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The future of the turf industry?

Features, Research / 7th June 2017

The sports turf industry is always changing. The next generation of greenkeepers and groundstaff will have some very interesting benefits and dilemmas to consider. STRI research manager Dr Tom Young looks to the future by going back in time!!!

I am a big believer in using past experience to inform future work and also to avoid forgetting hard learnt lessons. Therefore, I decided to do the obvious thing and consult STRI’s huge library of previous historical research journals, to try and see into the future. It’s not as counter intuitive and Luddite as it sounds.

Considering a number of insecticides are no longer being accepted for amenity turf approval, traditional methods may be the only tools that greenkeepers can use to control specific problems in the near future. Here are some examples which hopefully illustrate this point, as well as showing just how far the turf industry has advanced in the 88 years since STRI has been operating.

 

Wiggling around worms

Following the recent withdrawal of Carbendazim for worm cast suppression, it is interesting to look at previous ways researchers have tackled worm control.

 

 

Between the years of 1929 and 1971 approximately 20 articles were published on the small matter of worm control. Control substances ranged from perchloride of mercury (highly poisonous and corrosive), copper sulphate (toxic, harmful to environment), lead arsenate (highly toxic and caragenic), chlorodan (toxic and extremely persistent in the environment) and potassium permanganate (harmful to aquatic life).

Clearly there are many reasons why these products are no longer allowed, but their overall damage to human health and the environment outweighed their ability to control worm casting on sports surfaces.

Realistically, a product that can control worm casting on sports surfaces whilst also being safe for the environment is unlikely to emerge soon. Therefore, immediate control of worm casting is likely to include traditional cultural controls including topdressing, removal of clippings, reduced fertiliser inputs and acidification of the rootzone.

Work conducted at STRI as far back as 1938, and in 1995, showed good control of worm casting through the application of products containing sulphur. However, it is not yet clear if this was because of an acidification of the rootzone repelling worms or due to active worm control. Much more work is needed in this area.

Care must also be taken with the use of these products, as legally there is also a grey area between active suppression and cultural control of worms.

 

Taking in the full view

 

The first picture of this article is of the STRI trials grounds in 1938 (Fig 1). In the past, pictures like these were expensive to obtain as they required a professional photographer and a plane. In addition, simply photographing individual trials was a laborious and time-consuming task.

 

 

 

 

With the development of cost effective drone technology, individuals and sports clubs can now take high quality aerial images of whole sites quickly and cheaply (Fig 2). STRI is now starting to make much more use of drone technology in the visual monitoring of research trials (Fig 3), and potentially the large scale mapping of vegetated areas to determine plant physiological health (Fig 4).

I have recently qualified as a commercial drone pilot, which allows me to legally operate in the UK. Look out for this service being offered in the future by STRI.

 

 

Diversity of the industry

There is a really good picture in the 1938 edition of the journal which highlights the lack of diversity (not the dance troupe) at STRI events and just how much of a middle-aged male dominated workplace the sports turf industry can be (Fig 5). Admittedly this picture was taken in 1938 where society’s attitude to women working in this type of industry was very different.

Thankfully, a picture taken at the last STRI research day in 2016 shows some improvement in diversity (Fig 6). However, more progress needs to be made on a wider level. Studies show that this could actually be beneficial on a business development level.

Research conducted by Syngenta showing that attracting female players to the golf industry could be worth up to £28 billion to the global golf market.

 

 

Evolving Wimbledon

STRI has enjoyed a great relationship with the groundstaff at Wimbledon for many years. Performing Championship court assessments since the mid-1990s and advisory visits as far back as the 1950s.

There is a wonderful article in the 1954 edition of the STRI journal written by Eddie Fuller, who started work with the Wimbledon groundstaff in 1916. Eddie worked during both world wars, looking after the whole site with just two members of staff (with help from air raid wardens and American servicemen stationed nearby). When you compare photographs (Figs 7 & 8) of the Wimbledon site in 1954 and 2016 you can see how much has changed. In his article Eddie actually remembers visiting the current site of Wimbledon, which was a working farm at the time!

 

Fig 7: Aerial view of Wimbledon site 1954

 

 

As at all major sporting facilities, change will continue to take place at Wimbledon to accommodate future needs. In fact, Court One at Wimbledon is currently in the middle of a major refurbishment to fit a retractable roof as well to modernise the stand for the 21st century.

 

Aerial view of Wimbledon site 2016

Fig 8: Aerial view of Wimbledon site 2016

 

STRI is also evolving its test methods and we are currently fitting a state of the art weather monitoring system. Watch this space for more developments in this field.

The future is hard to predict, but one thing is certain, human nature requires constant development and changes will continually occur. These changes can create many opportunities for those who are willing to take risks.

I will end with a quote from my favourite STRI journal article, ‘The use of rubber in greenkeeping’:

“In conclusion reference may be made to the use of rubber hoses in greenkeeping with the range of hose supplies considerably increasing in recent years and the quality of hose used is such that it can withstand weather conditions, water pressure and hard wear much more successfully than was formally the case.”

As absurd as it sounds now, developments like this in 1938 truly were exciting and massive game changers for greenkeepers. It also really shows just how far the industry has come in the last 80 years. Giving us food for thought as to where the industry will be in another 80 years.

If you need STRI’s research and development assistance for any of your innovative projects, please get in contact with me on 01274 561891, email enquiries@strigroup.com or via Twitter and Linkedin.