Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Observations, Evidence and Turf Management - A UF/IFAS Turf School Interview

Turf and irrigation go hand in hand. So you can imagine my excitement last summer when I heard that a two day Turf School was being organized in South Florida by top UF/IFAS Turf Specialists. I was not able to attend, but I mentioned it to every extension agent I encountered working in water or horticulture. For 2017 there are two Turf Schools on the docket: one next week and one in April. Assistant Professor and Turf School organizer Dr. Travis Shaddox was kind enough to speak with IrriGator about turf and the upcoming schools.
Dr. Travis Shaddox
How did the turf school begin and what inspired it?
The very first ever turf school was August 24/25 of 2016. We modeled it after the palm school which is held around the state - the two faculty, Drs. Monica Elliot and Timothy Broschat are stationed here with me in Fort Lauderdale. They’ve had quite a bit of success over the years with that format. When I came in from the industry (I worked in the industry for 10 years) I had a different perspective from some folks and I saw this as a great need for the industry. So when I came in Drs. Elliot and Broschat already had a system set up for their palm school so I copied that over with the assistance of Drs. Jason Kruse and Bryan Unruh. We put a date on the calendar and said let’s get it going. I think all three of us have seen a great need from the industry to get timely and current research information to them directly from the researchers doing the work.
What can an attendee expect at the turf school?
The entire content is turf. Whether it’s a fertilizer distributor, or sod farmer, or golf course superintendent, or a homeowner, or a lawn care operator, or UF faculty - whoever is interested in learning an evidence-based approach to turf management, this is what the class does. This is how we differ from a lot of the current opportunities for education that exist through various other venues. On each slide we cite a refereed publication source for the information we’re providing. This is not anecdotal information. This is not observational information that we’re giving the audience. This is evidence that exists in the scientific literature. This is how we’ve set it up and it provides, in my opinion, a very clear, concise, unbiased approach to disseminating this information to the industry.
Register today for the September 2017 Pest Management Turf School
For the pest turf school (coming up at the end of this month) the entire content is based on the four primary pests that turf managers encounter: nematodes, weeds, diseases and insects. What attendees can expect is some basic information in the form of a lecture, then following that up with a laboratory exercise looking through microscopes at nematodes, or looking at diseases, identifying certain insects and so forth - hands-on activities to reinforce the content of the lecture. The opportunity here is not just learning in the class but also learning by doing hands-on exercises or going out into the field and actually observing what the presenter provided in the lecture - basically using an alternative method of learning that often times people value.

Dr. Jason Kruse instructs on soil/water dynamics during the previous Turf School (via turfnet)
During the Water, Temperature, Light and Nutrition turf school (2016) we did an exercise in the laboratory. And they just couldn’t figure it out. It was step one, step two, step three. And they just followed the instructions – dealing with water movement in soils. And one of the attendees looked at me and said “Dr. Shaddox, this just doesn’t make any sense. How is this happening?” And I said well, you know, this is what’s happening. And he goes “so what you’re saying is…” I said no, no. I’m not saying that. You’re saying that. You’re the one doing it. And because he was the one doing it, it was just baffling to him. Because he was the one doing it, I think it really drove the message home to make the point of what we were saying in the lecture portion regarding water. It’s really gratifying to see those attendees, they were just blown away. 
Register today for the Water, Temperature, Light and Nutrition Turf School
What are some simple ways to stay a step ahead of pests with your turf?
One way of staying a step ahead of anything on turf is to be aware of the environment. Turf managers are not just managing turf. Their responsibilities are vast. They’re primarily dealing with people. They can often times lose track of what’s going on environmentally. The seasons generally are the same year to year and the activity of pests is generally the same every year, at least correlated to the seasons. For example, if a superintendent or turf manager loses track of what season it is they may not recognize how early in the season weeds would germinate. Weed germination occurs, now you’re dealing with a post-emergent herbicide application rather than a pre-emergent herbicide application because pre-emergent is no longer valuable after weeds have germinated. 

To stay a step ahead a turf manager would lay out an annual calendar of when certain things generally occur and back up the date accordingly to allow for purchasing a certain product, or timely application of cultural practices and so forth, so that when those pest populations begin to influence the turf you’re already one step ahead. Responding to the problem after you’ve seen it is often times more costly than preparing prior to that. Be aware of the environment and be aware of how pests tend to elevate populations in correlation to the environmental factors.  

Despite turf being considered Florida-Friendly, in some circles there is criticism about the resource inputs required to maintain it. Any thoughts?
I think labeling or identifying any plant by a specialist who is not a specialist in that plant is na├»ve. If statements are being made about any landscape plant I would hope that it’s being made by a specialist on that plant. If it’s not then I would discount that information. At the end of the day whatever information is provided by IFAS must be reinforced with evidence not observation. Observations are the beginnings of the scientific process. Evidence is the result of the scientific process. Those are two different things.

What is the capacity for turf school registration?
40 seats are available for a fee and 5 are available for state and county extension agents. State and county extension agents are not charged the registration fee. There are still a number of spots available for the January event but we expect those to be filled soon.

Photosynthesis demonstration during the previous Turf School (via Dr. Unruh)
Everybody that left the first event, they were all extremely content. They didn’t have any concerns at all. This event is not sit down and listen to someone lecture. It’s conversational and interactive. It’s cross-discipline in terms of turf industry – you have sod producers and golf course superintendents. You have people asking questions that other people in other industries might not have ever thought of. Through that interaction in the group a lot of attendees end up getting information that they never dreamed they would get from sitting there listening to a lecture because somebody in the audience asked a question that they never even considered. 


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