INNOVATIVE AGRONOMICS G r o w i n g
S t r o n g e r
To g e t h e r
Take the Guesswork Out Of Your Turf Management Budget What Does an “Agronomic Consultant” Do Anyway? 10 Tips For Better Soil & Turf Management Gmax Testing and FAQs What Gmax is and why you need it
INNOVATIVE AGRONOMICS !
FALL MAGAZINE 2012
INNOVATIVE AGRONOMICS, INC. Growing Stronger Together
CEO Tom Margetts, T. AG Kichner, Ontario http://www.innovativeagronomics.com Editor/Designer: Becky Blanton http://BookyBiz.biz
Take the Guesswork Out of Your Management Budget ...and save money in the process! Spend more time on the course, and less time in the office.
6 FAQs about G-Max Testing Frequently asked questions about the importance of G-Max Testing, and how it’s done.
10 5 Tips For Better Soil & Turf Management Five things you might not know about winter soil and turf management.
20 Hiring An Agronomic Consultant Just because a salesman calls himself an “agronomic consultant” doesn’t make him a soil scientist.
They say golf is like life, but don't believe them. Golf is more complicated than that.
~ Gardner Dickinson
When I stopped managing golf courses after a decade on some of the top golf courses in Ontario to start a business in 2005 I worried. I worried about a lot of things. I worried that I’d miss the job, the people, the daily challenges. I worried that I wouldn’t get to walk the fairways, kneel in the rough, or be there to appreciate a perfectly groomed green or elegantly raked sand trap before the season began. But I didn’t have to worry long because I quickly learned I didn’t have to worry at all. With my first client I found myself back on the course, doing all the things I loved as a course manager. I haven’t missed a thing. As a matter of fact, I’m probably even enjoying all those things more! I’m also better at what I do now because I don’t have to think about all the other job duties and things that the average soil and turf managers do. When you work for a course you have budgets, personnel, scheduling issues and a lot of “must do” tasks that can distract you from actually testing, managing and
creating the best course possible from the ground up. And that’s what I loved best about managing anyway — soil and turf management. So now I can focus on what I do and love best —soil and turf science, and help create beautiful and healthy courses and lawns wherever I’m working. I like helping, teaching and working with the men and women who do manage courses and love their jobs as much as I love mine. That’s why I put together this magazine—to share a few of the things I’ve learned and know with those of you just starting out, or even some of the older managers who might have forgotten it. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for reading!
Take the Guesswork Out of Your Turf Management Budget and Save Money in the Process
By Tom Margetts T. Ag Ever wonder where youâ€™re going to find the money to pay for the things you want to do to make your course all it can be? Would you be surprised to find out you already have it, youâ€™re just not seeing it?
I don’t have to tell you that the golf course industry right now is saturated with courses. That’s a great thing for golfers, but can be a challenge for the courses themselves. The economy has changed. The popularity of golf has changed, and as we’ve all noticed, neither of them are for the better. Competition is tough because fewer people are playing golf and they’re being pickier about where they play. If your course isn’t a goto destination, or it looks run down, or like it’s about to shut down, then people will stop coming to play. Nothing tells a customer or golfer that a club is faltering more than the condition of the course. Is it green? Is it well maintained? Does it look like the superintendent cares and has a reason to care? Let’s face it. courses are focusing on their budgets as they all struggle to stay in business and turn a profit. But budgets aren’t going up. Green fees are becoming more competitive (lowered) in order to attract more golfers, and as a result Turf Managers and superintendents are being challenged across the board on their expenses. They have to justify a lot more budgetary items than they ever have as golf courses look for more and more ways to save money. It’s not just about whether something is needed, but is it absolutely necessary? In other words, can you get by without it, or can you get by with less of it? Sadly enough consulting, the one thing that can
help you save money is the first thing most courses cut. However, hiring an independent agronomic consultant is often the very thing that can free up your budget and save you money—and I don’t mean just save you money in the long run. You can start saving the same day. I know this for a fact because I used to be a golf course superintendent. I spent a lot of time investigating soil and water testing and doing all I could to learn things on my own, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about what I was doing. Taking the guesswork out of your budget has a lot to do with where to focus your spending and why to focus it where you are. If you’re wondering how to find more money in your budget, save money and still get the results you want on your course, here are three ways you manage your budget to do just that: Hire an independent agronomic consultant — one who is certified and who has taken the course work at an accredited school or university. A lot of companies hire product salesmen, teach them how to read the reports they give their clients, and train them to refer people to programs the company has, most of which do not
couple of quarts of each.” What if your response was, “Oh, I’m two quarts low?” and the mechanic said, “Well, not really, but we always just add two quarts when people are low.” What would your response be then? If you know that overfilling your oil or transmission reservoirs can result in blown seals that will cost you thousands of dollars to repair, you might be a little upset. Your soil is no different. Putting your turf on a program that “always adds product X when the numbers drop below Y,” regardless of what the soil really needs, is like adding two quarts of oil to your car when it might only need one to run at its optimal best.
