Clark Talks Turf: Turfgrass research is always on my mind

By |  February 15, 2018 0 Comments

I think of research as a logical, systematic approach to solving problems. Research takes many forms, and for the purposes of this column I’m going to focus on turfgrass field research. There are many variations of field research, but consider research done outside at turfgrass research centers — either university or industry — or on golf courses.

The growing season hasn’t started in most of the country, meaning most field research projects haven’t started, either. This means there still is time for you to have a conversation with the turfgrass scientists in your area about the agronomic problems you face. If you ask turfgrass scientists about their role in their organization, they may say it’s to serve the turfgrass industry by helping solve problems. How do turfgrass scientists know about the problems superintendents face? Simple — superintendents need to tell them. Or better yet, invite turfgrass scientists to visit the golf course when the problem is obvious, so they can see the problem for themselves.

To get university and industry scientists to work on the problems you think are most important, tell them exactly what the problem is and the consequences of coping with the problem. You may do this in one-on-one conversations, small group discussions, written correspondence from a chapter, visits by scientists to courses to see the problem firsthand, or a formal request for proposals (RFP) in which the RFP clearly defines the problem. The point is that turfgrass scientists need to know about the agronomic problem you are facing before any meaningful research can take place.

A question I’m asked by superintendents on occasion concerns duplicating current research. Chapters work hard to raise money to fund turfgrass research, and they want to get the most value for their dollars. This is understandable. That said, I see no problem with duplicating research at a reasonable level if the research is targeting a specific problem that has been identified as a priority by a chapter.

To illustrate the value of duplicating research, consider a new pesticide introduced into the turf market. Before that pesticide is introduced it has been in research experiments at multiple locations across the region of intended use and evaluated by many different scientists over several years. In addition, the new pesticide likely has undergone small- and large-scale testing on many golf courses through cooperation between the superintendent and the company to determine how it performs under actual conditions. We should all agree this level of duplication in research is a good thing and a benefit to our industry.

This concept of conducting duplicative research on new products and/or new management strategies under different growing conditions and on different grasses strikes me as a sound approach. It would be ideal if much of the research that is conducted could be repeated at a different location under different growing conditions. The worst that could happen is the original research findings are confirmed. If the results from two separate projects are inconsistent, perhaps it’s time to rethink implementation of those findings. The more we know about a product or management strategy, the better off we are. The reality is that limited research funding and other pressing problems often prevent a research project from being duplicated, even when it might make sense to do so.

Because outdoor responsibilities are a little less pressing this time of year, take time to think of your most pressing agronomic problems. Compare your list of agronomic problems with the lists of colleagues in your area. Decide which one or two problems require research to address, then reach out to a turfgrass scientist to get the research process started.

It is time to have turfgrass research on your mind.

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