In discussion with Dr Christian Spring, Principal Scientist

As the landscape evolves for reducing use of chemicals and pesticides in sport, turf managers and greenkeepers are adapting to the challenge of maintaining elite surfaces to a high standard in a way that is sustainable and future proof.

With grounds teams across the UK keeping a close eye on how Europe is adapting to the proposed regulations on plant protection products (PPPs), it’s important to understand the threats and the opportunities which lay ahead for the sports industry.

Breaking down the politics…

The European Commission has committed to a 50% reduction in the use and risk of chemical pesticides, as well as a 50% reduction of more hazardous pesticides (those that are on the list of candidates for substitution). These are part of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, and the intention is to promote holistic and integrated management of pests, weeds and diseases across all industries.

This resulted in potential legislation being put forward (Sustainable Use Regulation) which would have a significant impact on sports turf management. Proposing a complete ban on the use of conventional plant protection products on sports turf, whilst potentially allowing the use of low risk and biological products, this would have driven immediate change if passed. This legislation was defeated in the European Parliament, but the overall strategy remains.

Taking a leading role in sport’s response to the proposed legislation, STRI Group was commissioned by UEFA and the EGA to conduct research and carry out an Impact Assessment report on the reduction of PPPs, sharing insights on the best practices as part of integrated turf management (ITM).

The Impact Assessment looked how the withdrawal of PPPs would have affected turf and its management, whilst presenting a balanced view of how ITM is being used by sports turf managers and what would be needed to continue down the pathway of further PPP reductions.

How will legislation change affect turf managers and greenkeepers?

It is important to remember that legislation on pesticides has continued to evolve over the years, leading to lower risk products being available and promotion of ever more sustainable use of PPPs and adoption of integrated approaches.

When further restrictions eventually come into force in the EU, there will be direct impacts on EU countries. However, those outside the EU will also feel the indirect impacts from EU regulations due to potential reduction in the market size of PPPs, restricting new products being brought into the market and those that will be available for application.

How turf managers deal with pests, weeds and diseases has already changed through greater use of ITM and will continue to change as potential legislation comes into play.

By putting in place long-term management approaches, education and making full use of support available, integrated turf management along with new developments and innovations will be key.

It’s time to start preparing.

Ensuring a strategy is in place for the future has never been more important. At its core, ITM is about trying to find the natural balance between the soil environment, biology and playing surface which enables us to produce functional and high-quality sports surfaces.

Prevention is better than cure!

  1. Prevention

It doesn’t matter whether you have a pest, weed or disease problem or have had problems in the past, prevention is about drilling down into the root causes for an issue and tackling them. If we don’t create the conditions that favour pests, weeds and diseases, they will find it difficult to persist in that area and therefore not affect our turf. Often this means creating a healthy growing environment for the grass and ensuring the turf is strong and robust.

  1. Cultural

There are a wide range of cultural practices that can help prevent pest, weeds and diseases from affecting turf. These often revolve around following best practice turf maintenance such as appropriate fertiliser application (not too much, not too little and with judicious inputs when the plant needs it), irrigation practices (optimum water input to keep the plant healthy but don’t over or under water) or choice of more tolerant or resistant grass varieties where issues are known to occur.

  1. Physical

Physical methods tend to relate to mechanisms that either physically affect the growing environment, provide a barrier or other physical impediment to a pest, weed or disease or involves the physical removal of the problem. Examples would be aeration to reduce excessive thatch which can provide a habitat for many turf diseases, ensuring mower blades are sharp so that wounds (points of entry for disease) heal quicker reducing exposure time or hand weeding if weeds start to appear rather than allowing the weeds to establish and set seed.

  1. Biological

Biological solutions are becoming a growing tool for turf managers. Whether it is he use of nematodes to help manage young insect larvae or bacteria/fungi that control/inhibit fungal pathogens, biologicals will continue to grow in importance in turf management. These are likely to be the type of solutions that legislators will be amenable for turf managers to continue to use in the years to come.

  1. Chemical

The last line of defence is chemical controls (PPPs). These are highly effective and have undergone extensive and lengthy testing for not only their efficacy, but also their impact on organisms, the environment and human health. However, these tools need to be used according to best practice, with the aim being to reduce the need to have to use them at all.


The future

It is vital that as the sports industry takes its future in its own hands and leads the way on integrated management and managing turf with minimal PPP usage.

Change is here and we need to deal with it and plan for future changes. Waiting and doing nothing is not an option and critical thinking is essential.  As an industry we have to engage with all stakeholders, including regulators and legislators. We have to demonstrate the good work that is being done by turf managers and, critically, we need to be able to quantify actions towards reductions in PPP use.  Assess the problem, implement a plan, monitor the effectiveness and review and adjust as needed.

Solutions are out there to help tackle plant pests, weeds and diseases. They will not have the one hit effect of a PPP but in combination are the way ITM will need to be practiced. Working with the natural environment is ultimately the key.

Our expert team has been applying integrated turf management for many years and we’re happy to share our advice.  If you’d like to speak to our team, reach out via our contact form, email or call us direct on 01274 565131