address the unique needs of the particular course’s soil reports. Many of these consultants will not test water or environmental factors either. Of course you’ll be tempted to hire them. I did. Their consulting is often free, if you buy their product of course. Does it really matter? You bet it does. If your soil doesn’t need all the nutrients in a product, and many courses don’t, you’re just washing the nutrient away. Or, if you don’t have the proper combination of nutrients then no matter what you do, it’s not going to get you the right results. Think about taking your car to an auto repair shop. If the mechanic looked at your car, ran some tests and came out and said, “Well, you’re low on oil and transmission fluid, so we’ll add a
When I was a superintendent I did what you’re doing—the best that you can. I made the best decisions I could, based on experience and research. I tried to make decisions based on what I knew, what I read, and what I learned when talking to other course managers. But up to that point I was really just guessing. I was doing the best job I could, making the best decisions I could, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until I actually hired an independent agronomic consultant who specialized in soil chemistry and turf fertility and basically the best agronomic practices and experience that I started to understand that I needed for my property. He had worked with numerous properties and sites. He had the experience and expertise to know what I didn’t, and what I couldn’t understand in the numbers in the reports. With his help I began to see what I needed for me at the property I was at, within the budget I had to work with rather than what some salesman wanted to sell me.
It was very empowering to be in true control of my course. I ended up saving a lot of money on my fertilizer budget by focusing on what we needed, when we needed it. We knew what we needed because we had the soil and water tested and had all the numbers in front of us. I knew what the numbers really meant because I relied on the independent professional to interpret the numbers for me, because it’s really confusing otherwise. And, together we customized the plan to maximize my budget, but to get the help I needed for my course. Test your soil, your water and your environmental factors around the course. You may be putting down all the right fertilizers and product, but if you don’t know your irrigation source has high saline levels or other factors that affect your soil chemistry, you’re pouring money down the drain. If you’d like a complete list of what you need to have tested and why, send me an email with a description of your course and any concerns you have about it and I’d be happy to send you my recommendations.
course. That doesn’t mean you have to tolerate what you have while you’re hoping it gets better. The secret to getting award-winning courses on bargain basement budgets is learning how to prioritize your maintenance and feeding and course building goals. Contrary to what many sales people and companies might tell you, everything doesn’t have to done all at once. When you hire an independent agronomic consultant they can identify the high priority items based on your budget and your course, and tackle the most urgent tasks first, without putting your entire course at risk. We put the other tasks aside. We’re not ignoring them or letting them slide, but we’re not going to focus on them until we get the higher priority items accomplished first. This allows you more breathing room in your budget, while continuing to address the progress of your course. By setting goals for what you want to accomplish, and then having an expert sort out what steps have to come first to get the best results, you can reach those goals on time, under or at budget and in a way that you see consistent results.
