Soil survey initiative relies on input from turf managers

By and |  August 20, 2013

Scientists from PACE Turf and the Asian Turfgrass Center have launched the Global Soil Survey for Sustainable Turf, a citizen science-style initiative that invites turf managers from around the world to participate in further refining the Minimum Levels for Sustainable Nutrition (MLSN) sustainability guidelines.

MLSN—introduced last year by PACE Turf and the Asian Turfgrass Center—is a set of guidelines for turf soils that allows turf managers to reduce fertilizer inputs and costs, while still maintaining the desired levels of turf quality and playability. Larry Stowell, Ph.D, Micah Woods, Ph.D and Wendy Gelernter, Ph.D were lead scientists.

Turf managers who participate in the global soil survey gain invaluable information about their own soil nutritional status and where it fits on the sustainability spectrum, while also taking leadership to help their industry become more sustainable.

But the goal of more sustainable turf management has been a double-edged sword for many. While almost everyone agrees in principle that efforts to reduce energy, fertilizer and pesticide inputs is a good idea, there has been too little concrete information on how exactly one goes about practically applying sustainability concepts. That’s where the Global Soil Survey, and its goal of helping turf managers to fine-tune their nutritional programs, comes in.

“When we introduced the MLSN guidelines in 2012, turf managers were surprised to find how low they could go without sacrificing turf quality or playability,” said Stowell, PACE Turf’s principal and founder. “We came up with the idea of the Global Soil Survey because we wanted to expand the use of this low input concept by making it easier and also more fun to implement.”

Participants in the soil survey will receive a kit that contains all the materials needed to package and ship three soil samples from good performing areas of their facility. Brookside Laboratories will analyze the samples and Woods and Stowell will interpret the data.

“Each person will receive a full report on their results, as well as an analysis of where each nutrient falls on the sustainability index,” Stowell said. “Turf managers have really found the index to be useful because it gives them a numerical way to monitor where they are now and to track how they are improving over time.”

Besides receiving their own personal report, each participant’s data will be added to the already sizable database assembled by the Asian Turfgrass Center and PACE Turf from turf soils sampled from all over the world, thus helping to refine the MLSN guidelines and make them more robust.

“We see the guidelines and the data they are based on as an incredibly powerful resource for turf managers, researchers and students from all regions of the world,” said Woods, Asian Turfgrass Center’s chief scientist. “We hope that the Global Soil Survey and the soil nutritional guidelines that it helps to produce is just the first in many participatory efforts that focus on the nuts and bolts of implementing sustainable practices.”

Available through the Global Soil Survey, the guidelines and methods for implementing them will be updated periodically and will be accessible, for free, to the public.

“We see the survey going on in perpetuity and we will constantly be improving the MLSN guidelines based on the data we receive,” said Gelernter, PACE Turf’s owner and research director. “We have both always been impressed by the desire of turf managers to be good stewards of the land that they manage and we’ve also always admired the industry for its emphasis on sharing information for the betterment of all. The Global Soil Survey gives both of those leadership qualities an outlet, and we’re excited to be part of it.”

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