Great Tools for Implementing Best Management Practices
by C. Ray Campbell
The focus of "Best Management Practices" is to maintain the best quality golf course in the most efficient manner and with no risk to the environment. How is this accomplished? How do we know when our management practices are on target?
Best management practices minimize inputs of fertilizers, pesticides, labor, etc. to achieve a desired level of course performance and quality while protecting the environment. This has always been the objective of the cost-conscious superintendent. Due to environmental concerns, it has now become important to all superintendents. In the future, golf course superintendents, just as farmers, may be required to justify nutrient and pesticide applications and show evidence of their intent as environmental stewards.
Objective evaluation of management practices is the key to improving them. In addition to observations of course appearance and performance, there are some tools that provide a scientific basis for fine-tuning fertilization and other management practices. These same tools also reduce risks to the environment and minimize maintenance costs. Tools for implementing BMPs include nematode assay, soil testing, plant analysis, waste analysis and solution analysis. All of these tools can be used collectively to diagnose problems. They can also be used to monitor turf quality, fine-tune BMPs and protect the environment.
Nematode assay determines the need for chemical application or other management practices to control plant-parasitic nematodes. Through the use of this tool, pesticide costs can be reduced and environmental impact minimized. Where nematode problems are suspected, samples should be taken once or twice annually.
Soil testing provides information on the nutritional status of golf course soils. Nutrient availability and lime requirements are of primary importance. Additionally, there is a wealth of information that characterizes the site and helps to identify best management practices. Golf course soils should be tested annually except where problems occur. Tees, greens, fairways and landscape areas should be tested and managed separately. Profile sampling should be done when problem-solving.
Plant analysis provides an evaluation of nutritional status of growing plants. This tool has been used extensively and with great success to diagnose nutritional problems. Results indicate the status of elements essential for growth and identify toxicities of potentially harmful elements. Comparative good and bad sampling along with matching soil samples provide the most complete information for problem-solving.
Equally important is the use of plant analysis to fine-tune nutrient application. Monthly sampling of intensively managed areas like greens creates a data base from which management decisions can be made with minimum risks. Over time, nutrient applications can be tailored to meet plant requirements for best performance. This approach minimizes expense and environmental impact.
Golf courses along with agricultural enterprises are encouraged to utilize a variety of waste products. Many of these products can be used effectively as a soil media and/or nutrient source. A waste analysis provides information required to utilize these materials effectively and without risk to plants and the environment.
Solution analysis determines the usability of irrigation water or nutrient solutions on golf courses and identifies special management required to reduce risks. Water supplies should be sampled at least annually to monitor changes in usability and water quality. In coastal regions, where soluble salts can be a problem, sampling should be more intensive. The effectiveness of pesticides can be improved by identifying the need for buffers to adjust pH. Long-term records of surface and ground water quality may prove invaluable in documenting environmental stewardship.
A monitoring program conducted over the past five years by Carolina Country Club in Raleigh, N.C., provides convincing evidence of the value of these management tools in reducing risks and fine-tuning fertilization practices. Soil samples are taken from each green on an annual basis, and lime is applied based on recommendations. The municipal water supply is sampled at least annually. Monthly plant samples of all eighteen greens indicate consistency of fertilization practices and identify trends in nutrient levels that can be addressed before they become critical problems. During this period, applications of nitrogen and potash have been reduced by 50–60% while improving turf quality. Timing of nutrient applications has been optimized to reduce peaks and valleys in nutrient availability, enhance root growth and reduce the risk of salt injury. Observations indicate that nitrogen may be further reduced while maintaining or improving turf quality and performance. The need for early winter applications of potassium and magnesium has been identified and may further improve turf quality. Low boron levels have been identified and indicate a need to evaluate turf response to this element.
Campbell CR. 1996. Great tools for implementing best management practices. In: Proceedings of the 6th annual Southeastern North Carolina Professional Turfgrass Conference & Field Tour; 1996 Sep 11-13; Sunset Beach (NC). Raleigh (NC): North Carolina Cooperative Extension Serivce.