Prioritize your maintenance. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is an award-winning
“Gmax testing matters. Experts have seen that if a field’s Gmax numbers are low, 80 to 140, so are the reports of injuries on those fields,” ~ Tom Margetts
Gmax Testing, What It Is And Why You Need It by Tom Margetts, T. Ag. What is Gmax? Cars have airbags, athletes have helmets and protective pads. Contrary to popular belief however, the airbags, protectors and helmets don’t eliminate impact. They merely soften or reduce it. Engineers and designers have found that the more opportunities a person has to transfer the shock of an impact into the surface being struck, the safer they are. When a person hits an airbag, that bag absorbs energy so the person’s head and body doesn’t have to bear the brunt of it all. When an athlete hits the ground, their protective padding and helmet absorbs or transfers a lot of the shock for the same reason. If you watched the Olympics recently you may have noticed that the gymnasts had no helmets or pads, but relied on thick foam pads to absorb and transfer the energy of their falls and landings. That’s part of the science behind “Gmax testing,” an industry specific name for testing the “shock absorbency” values of atheletic field surfaces by evaluating how much impact a player absorbs when he hits the ground of a synthetic or natural grass turf. The Gmax testing ensures a surface is able to absorb and transfer energy so the athlete doesn’t have to. When a synthetic turf playing field is too hard, it’s unable to absorb or transfer energy. Since the energy of impact has to go somewhere, it goes
into the player’s body, the next softest thing available in the impact chain. When a player hits the ground, the shock of that contact is either absorbed by the player, or by the ground. The harder the ground the more shock the player’s body must take. Likewise, the softer the surface the more shock the ground will absorb. The more shock the body must absorb, the greater the likelihood of injury to the player. Regular Gmax testing can alert you to normal changes in the Gmax values so you can repair or replace your field in a proactive manner.
Why Does Gmax Testing Matter? Synthetic or “artificial turf” athletic fields are man-made. Whether they’re in-door or outdoor fields they’re all engineered, designed and installed with a pad and/or rubber infill to absorb the shock of someone's fall. If properly installed and maintained that infill will help cushion the falls and contact of players with the surface. If not properly installed, or maintained, the shock absorbency levels can become non-existent, leading to serious injury of players who play on the field. The level of that absorbency should be checked when the field is first installed to ensure the field was installed correctly. Then the field should be tested on
a regular basis to ensure the infill or absorbency is still within safe levels. Testing should be done at least once a year. Frequent use, gravity, weather and other variables, such as the type of use, weather, heat, and cold, can all accelerate the breakdown or compression of the fill. Regular testing ensures that absorbency levels remain at safe levels. Severe personal injury, up to and including death can occur on fields that are “too hard.”
However, add those factors to a 200 G field and you can understand why a player could die from an impact. An accelerometer is imbedded in the hammer so that as the hammer decelerates at the surface, the speed of that deceleration can be measured. The faster the hammer stops, the harder the field. Instead of speed however, the deceleration is measured in units called gravities, thus the term Gmax.
Fortunately, testing a field’s absorbency is fairly easy and inexpensive. The test is referred to by several names, including: a “Gmax Test,” a “free-fall test,” or a “shock absorbency test.”
According to biomechanical research by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the risk of life threatening head injuries increases substantially on surfaces that have a Gmax value above Gmax testing involves 200 G’s. That doesn’t mean using a specialized piece of 200 is a “good” or “safe” test Gmax digital readout. equipment that includes a 20 score — only that at that lb hammer that is dropped level the injuries increase. from a height of two feet. The weight simulates a Fields with a 200 or higher Gmax rating are human head impacting the ground from that same considered unsafe for use by anyone and should be distance. repaired, or replaced. The test does not take into account a person’s forward speed or adjust for the fact a 300-pound linebacker may be assisting the player’s contact with the ground. The two-foot fall is actually the low end of the potential trauma scale.
What Is A Good Gmax Rating?
Even though factors like forward speed, weight and other factors could be involved in an actual incident, they’re not accounted for.
Just for comparison, a natural grass field will have an average Gmax rating of about 80-140, depending on the moisture in the soil. Yes, moisture
Okay, so if 200 can be deadly, what’s safe? What’s a good rating? A good Gmax rating will fall between 80 and 140. Any higher than that and you’ll start to see an increase in injuries.
matters! If you’ve ever played, run or even walked across a frozen field you know how hard it can be. On the other hand, too soft a field, such as one with a 60-70 rating, can make it difficult for players to run fast, or for long periods of time. Imagine running on wet sand. Great if you’re exercising, not so great if you’re playing football, soccer or any other sport. That soft field means the player must exert more energy with each step. That contributes to early exhaustion and fatigue. If a field is too hard, as 140 to 200, the impact of the player’s running on a hard surface is equally as debilitating and exhausting as the jarring causes shock to the body with each step. Hard surfaces can also lead to body injuries such as muscle, bone, or joint injuries, stress fractures and chronic exhaustion. The jarring stress on joints and bones can contribute to long term weakening or a variety of stress injuries. Falling on your tailbone or wrist hurts much more on a concrete surface than it does a natural grass surface, so it’s easy to see how a hard field could lead to a variety of career ending injuries.
