STRI’s research operations manager, Dr Christian Spring, tells us about about global research development and diversification at STRI.
STRI: Please describe your role at STRI.
Christian Spring (CS): My role at STRI is to oversee and supervise the research operations of our UK business, so that means managing all the trials and staff associated with the Bingley facility here in the UK.
STRI: What specialisms does STRI have?
CS: STRI is a global, world leading expert in turf and sports surface design, construction and management, where research, consultancy and construction project delivery go hand-in-hand.
STRI truly is a global leader in all kinds of sport surfaces, whether it’s football, rugby, hockey golf, bowls, stadia, horse racing or equestrian sports. STRI operates at all levels of sport from grass roots through to major international events.
STRI: Can you give us a potted history of research at STRI?
CS: STRI research was fundamental to the start of the Institute in 1929 as the Board of Greenkeeping Research, and STRI – as it later became – was set up to carry out research into all things to do with golf and golf turf. But obviously once you figure out how to grow a golf green, tee and fairway, there is a huge amount of transferable information to football, rugby, equestrian sports.
In the 50s we changed our name and our remit to more formerly carry out research and consultancy into all types
of natural turf sport surfaces.
STRI: Who does STRI research work with?
CS: Within STRI our team is a very diverse group of individuals with a wide range of skills and expertise, whether it’s building and designing sports facilities to undertaking optimum plant nutrition and disease management.
Our team encompasses all turf specialisms to ensure research trials are completed to the highest standard, from our world-class grounds team, who build and manage our turf trials, to our trials team who set-up and run our trials.
In terms of our clients, we work for a very diverse group of companies and clients that range from global companies through to very small innovative university spin outs, one-two man bands that have really innovative ideas and want to look at how they can commercialise their concepts.
Our role very much varies depending on the needs of a client, whether they know exactly what they want us to test, through to guiding a client from concept to product.
STRI: So, if I have an idea or a product and I don’t know what to do with it, I should call STRI?
CS: Yes, absolutely because we have decades worth of experience in helping companies test their turf products. A vast knowledge of what has been and what currently is in the marketplace.
STRI is a world leader at being able to use not only our scientific skills to test products or systems, but we have extensive commercial experience, which allows us to advise and guide clients. In our industry, STRI is optimally placed to provide scientific and technical support to companies to help them get the most from their products and the markets where they are sold.
Just one example of this is StadiaPitch, a revolutionary modular pitch solution for multi-use stadia venues. The concept was evolved as part of a consortium of companies to produce a research programme to validate not only the concept, but the final design of the system. After years of work the system is out there in the marketplace as a complete product.
The type of project can be anything from a very left-field concept which needs a lot of work refinement, design and testing, through to a company with a fertiliser from a different type of source and they want to establish whether or not it is worth putting into this market. What’s the market value? Is there a market appetite? Does it technically have a role to play? STRI can do all of those things.
STRI: How is STRI able to support its clients?
CS: Supporting our clients with our knowledge and expertise is integral to the service we offer. We can evaluate the results of the research we carry out, whether its testing a mower, a fertiliser or a pesticide, or a different concept on how to maintain turf, with an unbiased view to give straightforward advice on what we have tested.
Our research is built on integrity, that if something works, we are more than happy to say it works, or if it doesn’t, we are able to contextualise this and help clients understand the reasons why it didn’t work.
STRI is then well placed to discuss how the performance of a product or system can be improved. This is all built on the expertise, experience and commercial knowledge STRI has built up in our research team to deliver commercial research.
People come to us at various stages of the development process:
- If it’s early on, it is often to gain a clear picture relatively quickly of whether it does what it says on the tin, do they have something that is worthwhile pursuing. The research is geared towards scoping whether the system or product under test performs as anticipated
- Once you get products that are a little more mature, we are looking at how we can collect data that is going to back up the claims made by that product, perhaps as part of a marketing campaign, by producing graphs, data, video clips or social media posts to support this
- We also do work of a regulatory nature that concerns, for example, the authorisation of pesticides. Being an accredited test station under the ORETO scheme means that we can carry out the required tests to the required standards so that our data can be used by companies in their dossiers
STRI: Please tell us about STRI research facilities around the globe.
CS: STRI has got a number of bases around the globe. For most of the 90 years that STRI has been in existence, we have focused primarily on UK based research, but over the last ten years, as STRI’s global vision has evolved and developed, we have a research presence in both the desert climate as part of our ongoing relationship with Aspire Sports Turf in Qatar, and our colleagues down under at STRI Australia based at the Redlands facility in Brisbane. At Redlands, there is an extensive warm season grass testing site that allows us to carry out our warm season research.
STRI: What type of research is undertaken at STRI?
CS: STRI carries out a broad range of research in all aspects of sports turf construction and management. Whether this is evaluating grass cultivars for the British society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) or product testing trials on fertilisers, plant protection products, biostimulants and maintenance machinery.
We also carry out integrated turf management trials to evaluate optimum strategies for managing turf and R&D trials to assist companies with the primary R&D.
The research STRI carries out is very applied, which maintains the direct link between science and practice. This is vital as it means the outcomes of research trials can be immediately translated into practical benefits.
STRI: What do you envisage for the future of sports research?
CS: To some extent, I think sports research will continue in the same vein as it is now, whereby there is always a demand for unbiased objective and scientifically rigorous testing and evaluation of products as part of an R&D programme or as part of marketing campaign.
I think there will be much closer scrutiny and hopefully much greater understanding of the role that science and data can play. We have a younger generation of turf managers coming through who are used to receiving multiple threads of information, dealing with data and analytics, and who actually want that approach.
With these changes we need to make sure that the research remains current with those needs and it was this requirement that facilitated the development of TurfSync.
It is becoming far more common for greenkeepers and groundsmen to say, “show me the data”, rather than necessarily taking marketing claims as gospel. This is great, as it’s one more step to turf practitioners adopting a critical thought process, which benefits the whole industry.
One of the key roles of STRI research is to ensure that producers and users of turf products and systems get the appropriate technical support, which helps them make informed decisions about what to use and when. This is the direct interface between science and practice.
STRI: How has research at STRI developed?
CS: STRI has been built on research and research continues to be the major core theme of everything that we do, supporting and backing up the consultancy, agronomy and development services that we give. This can be seen by how research integrates into all types of projects STRI gets involved with.
The research team are involved from the get-go on big development projects, where those projects are seen to create or have a number of technological challenges.
The integration of STRI’s research team with our consultancy and agronomy colleagues is fundamental for the evolution and successful delivery of projects, both big and small. Research and science are at the core of STRI and the services we deliver.
Click here to watch a recording of a live turf management Q&A with Dr Christian Spring.