By Aquatrols | Turf pros in hot spots around Europe and North America are facing some of the harshest conditions in decades. How are they coping with heat and drought in the summer of 2022? We turned to our agronomy experts in the hardest-hit regions for ideas and advice.
The drought maps tell a terrible tale. Conditions are brutal in places around the western U.S. and across the U.K. As water management soars to the top of the priority list for superintendents and greenkeepers in the impacted areas, we decided to ask our Aquatrols territory managers what they’re seeing and how turf pros are responding to the challenge.
Dan McCann, Southwest U.S.
“The concern here in Texas is running out of water,” says Dan McCann, who’s based in San Antonio and covers Texas and much of the lower Midwest. “Guys are just trying to stay alive. Rivers and ponds are drying up, so some courses must scramble to conserve water as best they can. It’s bone dry.”
What are supers doing to stay alive?
“Lots of superintendents are changing watering cycles and doing hand-watering vs. relying on overheads. They’re targeting irrigation on greens and other in-play areas and putting water on roughs (maybe) once a week.”
McCann, previously a superintendent in the area, says he’s seen an uptick in spot treatment products like Aqueduct Flex® and spray treatments like Dispatch® on fairways. “The low use rate and low cost of Dispatch makes it a really attractive option right now. Some guys are even injecting when they’ve never done it before.”
Injection treatments are also a popular option in the area right now. “I had a client order a drum of Dispatch to run through his fertigation system a few weeks ago, and he said he said he saw results the next day,” McCann says. “He’s trying to find the right rates and intervals to continue the program through the summer without busting his budget.”
Yes, budgets still matter. “Just because there’s a drought doesn’t mean that budgets and labor constraints don’t matter anymore. You have to find something that fits their needs and their budgets.”
He says Zipline® has been an essential product for many of his customers. “Believe it or not, we still have a lot of people playing golf out here when it’s 105, and they still want firm, fast conditions. Zipline helps with that. It helps to address localized dry spots, and the surface stays firm. It’s been a huge product for us down here.”
Mainly, he says, it’s being smart about moisture management: “We’re going to try to target that water vs. running full-circle heads or wasting a lot of water in non-play areas. I also see guys raising their height of cut and using a lot more growth regulators to support deeper rooting.”
What does he recommend as a programmatic approach to even out the highs and lows of drought and heat? “Most courses use surfactant programs, but there are still a lot of turf pros who only use wetting agents when it gets hot or dry. The message is you need to manage your water during every season. You can manage water much more effectively if you’re on a year-round program.”
He also says it’s time to stop viewing wetting agents as commodities. “I hope guys will take the time to learn more about how the surfactant they’re using works, why it works or doesn’t work, and why they might need to look at a different class of products. Too many people say, ‘I just spray this one because it’s cheap.’ I’ve seen many guys have failures or still chase hot spots because they just use what’s cheap.”
The bottom line is a consistent approach to watering patterns and products. “I recommend using a program approach,” says McCann. “Take a look at your overall watering processes and see if it really saves you water. The goal should be to ensure that what you’re putting out there really does what we say it does.”
Ken Mauser, California, Nevada, and Arizona
Ken Mauser is a legend in the western turf industry and an experienced moisture management expert. What’s he recommending to his friends and customers during this latest period of intense heat and drought?
“My biggest thing with any stresses we experience is good, basic agronomic practices and being more efficient in any way possible. Start with the irrigation system itself. Find someone to do an irrigation audit or even do it yourself. You can just go get a bunch of shoe boxes, space them out evenly, and get a better sense of how evenly your system is distributing your water.”
Another basic principle is looking at how efficiently you are getting that water into the ground.
Mauser preaches common sense: “Go out and use your eyes to see if that water is really going into the ground. If you run the system, use your eyes, and see water running off after a few minutes, you know you have a problem. It can lead you to questions like: Do I need to aerify? Do I have too much thatch? Do I need a penetrant? However, the bottom line is nothing will work right unless you can get that water into the soil profile.”
He thinks the vast majority of people will find that they’re overwatering by 10-25% just because they’re often watering blindly. “I advise using the irrigation system to water everything, then slowly start cutting the water back. The dry spots will start to pop up, and those are your areas for hand-watering or, potentially, spot treatments with a product like Aqueduct Flex.”
In his region, wetting agents are injected routinely. “By injecting, you ensure that you get water into the ground with less runoff. You can cut a good 10-15% of your water use just by using a soil penetrant and ensuring the water goes into the ground. You can probably cut another 10% by identifying and treating the dry spots that remain with Aqueduct Flex, which proves to be a huge cost-saver.”
What products and practices are his customers turning to? “Most of my customers use Revolution® or Zipline programs because it cuts down or nearly eliminates their hand-watering issues. You don’t have to use that water, time, or labor that you otherwise would have, so your team can go do other things.”
There are many reasons why superintendents deal with water issues, some of which can be solved by looking at basic soil health principles. “Wetting agents only solve a few of those basic problems, but a soil amendment like Blast® might be necessary to treat salt or bicarb issues. Also, aerification, verti-cutting, and dethatching take physical barriers away from getting water into the soil,” says Mauser.
For the veteran sales professional, it all comes back to common sense. “Use your eyes, get out there and look around. Find out first-hand what you’re up against and deal with it from there.”
Michael Fance, Europe
The browned-out look at St. Andrews during the Open Championship started a conversation about balancing playability and aesthetics among our team across the pond. Michael Fance, one of Aquatrols’ water management experts, based in the U.K., has been busy helping his customers with the more practical challenge of keeping their courses alive during intense weather.
“Courses are doing things like prioritizing irrigation for greens and using mobile sprinklers on non-irrigated fairways, hand-watering, raising heights of cut, and doing things like using smooth rollers on mowers instead of the grooved variety,” says Fance. He also sees trends toward:
- Reducing mechanical operations such as aeration, verti-cutting, and grooming
- Sorrel rolling to assist water infiltration
- Using liquid nutrition as opposed to granular
- Using potassium-based products
- Avoiding nitrogen applications
“People are looking for new, novel solutions and thinking outside the box,” he says. “It’s a challenge.”
Fance says the blast-furnace conditions have reinforced the value of proactive, preventative programs with products like Revolution and Zipline. “We’ve also had customers who had tried competitor products earlier in the season come back.” He says the demand for curative products like Aqueduct® and Aqueduct Flex is “unprecedented.”
Fance, a respected industry veteran, knows this is a long-term challenge. “I have been in this role for nearly four years covering continental Europe, and it was an issue long before that,” says Fance. He thinks periods like this may become more regular: “2018 was similar, but this year is something else. These conditions have been of major concern in southern Europe for many years, and reserves of water have not been topped up over winter for many years. It makes what we do as an industry to help courses respond more important than ever.”
(Learn more about how Aquatrols products can conserve water under any conditions at www.aquatrols.com)