Who Should Test My Field? While many manufacturers and installers may volunteer to test the field, or offer testing as part of their services, have your field independently tested. Allowing the manufacturer or installer to test the field may seem convenient, but there’s an inherent conflict of interest in their doing so. Testing is not expensive — costs range from $500 to $1,500 once you factor in travel & expenses. It’s often less than that if you have multiple fields to test.
Consider the cost of testing as an investment in your player’s safety, and as an annual maintenance cost. The injuries you’ll help prevent and the peace of mind you’ll get are far more valuable than the cost of the testing.
Selecting A Gmax Tester Make sure the company you hire is knowledgeable of, and in compliance with, applicable ASTM standards. •
Ask to see copies of current ASTM standards and ask them to discuss them with you.
Ask about their field testing equipment. ASTM Standards (F355-Procedure A (F355A) require a “cylindrical missile with a circular, flat, metal impacting surface.” The weight of the missile must be 20lbs (+/- 0.11 lb). Take time to talk to your tester. How many fields have they tested? How long have they been doing Gmax Testing? Can they explain what it is they do? If they’re comfortable with the process, and knowledgable, they will be able to answer your questions easily.
Ask to see their current calibration certificate for the accelerometer. The calibration should be NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) traceable (documented) and the certificate should be current. Ask about their procedures. The number and location of individual test points should conform to ASTM Specification F1936.
How Often Should I Test? Check your original contract or call the company who installed your field. The contract should list the number and extent of tests needed to maintain the warranty.
Most installers require testing prior to use (or you should), others require annual or every other year, or even five or ten year testing. Regardless of what the company requires to validate your warranty on the field, rest assured if a player dies or is severely injured, someone will test the field to see if you’ve done your “due diligence” in keeping the field safe for players. As a field owner you have a “duty of care” to ensure your field is safe, or within ASTM standards, to play on.
the infill are recorded at each test point and later factored into the overall value. General weather conditions, including relative humidity, are also recorded for each day of testing since weather, humidity and other factors can affect the values. As a field owner you should receive a copy of the report and an interpretation of those values as well as the numbers of each testing point.
If you’re a field owner you should know if your field meets ASTM standards for safety before the field is ever used. As the field ages and wears it’s even more important to ensure the field is safe.
Who Sets the Standards for Fields? The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has set standards for the testing and safety of synthetic fields. For more information on their requirements, visit their website: http://www.astm.org/Standards/ F1936.htm.
How Is The Test Performed? A Gmax test is performed by testing the Gmax values three times at each of eight test points on the field. Readings are taken at one-minute intervals. The values from the second and third readings are averaged, to determine the Gmax rating for the test point. Testing a field is not as simple as dropping the hammer and averaging the values. The air temperature, the temperature of the infill material, the height of the carpet pile and the depth of
Still have questions? Please feel free to call me. Iʼm happy to answer any questions about Gmax testing, equipment and how to interpret the results. You can reach me at my personal cell phone:
FAQ’s About Gmax and Gmax Testing
Gmax ratings aren’t something new. Every time a synthetic field is installed or maintained the installer tells the field owner about Gmax tests. They may even require the field be tested after installation to ensure their warranties are met. But then something happens. People forget to have the field tested after the first couple of years. Or they’ve been told it’s only necessary every 5-10 years. Or, for whatever reason, they just don’t do it.
As a result, Gmax testing is something that’s not talked about as much as it should be. Worse, it’s something that not enough turf managers are doing to ensure their playing fields are safe. You want to keep your players safe. It’s why you do all you do. But are you doing enough? Field managers have a “duty of care” standard to meet. “Duty of Care” is a requirement that a person act toward others and the public with watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would. If a person's actions do not meet this standard of care, then the acts are considered negligent, and any damages resulting may be claimed in a lawsuit for negligence.
