Second in a continuing series
Parks & Rec Business Report Yields Results!
Editor’s note: This article is part of an on-going series focused on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs aimed at minimizing, not eliminating, the use of pesticides on sports fields. The author, Randy Gaddo, is Director of Leisure Services in Peachtree City, Georgia, and is taking us play-by-play through his efforts to formulate an effective IPM program for his sports fields.
I’ve learned first-hand that advertising in Parks & Rec Business really works. After my first IPM series was published in the July issue, I received calls and e-mails from all over the world. One of those calls came from Tanya Steffler, full-time IPM Program Technician for the City of Oshawa, Canada.
As it turns out, the City of Oshawa (pronounced OH-SHAH-WA) is the second city in Canada to implement a formal, budgeted and staffed citywide IPM program. The city is so serious about making IPM work that they hired two full-time maintenance staff to help Steffler implement the program (on-time mowing, aerating, product application, fertilizing, etc.). Here’s her story…
Oshawa, Canada – A Case Study
Steffler, who has a degree in environmental technology and plant biology, has been on the job for just under three years. She said that, when she arrived in the city, the 42 soccer fields quickly became her priority.
“The fields had not been sprayed with insecticides since 1999,” she said, “and they were not in the best of shape. Essentially, weeds had taken over the fields.”
Steffler decided to take first things first and conducted a professional audit of the sports fields. (See IPM. What does it mean?, written by Sean McHugh, page XX, for more information on conducting your own site assessments/audits.)
The audit highlighted the problems with the fields and made recommendations to correct them. These recommendations formed the base of her IPM program, which includes the use of synthetic herbicides to get the weeds under control (she said they still use synthetic herbicides if the weed infestations are over a predetermined threshold limit).
Steffler believes that once the weeds are sprayed and under control, she will be able to implement an aggressive maintenance schedule that will avoid her having to resort to spraying again. As Steffler notes, healthy turf really prevents the infestation of pests, insects, weeds or diseases.
She also uses more natural means of improving soil quality. For example, she adds kelp, which introduces beneficial micronutrients and trace elements to the soil, and is a food source for soil microorganisms.
As with all municipalities, Steffler is also struggling to develop a field-use policy that will keep user groups off the fields in very early spring, late fall and in rainy periods during the season. As we all know, these are the times when most of the damage is done to sports fields. Predictably, Steffler says, her user groups aren’t very interested in adopting the policy.
Sound familiar? I know that, if she’s successful, I want a copy of it because we have the same problem here in Georgia. Teams get on the fields before the Bermuda grass has a chance to green up, and they tear up the thatch. By the time May comes, there’s no thatch to green up. Fall is the same. Our teams play game after game on grass that has gone dormant. And, try as we might, it’s nearly impossible to keep everybody off the fields when it’s raining.
However, she’s not giving up. She believes it’s an integral part of her IPM program.
Time Is Slipping, Slipping, Slipping…
She did confirm one thing I’ve heard before – IPM is a time-consuming process. I know those two maintenance people are moving all the time, working to keep up with all 42 fields. And, it’s Steffler’s job to stay ahead of them. She needs to inspect every field regularly, monitor the weed growth and turf health and decide what actions need to be taken.
Steffler is also charged with educating the public about pesticide reduction/alternatives and hopes to conduct more public sessions as time allows.
Going forward, I will be using what she offers to help implement an IPM program here in Peachtree City, Georgia. I am going to interview her and write a complete account of what I learn for an upcoming issue of Parks & Rec Business — so, keep an eye out for that report.
Peachtree City, Georgia
OK, now on to the small step I’ve taken in this never-ending IPM adventure. One of my gaping knowledge deficits (and there are many) is the subject of “organic” soil amendments and how they benefit the soil. Throughout this IPM discovery phase, I’ve been inundated with information from a plethora of different companies, each claiming their product is what we need.
So, I went to talk with an expert, Julia Gaskin, at the University of Georgia (UGA). Julia is UGA Extension Service’s Land Application Specialist and a soil scientist with a Master’s degree from UGA. For the past several years, she has worked in the Agricultural Pollution Prevention Program to ensure that by-products used in agriculture are environmentally safe and agronomically effective.
I was hoping Julia could give me an easy answer to my questions: Which products are valid? Which are not?
I had, prior to my visit, sent her a list of all the products I’d had calls about after our situation was made known. She provided me with a detailed report on each product, its pros and cons and uses. But in the end, she couldn’t tell me which was best.
After talking with her, I realized that the answer is, it depends.
It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Each product works to do one thing or another to the soil, or to the grass, or both. But not all the products do the same thing.
What’s best might be a combination of products. Unfortunately, the only way to really find out is to experiment. Now, I’ve already tried committing one field as a test field for products, and it was a disaster…but that’s another story. However, I believe Julia and I came up with an alternate idea that might work. At least I’m going to try it.
The idea is to develop test plots of land, about 10’ by 10’ each. The plots are in an irrigated area with the same sun, environmental conditions and Bermuda turf as on the soccer fields. The plots all drain towards a central swale rather than to each other, so there will be little chance of products mixing (we’ll also space them appropriately to avoid this).
Using two plots per product (to give a better statistical outcome), the idea is to invite all the folks who offered up their products to come on out, take a couple of plots and show me what their products can do.
In this way, I can see, side-by-side, the effects that different products have on the turf. Along the way I’ll be learning more about each product — I’ll learn about cost factors, application techniques and shortcomings. The outcome, I hope, will be that I can then begin selecting certain products to accomplish specific goals on specific fields.
I’m in the planning stage of this project. I’ve selected a site and had Julia review it for applicability. She thinks it will work well.
My next step is to contact the vendors, meet with them to outline my game plan and see if they want to play. Then, I’ve got to develop the site for the experiment, and let the soccer people know what I’m doing.
The site is deliberately placed where the soccer folks can see it because I want them to know what we’re doing, and let them be part of the process. It’s important to the success of the program that they support it.
And, of course, I’ll keep you posted on my progress and share any information I obtain via your favorite magazine – Parks & Rec Business.
Randy Gaddo is Director of Parks, Recreation and Library Services in Peachtree City, Georgia, and a frequent contributor to Parks & Rec Business. Watch for his IPM updates in future issues. He can be contacted at email@example.com