Athletes prefer natural turf
Many athletes don’t like artificial turf. They say it’s hot, uncomfortable to run on, causes burns when you slide or fall on it, and changes the way a ball moves. Professional women’s soccer players even started a lawsuit over FIFA’s decision to use artificial turf in the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
A perfect research opportunity
Some universities—including Brigham Young University—have responded by using natural turf fields for practice and in their stadiums. The challenge is to develop plants and management practices that help the turf stand up to frequent use and allow it to perform well even during the difficult fall months. It’s a perfect research opportunity.
Perfecting water and nutrients for optimal performance
BYU turf professor, Dr. Bryan Hopkins, and his colleagues in the Plant and Wildlife Department, have set up a new state-of-the-art facility to study plants and soil in both greenhouse and natural conditions. The facility includes a large section of residential and stadium turfgrass.
Water content + water potential—Better together
Soon after, fellow scientists, including Dr. Neil Hansen, installed METER water content and water potential sensors to measure water moving beyond the root zone. Combining these measurements, they could clearly see when the grass was reaching stress conditions and how quickly the turf went from the beginning of stress to permanent wilting point. Ancillary measurements of temperature and electrical conductivity provide an opportunity for modeling surface and root zone temperature as well as fertilizer concentration dynamics.
What the researchers learned was that they were using too much water. Dr. Colin Campbell, a METER scientist who worked with BYU on sensor installation, says, “We found in the first year that the plants never got stressed at all. So we allowed the water potential at 6 cm to drop into the stress range while observing WP at 15 cm, reducing irrigation inputs in order to push the roots deeper.”
Monitoring multiple parameters is key
In turfgrass, drought stress is not the only problem. Overwatering leads to fungus and removal/flushing of the nutrients, which costs money and time to correct. In this video, Dr. Campbell explains how there is often a fine line between too wet and too dry. Monitoring both water content and water potential keeps turfgrass at optimal moisture levels.