Gmax testing is more than just a “good idea.” It’s something that can prevent injuries and protect them and their facility in case someone is injured. The United States National Football League has been plagued with serious head injuries, concussions and brain damage claims by players for years. As a result, the media has been paying more and more attention to sports injuries overall — even
investigating which fields and schools are doing GMax testing. As public awareness of the test increases, so will field manager awareness. So get prepared now by learning a few of the basics. I’ve put together a list of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) I get about G-Max testing. It’s a good beginning for anyone who is not familiar with the testing or the ASTM
FAQs About Gmax Q: How much does Gmax testing cost? A: Testing a field is really quite inexpensive. Cost ranges from $700 and up, plus travel expenses. Depending on the number and size of the fields, the cost may be lower for multiple field testing. Q: How long does it take? A: The actual physical testing for one field takes about 2-4 hours, depending on whether the test exceeds the required ASTM standard. Once the test is complete analyzing the data and preparing the report takes about another day. You should have your results and written report back with a week of the testing date. Q: Does it matter if it’s raining or not? A: I am always aware of the weather conditions during testing days. I prefer to delay testing on rainy days to eliminate any variations in the test results. Technically, a synthetic turf field should drain very freely and provide a good testing surface, but why bother? The equipment doesn't like the rain and I want to provide my client to most accurate drop data at the time as possible. Q: Can people still use the field when the testing is going on? A: I try to coordinate the field tests at a time where they are not in use. Obviously, testing at game time would be inappropriate, but I have tested fields as i worked in and around light hearted practice or crew maintenance. Q: How does the testing affect the field? A: The test involves measurements of a weight being dropped from a height of two feet to the surface. The test does not hurt, affect, mar or damage the surface in any way. You can resume using the field immediately after the test is completed.
Gmax ASTM F 355 Method A Clearview Bumper II Tester
Q: How does someone measure the “g” forces of a synthetic turf field? A: A machine called an accelerometer (like the one in the photo) is used to drop a 20 lb weight two feet onto the surface being tested. This is repeated three times at each point being tested, and at 8 points distributed throughout the field. The weight simulates the weight of a human head striking the ground. The time and force with with the weight strikes is called a “g” (for gravitational) force.
Great rating is 60-140 Poor rating is 150-190 Potentially Deadly rating is 200 +
Q: How often should I have my fields tested? A: We recommend testing every year for the average field. This falls in line with the current ASTM recommendations for testing and allows you to choose a time that fits the best with your athletic programs and maintenance planning. It is important to know how your fields measure up, but it is equally important to implement the maintenance to make the changes that need to be made if necessary. Q: How long does the average synthetic turf field last? A: The average field, depending on amount and type of use, will last 10-15 years. Different manufacturers make different claims, but that’s the industry average. Understand that, the "hours of use", type of activities and maintenance programs all play a part in how your fields will age gracefully. Q: The company who installed the field said they will test it every year. Is this okay? A: Not really. There’s an inherent conflict of interest in having the company associated with the field, or one of their vendors, test your field. Find an independent Gmax tester to ensure unbiased results. Q: Do testers have to be certified or can anyone with an accelerometer do the testing? A: Qualified independent Gmax testers must be formally trained in the use of their F-355-A equipment and thoroughly understand the ASTM Gmax testing protocol. Q: What else should I look for when finding a Gmax tester? A: Like all scientific devices accelerometers must be calibrated to ensure accurate readings. Ask to see a current certificate of calibration. Other things to check: Make sure the company you hire is knowledgeable of, and in compliance with, applicable American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards. Ask to see copies of current ASTM standards and ask them to discuss them with you. Ask about their field testing equipment. ASTM Standards (F355-Procedure A (F355-A) require a “cylindrical missile with a circular, flat, metal impacting surface.” The weight of the missile must be 20lbs (+/- 0.11 lb). Take time to talk to your tester. How many fields have they tested? How long have they been doing G-Max Testing? Can they explain what it is they do? If they’re comfortable with the process, and knowledgable, they will be able to answer your questions easily. Ask the potential Gmax tester for list of references Ask the references: Was the tester professional? Did they get the report and any recommendations back in a timely manner? Were there unexpected expenses? Did the tester do all they promised to do? Would they rehire them?
