Sustainable turfgrass management model -further thoughts

I’ve been developing further the concept for a model which can be used as a learning aid for managers and providers (for example funding parties) of turfgrass surfaces. Effective turf management involves understanding many complex ecological interactions, this model aims to simplify these so they are more understandable and demonstrable.

An additional anticipated benefit is that the model could be used to demonstrate to non-experts the impacts and consequences of various actions that can occur on a sports surface: particular questions to be answered here would be looking at overuse of a surface (i.e. exceeding its carrying capacity and cost implications of maintenance activities).

Back in March I wrote on the concept about a ‘Sustainable Turfgrass Management Model’.

I’ve thought about the aim of the model and it can be defined as “To provide a model which can aid the understanding of the different interactions involved in producing a sustainable turfgrass surface.”

Several objectives (so far) can be described for this as being:

  1. To understand how selected criteria can impact on playing quality and user experiences;
  2. To identify how changes in turf surface performance can influence the sustainability of the surface;
  3. To understand how environmental conditions influence maintenance inputs and outcomes;
  4. To compare different levels of maintenance input with different outcomes;
  5. To identify different maintenance inputs and costs related to playing quality outcomes;
  6. To identify effective maintenance inputs in relation to outcomes;
  7. To identify efficient maintenance inputs in relation to outcomes;
  8. To question and challenge current working practices;
  9. To explore the meaning of sustainability within the context of turf management;
  10. To identify how a turfgrass surface can be managed sustainably.

Clearly this is a tall ask, but one which I think certainly needs addressing. There are a lot of different factors that will need to be considered, but I see a solution in having an initial place where core data are recorded and from this many sub-models branch off it which answer specific questions. The entirety of these various sub-models will therefore form an holistic approach to the sustainable management of a turfgrass surface.

It’s quite probable that some of the sub-models will also be direct linked together as well. It’s going to be a web of interconnected models – well that’s the plan.

Efficiency and Effectiveness in resource use

No matter what level of surface is being produced, from a basic but safe surface to an all singing high performance surface at a top sports club with a seemingly endless supply of funds, I would expect that no provider really wants to waste money – even at multimillion pound/euro/dollar clubs.

This is where the effective and efficient aspects of the objectives come into the equation. For example, even if a grounds budget was say a million pounds/euros/dollars, if through some simple activities which improve efficiency and effectiveness (which are initiated through questioning, challenging and understanding) a saving of 100,000 monetary units can be saved, then who wouldn’t want to save this kind of money? This clearly then comes within the financial/economic dimension of the classic three pillars of sustainability concept.

In a way it goes back to the theorising of the Norwegian-American sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, who invented the term ‘conspicuous consumption’, which was used as a way of “demonstrating the possession of wealth” and also ‘conspicuous waste’. I understand this latter term from his readings as being an inefficient use of resources. In essence, unnecessary wastefulness through either a deliberate act of waste (to essentially show off one’s wealth) or one of a poor understanding of how to make efficient and effective use of available resources (I suspect the latter position is a more common situation). It is this latter aspect that I anticipate the model will be able to help address and provide support to managers in making better informed decisions.

(Reference The Theory of the Leisure Class, Chapter 4, by Thorstein Veblen)

Practical questions answered to improve management outcomes

If the model can achieve its stated aim and objectives then many questions can be posed to provide well informed indicators for turf managers and providers.

For example:

  1. What is the optimum height of cut for my turfgrass surface to maintain a playing quality which satisfies the expectations of my sports users,  yet supports a sustainable approach to managing a turfgrass surface?
  2. If I have a budget of £x, what is the realistic user experience I can expect from a playing surface?
  3. What is an appropriate minimum budget figure I should expect to allow for if I want a surface to achieve a defined level of quality with a stated amount if usage?
  4. For my particular surface, in my locality, when is the optimum time to overseed to optimum effect?
  5. What effect are some of my maintenance practices having on turfgrass root growth and how is this affecting playing performance, especially traction?
  6. When is the most suitable time for me to roll my cricket pitch, considering the data I have recorded within the model?
  7. What impact on the surface condition, root growth, disease susceptibility in one or two-months time, and playing quality, might an application of fertiliser have at this time of year?
  8. What are the real benefits to me, the turf surface and playing experience by carrying out this particular activity?
  9. Do I really need to carry out this activity?
  10. How much usage can I realistically expect, at a defined standard, from this surface?
  11. etc……

These questions, along with many more, all lead back to the aim as stated earlier on

To provide a model which can aid the understanding of the different interactions involved in producing a sustainable turfgrass surface.

There is much to do, however, I have already created a stand alone model that looks at the length of grass, along with ground cover and its influence on ball roll; plus one on the carrying capacity and playability of natural turf football pitches.

The next task is to gather a range of published research data and determine how best to convert this into an online model. I have currently used some fairly straightforward php and Jquery for carrying out iterative online calculations, but will need to develop these further to better reflect the complexity of environmental interactions through the use of differential equations as well.

I think I am now well on the way to creating a small model with a few branch sub-models to provide a proof of concept for this project.

Chris Gray, 24th April 2017