Developing Soil Surfactants: From the Lab to the Field
Apr 03

Developing Soil Surfactants: From the Lab to the Field

After discussing the available educational conservation tools for turf managers and outlining the importance that native flora play in conservation efforts, it’s time to take a look at how Aquatrols’ research and development teams have made us a leader in water conservation.

From Lab Testing to Field Application

The process of developing soil surfactants always begins in a laboratory. Several factors play a role in effective turf management, but perhaps the most important is understanding the soil. Our chemists perform hundreds of surfactant chemistry tests on numerous soil types to determine viability.

The preliminary surfactants are then sent to a wide variety of agronomists for g-protocol field testing around the world. Having a diverse portfolio of outside controllers examining individual soil usage is essential when developing a product that is effective and reliable. These experts evaluate how our wetting agents affect turfgrass quality, volumetric water content (the ratio of water volume to soil volume), and other key elements.

Some soil surfactants will hydrate the soil profile, but lack the necessary root zone water storage. Others, in turn, might do an excellent job of breaking surface tension, but score poorly when it comes to overcoming water repellency below the surface.

With the goal of developing products that reduce overall water consumption, strict testing is structured to look at variables such as turfgrass quality under a reduced ET—evapotranspiration (water loss through the plant and/or soil via evaporation). At Aquatrols, we set aggressive benchmarks for our products. When sending samples for soil application, for example, we start with high ET rates – say 75% – and bring them down substantially (to 50% ET) while retaining acceptable turfgrass quality, thereby saving 25% on water intake.

aquatrolslabFrom concept to reality, the process of introducing new chemistries may take years. Our R&D processes include collaborating with chemists, agronomists, soil physicists, plant pathologists, water-repellency chemists, and fertilizer experts from around the world.

It is important to remember that not all soil surfactants are the same, nor will they have identical performance in different locations. The key is to find which soil surfactant chemistry is right for your individual turf needs.

Differences in temperature, precipitation, and soil microbial activity mean that a wetting agent working well in a trial in California might not perform the same in North Carolina, or vice versa. Through rigorous testing and conversations with our end users, we evaluate certain chemistries and develop wetting agents that will produce the same or similar results, no matter the location or climate.

Return on Investment

When a turf manager applies a soil surfactant, there’s an immediate return on investment. Plants respond rather quickly to the available water and, sometimes within a matter of hours, may begin to show signs of improvement, including:

  • Improved turfgrass color and quality
  • Reduced runoff
  • Improved rootzone moisture
  • Better moisture distribution
  • Improved soil health

The Aquatrols Difference

Conservation is central to everything we do at Aquatrols. This is not only reflected in our product line, but in our company practices. As we provide resources to help our customers make better use of natural resources and applied inputs, we are also developing a culture of conservation internally. We constantly gather feedback from superintendents, golf course managers, sports turf managers and horticulture experts to find solutions to the industry’s most common and complex challenges.


About The Author

More than 60 years ago, Aquatrols introduced the world’s first commercially available soil wetting agent. Since creating an entirely new product category to address water management challenges and opportunities, the company has remained a top innovator and producer of high-performance soil surfactants and related technologies. Aquatrols’ advanced product suite optimizes soil-water-plant interactions in agricultural, professional turfgrass, and horticultural industries in more than 40 countries. Headquartered in southern New Jersey, Aquatrols also has offices in the United Kingdom and conducts business on six continents.