“Golf is a game that is played on a ﬁve-inch course - the distance between your ears.” ~Bobby Jones
You know, the first time I heard that quote I immediately recognized what Bobby meant. We’re our own worst critics. Golf is a mental game more than anything else. We spend more time inside our heads worrying, and asking questions about our game than anyone. Later, as a superintendent, then as an agronomic consultant, this quote took on a whole new meaning for me. The whole process of creating and maintaining a great course is also a mental game — when to test, when to fertilize, what program to choose and so on. Everything about the game AND the course is played on that “five-inch course” between our ears. I spend more time on THAT course than any other. But I can’t figure it all out by myself. I need your help, input and suggestions. If the information in this newsletter has been helpful, or if there are topics you’d like me to address in the next issue, please write me, or call me to give me a heads up, or any of your suggestions. I appreciate it! Tom Margetts, T. Ag
5 Tips on Fertilizing For Better Soil & Turf Management Tom Margetts, T. Ag. Not too long ago I was a Turf Manager. Yes, I struggled with my fertilizer program. I listened to a lot of information, tried a lot of products, and really questioned the results I was getting for the dollars I was spending. I was focused on producing high quality turf and being responsible in terms of my budget, but I didn’t feel like I was really doing the best I could with what I knew. So I found an agronomic consultant to show me what I couldn’t discover or learn on my own. It was one of the best decisions I made as a Turf Manager. By connecting and aligning myself with an agronomic consultant who not only understood soil and water chemistry, but who delivered this information in a non-biased, independent way, I learned a lot. I didn’t just learn about fertilizing my turf. I also learned a tremendous amount about my property and the things I needed to prioritize to get the best results. My new-found knowledge and confidence
allowed me to make decisions that I felt were best for me and commanded some pretty inspiring results. This also allowed me to think outside the box about what was really important. Most importantly I learned not to be tied to unreliable advice and pushy salespeople. As a result, I decreased my overall fertilizer budget by thousands of dollars and produced stronger turf. It was pretty hard for me to ignore that! Fast-forward a few years … I have focused on learning and established my independent agronomic services business, and I’m working with other Turf Managers in order to enhance their turf programs and achieve results. The bottom line is “knowledge is power, and power achieves results.”
5 Tips For Better Soil & Turf Management 1. Find an accredited, independent agronomic consultant to work with you and teach you what you can’t learn through books and the Internet. The price of his consulting fee will be minuscule compared to the efficiency of your fertilizer inputs and improvements in your turf health.
2. Learn what the numbers and data mean. There’s a whole world of information beyond the pH of soil and percentage of potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients listed on the bags of fertilizer. When you understand the numbers in your soil test results, and what nutrients to add, it’s like a light bulb will go off in your head. Now, you could, in your spare time (if you have any), invest the time you need to learn what the numbers are telling you. Or, you can invest in some time with an agronomic consultant, and rely on their expertise and knowledge. You’re the expert at what you do, and sometimes being the expert means calling someone in who specializes in one part of what you do. I called in an expert, and I never regretted it. Soil and irrigation water testing is important for customizing your fertilization program. Testing is great, but I urge you to take advantage of an independent expert in order to put this information. 3. Water test results matter as much or more than your soil test results. Too many Turf Managers don’t get their water tested right along with their soil. Water and irrigation chemistry is a critical aspect of turf management. Don’t neglect it. Soil and irrigation water chemistry is far more than pH alone. Why apply elements that are already available in generous amounts? Why ignore a key element that might be lacking because you just don’t know? Different irrigation waters need to be applied and managed in different ways. More elements (good
guys or bad guys) can be applied through your irrigation system unintentionally than through any fertilizer spreader. I believe you need to connect the dots between your soils and irrigation water in order take it to the next level. 4. Independence matters. No matter how great an agronomic consultant is, if they’re working for a particular company, that’s where their loyalty is going to lie — with their company’s products. Get your testing done by an independent agronomic consultant and then find the best products for your turf based on the factual numbers, not on the consultant’s need to push a particular product or program. Once you find a product you like, and that works, feel free to support them, but start with an independent assessment. 5. Never stop learning. That may sound cliché, but it’s true. There are new products, new programs, new information and new techniques emerging every year. You don’t have to use them all, but be aware of what’s out there. It’s how you keep your turf looking and performing the best it can. Turf Managers are now starting to focus on the later part of the season and getting their turf in the strongest position possible for the winter. Yes, there is a cost to testing and understanding your soil and water quality. This cost is an investment in knowledge, customization and enhancing your turf program to achieve the best results. After all, the cost of losing turf is far greater than the cost of creating it.
