Presenting Quality Turf Surfaces To A Budget

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[Article written by Turfcare WA's General Manager, Cameron Sutherland for issue 49 of Turf Grass Times, Sport Turf Association’s Members Magazine (WA), June 2020]

As Bob Dylan wrote, ‘The times they are a changing’, and this has never been so true as the world as we know it has probably changed forever with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even in Western Australia where economic and social damage at present is minimal in comparison to the northern hemisphere, significant financial impact on business, schools and local government is being felt. Even without any further outbreaks, the financial budgets are being, at best, held at the current levels and at worst, significantly tightened for all areas of turf management, including staff.

So how can we maximise efficiencies and productivity in the current climate to offset any potential changes in budgets and staff?

The reality is, planning and managing vast areas of turf is no different to running a business. You must be intuitive around what you are seeing ‘out in the field’, as well as strategize, understand your strengths and weaknesses and plan in order to be able to manage the surface at its optimum.

A simple SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) will help you examine where and what your operational objectives are, as well as identify the internal and external factors that are favourable and unfavourable to achieving that goal. This is a critical process to support the prioritisation of your decisions.

With budgets tight and time at a premium, developing effective management practices is crucial for keeping your turf surfaces in good condition. When you are asked to do more with less; to save on maintenance costs without compromising turf quality, what is your answer going to be on how are you going to achieve this?

Outlined below are some thought processes and turf practices that may help with staff and budget shortages.

Value for Money

When assessing your priorities and planning your turf management programs, ask ‘are they giving the best value for money’ or ‘bang for your buck’? Regardless if it is a small area such as a golf green, tennis court, cricket wicket etc. or the actual golf course or outfield, this principle applies.

In the case of fertiliser application, can I traffic the surface once with a good balanced fertiliser that addresses most of my nutrient deficiencies from my tests? Will this fertiliser fit in with my lateral or vertical plant growth and mowing requirements to ensure great coverage which is fit for purpose for stakeholder usage? As some fertilisers have greater plant growth production whilst others are reproductive based, knowing what certain nutrients and their forms can achieve will therefore saving on your inputs.

What time of the year is my surface under the most pressure from a usage perspective and does this require a fertiliser that enhances sugar production in the plant for strength and recovery rather than at other times when a nice colour for appearance is all that is required?

When spraying, consider tank mixing products together such as Biagra, Accelpryn and Barricade which would provide a wetting agent, insect and weed control all in one unscheduled application. 

If you are trafficking your sports surfaces or parks, ask the question, ‘how much value am I adding to either the soil profile or the plant each time I drive on them’ to enable you to achieve your goals. This is true even for mowing, ask yourself ‘what height am I mowing’?  ‘How much leaf is being removed’? ‘Am I getting the desired result to enable sustainable turf production and if not what needs to change in my program’?

How can I Achieve Sustainability

By the very nature of this heading I am concentrating on the word sustainability and asking the question, ‘am I able to sustain the correct amount of growth and health for the turf to have the ability to produce a quality surface when required’?

One of the best ways to way to achieve this is by adding consistent turf growth regulation to your management practice. With most turf surfaces around the state now predominately kikuyu that has natural growth year-round, maximising the control of the turf’s vertical leaf growth and increasing plant density is important. Products like Primo can maximise nutrition and water usage in the plant through reduced leaf removal when mowing, which is crucial for maximising moisture retention with our tight water budgets. Savings of up to 60% of clipping removal provides scope for the most efficient mowing schedules possible.

Tying these applications in with your fertility program will also provide benefits in appearance and plant vitality with the increased amino acids, proteins, enzymes etc being utilised to enhance root, rhizome, and stolon growth.

To enable this root development to occur, aerating at critical stages throughout the year is important for roots to track into the profile to source water in the summer and to aid water infiltration in winter. This timing will be based on several factors such as soil profile and usage but pro-active planning on this can positively impact plant performance and wear.

In these times of tight budget management and justification, adhering to the key principles of plant fertility and growth along with soil productivity and executing them at your crucial maintenance times will provide the basis for year round performance for your turf surface.

By Cameron Sutherland, Gernal Manager Turfcare WA, June 2020. 


About Cameron Sutherland

Turfcare WA’s General Manager, Cameron Sutherland has been in the turf industry for 30 years, managing a range of major sporting surfaces throughout Perth. During this time, he has also consulted to the turf, agriculture and horticulture fields around soil science and the role of biology, chemistry and physics in the soil to create fully functioning systems.

With over 15 years’ experience facility managing major sporting venues such as the WACA, Belmont Park Racetrack and Ascot Racetrack, Cameron is regarded as one of Australia’s elite turf consultants and has recently worked with the State Government to write the specifications for the new Perth Stadium. Cameron's ability to asess local agronomic conditions and recommend precise renovation techniques has contributed to his great success in turf management.

Cameron is currently the General Manager of Turfcare WA and responsible for the structure and operation of the business with Michael Maartensz.