
- Ball:surface interactions, often expressed in changes to ball roll characteristics (green speed, smoothness and trueness
- Player surface interactions, such as player grip
- Time for turf recovery from disturbance
Testing usually involves comparing the effect of using a particular piece of equipment with untreated turf. Often it is of interest to test different usage factors, such as intensity or timing of use, with different settings on the machine (depth and spacing are the usual ones). This allows manufacturers to obtain data on the global effects, as well as optimal settings to achieve the required result.
Data from machinery trials benefits not only the manufacturer, but the key beneficiary is the sports turf industry. Why is this? Well the industry gets machinery that is proven to “do what it says on the tin”, that is robustly tested and usage advice optimised to obtain maximum benefit.
It means that evolutions in machinery are focused and targeted, whilst being directly related to ease of use, cost-efficiency and real-world performance.
Next time you are thinking about a machinery purchase, ask the question, “can you show me the trial data?”
If you are interested in finding out more about the latest research and technological developments in the sports turf industry, join Ian and Christian at STRI Research 2018 on 19 or 20 September.
Book your place by calling +44 (0) 1274 565131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.