Hiring an Independent Agronomic Consultant By Tom Margetts, T. Ag
Why Should You Hire an Independent Agronomic Consultant? Your maintenance and turf budget is already tight. Now you’re faced with hiring an independent agronomic consultant to test your soil and water and give you advice, versus letting a manufacturer’s rep come in and soil test and advise you for free. What do you do? There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. If your budget is tight and there’s no cash flow, chances are that manufacturer’s free testing is going to look very attractive, but as we all well know, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
If you don’t pay for the testing and consulting advice upfront, the truth is, you’re probably going to pay for it down the road. It’s not personal. That’s just business. There is always a cost to consulting and time, just be aware of where that cost might be. After all, a golf course is a golf course and greens are greens, and it’s all pretty much the same product anyway, right? Wrong. For example: What are the chances, for instance, that a Ping representative is going to sell you a set of Callaway clubs? Or, that if you go into a Toyota dealership they’re going to point you towards a Chevy truck instead of the Tundra? Your chances are slim to none, unless there’s a profit in it for them. It’s the
same with manufacturers. They have a product line to support and so that’s what they sell. They’re not selling bad products. Don’t get me wrong! Not at all! Most of the products out there are really good products and I work with many of them, but they work best just for the courses they’re a good match for. The issue is not about the quality of the product. My concern for you is: Is the product what your specific turf really needs? Having a unique, specialized program created to address the specific needs of your course is like hiring a nutritionist if you’re trying to lose 50 pounds. The nutritionist can identify what supplements, diet, foods, proteins, etc., you need to feel good, lose weight and have energy while you lose weight.
They’ll do a series of tests and find out what your testosterone levels, blood chemistry and heart strength are, and they’ll recommend a structured diet customized to work exactly for you. You’ll see impressive results because they’re spending the time, resources and science to focus on you, not on a million other people who want to lose 50 pounds. Or, you could pick up any standard one-size-fitsall diet book and follow their plan. Seriously, which one do you think will work best? Are you willing to gamble that the generic program will work? Most of the time they don’t, which is why people serious about their health eventually hire a nutritionist. Now, if the nutritionist works for a specific weight loss product company or hospital, they’re probably going to recommend their products and
water, soil, nutrients and air give you the balance you need to make informed decisions about what products and programs you need.
their facility. However, an independent nutritionist will say, “Here is what your health looks like now, here’s what you need to do, and here is what I recommend.” You are in control. That’s what an independent agronomic consultant will do — determine a nutrition program for your soil, turf and water, recommend the programs that will work for you, and then help you customize them to get the best results you can. Water Testing Matters Now, is irrigation water testing included in your current testing program? If it is not, then you are missing the big picture. Irrigation water quality testing is a very critical aspect of a testing program that you shouldn't ignore. The fact is, you can put more “good nutrients” or “bad nutrients” onto your turf through your irrigation source than you can through your fertilizer application program. You may receive free plant tissue testing, another important process, but
You’re Unique, Just Like Everyone Else Okay, it’s an old joke, but yes, you’re unique (one of a kind), just like everybody else. So is your course. Soil, water and environments vary from course to course just as much as course design varies from one course to the next. Feeding your course like your buddy feeds his course is like giving a football player a runner’s diet. They may both be athletes, and they both have to eat protein, carbs and fat, but their bodies require different combinations of food and different nutrients for them to thrive in their particular sport/ body. Your course is unique too, even if it looks like every other course out there. Unless you actually see the chemical makeup, or a report about that soil, water and plant tissue makeup, it’s hard to see just how different your course is. Site influences, soil conditions, turfgrass types, water supplies, infrastructure, staff, equipment and budgets are all part of the variables superintendents and sports turf managers, and even the industry as a whole are up against. They have a lot in common, but at the chemical level — where it matters — they’re all unique. How do you find out what your turf really needs?
