Intensification in Turf Management

Agricultural intensification aims to increase food production through increased resource inputs.

It “… can be technically defined as an increase in agricultural production per unit of inputs (which may be labour, land, time, fertilizer, seed, feed or cash). For practical purposes, intensification occurs when there is an increase in the total volume of agricultural production that results from a higher productivity of inputs, or agricultural production is maintained while certain inputs are decreased (such as by more effective delivery of smaller amounts of fertilizer, better targeting of plant or animal protection, and mixed or relay cropping on smaller fields).”  (Agricultural intensification, FAO, , accessed 13th May 2018)

How might this have anything to do with turf management? Well, with increasing demands made on turf surfaces the current approach is to intensify resource use as well as intensify maintenance practices, such as increased mowing and shorter mowing in many cases, in order to satisfy user demands (which I suppose could tentatively be analogous with production, well, maybe). Whether these demands are informed, appropriate, or contribute to a sustainable surface are different issues altogether.

Increasing pesticide, fertiliser and water inputs, as well as increased physical practices such as mowing increases the stress on the grass plant by not allowing it a moment of respite for strong development. One key question that is not asked is whether this is the optimum way to maintain and manage turf surfaces?

Many grounds managers are actually challenging this approach and have introduced ecological principles to turf management, sensible maintenance inputs, whilst others have eliminated pesticide applications altogether.

Raising the height of cut, for example, to 40mm on a football pitch may seem a bit drastic (which it isn’t actually), but  for most players and leagues this will have no practical effect on ball roll characteristics for their level of play, yet mowing can be reduced, carrying capacity could increase, and disease attack could be a thing of the past.

Reducing the stress (caused by intensification) on a grass plant is an obvious solution to many problems, but for some reason the desire for shorter more manicured sports surfaces seems to be in vogue. However, many people – especially senior managers and providers – fail to recognise, or just ignore, how this negatively impacts on their budgets or any sustainability plan they may have in place.

Re-balancing the subjective desired maintenance work to more essential maintenance work to achieve the minimum required for an appropriate standard will be a challenge. This involves working as a team – users, providers and maintainers in particular – as well as having the technical insight into the how, when, where and what of turf management. Within the mix also needs to be considered the requirement not to fall for pressures of some amenity sales staff who might persuade someone of the need for a product when in reality the need doesn’t actually exist.

Intensification is not a sustainable approach; realigning inputs to meet informed needs rather than uninformed ones (which are just ‘I want …’) will help to drive up the knowledge and understanding within the turf care industry, positioning it as an even more worthy profession than it currently is.

Chris Gray, 13th May 2018