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The Greek word for turf

By |  December 4, 2020 0 Comments
Headshot: Mike Kenna

Mike Kenna, Ph.D.

If you are reading this, you may be an agrostologist. Agrostology is from the Greek word agrostis, meaning a type of grass with ology, or study. I like to think that we are agrostologists first and then agronomists or plant scientists second.

So, agrostology is the branch of botany dealing with grasses. C.V. Piper and Russell A. Oakley, if asked, would have said they were USDA agrostologists, but by Nov. 20, 1920, they were the first USGA Green Section agronomists. Now that is much more comprehensive. Agronomists are “experts in the science of soil management and crop production.”

The USGA’s impact on turfgrass science received praise at the Turfgrass Stakeholder Summit II. On Oct. 20-22, 2020, the virtual meeting was a month shy of the 100th Anniversary of the USGA Green Section.

Since the beginning, the USGA Green Section has provided more than $40 million in research grants. Most of this funding occurred since 1983 to support more than 600 projects at our land grant universities. Also, some of the money helped USDA-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) scientists focus on turfgrass problems.

The USGA, along with allied turfgrass trade organizations, worked to increase federal funding. In the late 1990s, an annual letter campaign to Congress kept the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) alive. We needed to do this because a USDA-ARS leader tried to cut the remaining $50,000 in-kind support for NTEP each year.

In 1998, USGA, NTEP, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), the Turfgrass Producers International (TPI) and other trade associations met with USDA-ARS leaders. This meeting led to the development of the National Turfgrass Research Initiative. Annual USDA-ARS funding for turfgrass increased to a little more than $1 million. Since 2002, $13 million has supported scientists at USDA-ARS for turfgrass research. The 2008 Farm Bill included the National Turfgrass Research Initiative. Also, TPI got the Office of Budget and Management to define turfgrass as a specialty crop. University turfgrass scientists now could apply for Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grants. The USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture runs SCRI. Since 2008, more than $20 million has supported turfgrass research.

An additional $3 million annually for the USDA-ARS is in the 2018 Farm Bill. The new money will provide funding for six locations throughout the U.S. Priorities are turfgrass drought, genomics and ecosystem services. This Farm Bill funding is a significant breakthrough that will increase the number of turfgrass scientists in the USDA-ARS.

As the late USGA Green Section agronomist Stan Zontek used to say, “Golf is played on grass.” Golf has led the way in turfgrass research but has shared results and information with other turfgrass management areas. The impact turfgrass research has had on seed and sod production, sports turf, professional lawn care and even homeowners is significant.

Now is a crucial time that every aspect of turfgrass management join together to support research. Universities, government agencies, industry and nonprofits need to be at the same table working together. We need to learn more about the entire turfgrass industry’s acreage and economic impact.

We need to continually improve our important turfgrass species to tolerate environmental and biological stresses. How do we sustainably manage turfgrass across all of its essential uses? What is going on in the plant and soil microbiome?

What are the ecosystem services that golf courses and other landscapes with turfgrass provide to urban and suburban communities?

We need to implement best management practices and develop new technology to monitor and maintain turfgrass.

How do we help the seed and sod industry introduce and produce new cultivars that conserve water and have improved pest tolerance?

Even though we do not think of ourselves as agrostologists, the study of grasses that we use for golf, sports turf, lawns and right of ways needs to be supported. The allied trade associations, nonprofits, industry and government agencies need to make this happen.

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