Numbers don’t lie. By understanding what an analysis means you can select the best program for your turf needs and your budget...
Who are You Leaning on for Support? Hire an independent agronomic consultant — one who has the scientific knowledge and certifications — to provide you with unbiased advice free of any association to products, programs, seed and fertilizer. Is your consulting support coming from a source with a solid agronomic background or simply trained in how to read a generic report, or how a few products relate to agronomics?
What are their goals for you? For instance, I have a Diploma in Horticulture from the University of Guelph. I’m a licensed Technical Agrologist (T. Ag) from the Ontario Institute of Agrologists, and I’m also a certified independent agronomist through Brookside Laboratories, and the Society of Professional Consultants (BSPC). If you rely on an affiliated agronomic consultant, ask yourself if their products really match the needs of your property and environment.
Your course may look good now, but what happens in a year or two when a big piece of the agronomic puzzle was neglected? Will you have the support you need, or will you just be left holding the empty fertilizer bag, wondering what went wrong?
I know when I work with a client, I’m in it for the long haul because I know their success over time is what matters. We both know, no one builds, repairs or transforms a golf course in a season. It may take years.
By hiring and working with an independent agronomic consultant over time, you get someone who is only invested in making your course look great, not in selling you products and programs.
Do you really want to be flip-flopping turf programs year after year? Or do you want results you can see, measure and track year-to-year? You will have an independent turf program in place and you can make the product decisions YOU prefer from the sales professionals YOU choose.
They’re not working for a company. They’re working for you. The better job they do for you, the more likely you are to keep them on. They don’t have to recommend one brand or fertilizer over another. Their one goal in life is to provide you with the information and recommendations you need to make a decision. As a matter of fact, I give my clients custom fertilizers blends that will work for them, given the numbers we’ve found, and I let them select what product or brand they want to use based on their budget, resources and preferences. By specializing in long-term relationships and turf building, an independent agronomic consultant ensures your course, not their product, takes the spotlight. Not only does that save you money, you know you’re getting what you need because you have the lab results, the scientific findings and the recommendations for the kind of combinations your site needs. And, you have a reference to the manufacturers who make that product. You’re in control.
Summary: • An independent agronomic consultant will come in, take the tests, work with the lab, get the raw scientific data and interpret it without any attachment to anything, any company or any product or program. • You get a specific program with customized sufficiency guidelines based on your growing environment, your goals, your property and your budget. This is at least a two-year program. • Many will do soil-testing programs. There are very few affiliates that will test and interpret water results. Understanding your irrigation water is a critical aspect of your program. The fact is, you can put more “good nutrients,” or “bad nutrients” onto your turf through your irrigation source than you can through your fertilizer application program.
Tom Margetts, T. Ag Tom@innovativeagronomics.com http://innovativeagronomics.com
INNOVATIVE AGRONOMICS, INC
Contact an Independent Agronomic Expert. Call Tom Margetts. Innovative Agronomics, Inc. offers a variety of services, including GMax testing and soil and water testing. We service: Golf Courses, Athletic Fields, Bowling Greens, Lawns,Parks and Green spaces and Landscape Planting. We also offer: • • • • • • • • •
Consulting on all aspects of soil and turf management Management consulting and quality/efficiency analysis Soil and water testing based on exclusive nutrient solutions Thatch analysis and exclusive cultural management programs Trend charting to review your agronomic progress Physical soil and mixes testing analysis Tissue testing analysis Environmental testing Bunker sand testing
Call or email us today with your toughest challenges, questions or concerns. We’ll have answers. And if we don’t have them, we’ll get them. We partner and work with the top experts in all aspects of soil, turf, critter, pest and course management.
News magazine for turf managers, golf course superintendents and other public fields related programs.