National Sports Convention – Why new sports turf varieties

Why new sports turf varieties? Following attendance and presenting at the recent National Sports Convention, the answer was clear: SYNTHETICS

Australian Sports Turf Consultants (ASTC) Director Matt Roche often gets asked by members of the turf industry, why do we need new sports turf varieties and what is wrong with what we have? This is a fair question particularly if you are a turf producer. Stoloniferous grasses are generally speaking easier to remove and replant your paddock with new and improved varieties. However, if your existing paddock is growing a rhizomatous grass like green couch it comes with its perils.

Studies conducted by the University of Queensland at Gatton Campus found green couch rhizomes present down 4 metres within the soil profile. If you think spraying roundup a few times has a chance of eliminating such a grass, think again. This is why the majority of growers are reluctant to change because of inevitable contamination concerns, along with comfortability (what they are used to growing) and the wish for increased turf production (harvests per year).

When asked why do we need new sports turf varieties, Roche would always have a few analogies up his sleeve. However, with Matt having recently attended and presented at the National Sports Convention in Sydney, his response is now perfectly clear: synthetics. That is, if natural turf surfaces fail as a result of increased usage and wear, the likely future for such a field, is a conversion to synthetics if the sports field is mismanaged.

The two day Convention at Rosehill Racecourse featured 6 streams to cater for a diverse audience. They included: natural sports turf, sports and recreational facility management, programs and activities to grow participation, technological solutions to enhance experience and patronage, play symposium and synthetic sports turf. The Convention attracted some 375 participants and speakers from across Australia, Asia Pacific, Europe and America. A further 115 people attended the Expo which saw trade displays setup by 60 exhibiting companies.

A key theme of the Convention was how to get people active and into sport or play. This inevitably relates to increased participation, field usage (training and fixtures) and strain on our facilities, including our natural turf sports fields. Numerous councils from here in Australia and abroad are installing synthetic playing fields, not because they necessarily want to, nonetheless because they need to in order to meet current and future demands.

Mark Bowater, Manager Local and Sports Parks of Auckland City Council for example detailed Auckland’s 10 year plan for sport and recreation and the need for more facilities in what is very limited shared residential and rural zone. Through sports field usage modelling, Mark was able to predict that in 10 years’ time, even with new sports field constructions, that Auckland City Council will have a 3,000 hour per week shortfall of field availability, predominantly in a training capacity. Auckland Council has identified that 37 new synthetic sports fields will need to be constructed.

Peter McMaugh commented in the last edition of TurfCraft [May/June 2016] that turf producers will commonly grow a turf variety on the basis of ease of production and not necessarily on market demand. Peter’s 1983 variety ‘Wintergreen’ is a classic example. Described by agronomist John Neylan as ‘an oldie but a goodie’, “Wintergreen” is currently grown by at least 50 turf producers from across Australia (source: TurfFinder.com). As to what percentage of the latter growers actually have ‘true-to-type’ Wintergreen, as described by McMaugh and Whiting (1998) in their United States Plant Patent (PP6,278), Roche thinks would be very few. So how does the consumer know what they are buying and will it perform?

Due to the growing demand for sport and participation, not to mention the public’s perception of an aesthetic and safe sport field, there has to be greater emphasis placed on varietal selection for both the consumer and the producer. A key performing trait at the top of the checklist needs to be wear tolerance and recovery.

Two superior green couch Australian varieties include ‘Grand Prix’ and OZ TUFF® (‘Oz-E-Green). Both varieties have shown to have excellent wear tolerance and first-rate recovery for a turfgrass. Both varieties do have moderate levels of thatch, compared to Wintergreen for example; however for a community sportsfield that often struggles to keep a blade of grass on it at the end of the season, Roche thinks that for a community sports field thatch should be considered a friend not a foe.

Peter also identified one of two new grasses that have arrived in Australia. They are the Cynodon hybrid varieties TifGrand® (‘ST-5’) and TifTuf™ (‘DT-1’). The varieties which are out of the University of Georgia’s collection are currently being trialled by 3 Lawn Solutions Australia (LSA) turf producers in QLD, NSW and VIC with LSA having exclusive rights to these varieties in Australia. Both varieties are reported as being able to grow well in shade (up to 60 %), possess excellent wear tolerance and use 38% less water than the American standard ‘Tifway’ (‘Tifton 419’). These are truly some excellent results and Roche for one is looking forward to seeing how such varieties perform and compare against current and soon to be released Australian sports turf varieties.

During Roche’s presentation on Turf Species for Added Durability and Resistance (download presentation here) Roche spoke about the two new Tif varieties from the USA and how they compared against other well know green or hybrid green couch varieties commercially available for sports turf use in Australia (refer to Table below). As Peter McMaugh said there has been significant development and release of Australian bred varieties over the last half a century with many more on the horizon. The key for consumers is identifying your needs and purchasing a product that meets these needs, not just reflects the financial upfront cost.

With an ever changing market it was always difficult for a consumer to know what varieties are coming on the market, how they are rated and where they could be purchased. This was an information gap that ASTC Director Matt Roche wanted to resolve so he developed Turf Finder. Turf Finder is an independent web site to assist professional turf managers and home owners in selecting the best available turfgrasses to meet their needs. Turf Finder provides factual independent information on commercially available turfgrasses being sold by professional turf producers in your region and from across Australia.

Sports Turf Varieties                                                                   Source: www.TurfFinder.com (as of 21 June 2016)

Sports Turf
National Sports Convention, Sydney – Day 1 talks
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