Sizing up a switch

Features - Agronomics

Four things to consider as science and technology change the dynamics of implementing a liquid fertility program.

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April 16, 2019

Thompson

It’s not always an easy thing to transition away from something that has worked fairly well for you in the past. We get comfortable and even tend to resist change, thinking we’ve got it all figured out. Things are good enough.

However, often we have to fight these inner thoughts and realize that improvements are always being made. Technology, science, changing expectations and even environmental concerns are altering the way we do things. Resistance is (sorry for this) futile.

For golf course superintendents, one such area that has evolved over the years is the manner in which fertility is applied to the golf course. Science and technology have combined to make the way we manage turfgrass something completely different than in the past. The evolution of liquid nutrient applications has been and is changing the industry. It’s an advancement in an area that is simply becoming harder and harder to ignore.

So, if you’re considering implementing a new liquid fertility program, let’s look at four key areas superintendents might want to consider when deciding to switch to or expand their liquid fertility program.

GPS-guided spraying is an emerging practice that can boost a liquid fertility program.
© john deere

1 Benefits to changing – or expansion of – a liquid fertility program

The first thing to consider is finding the answer to the simple questions, “Why switch?” and, “What are the benefits for me?”

I went to a sales rep from Simplot, Eric Thompson, who in addition to being a well-respected rep in the Seattle area, is also a former superintendent. He knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the fence.

“The benefits are many,” Thompson says. “Ease of use for starters. The product is already in suspension and can be added directly to the tank. And, of course, the huge variety of products offered is growing annually. I also think having the ability to change the program easily during the season based on performance is a big plus.”

Datwyler

Thompson also explained how companies such as Simplot can work with superintendents to customize programs best suited for them. “Creating custom combinations is a big selling point,” he says. “We can build you a liquid fertility program that is tailored to your turf needs. And the flexibility of in-season alterations allows you further control in determining overall inputs.”

Steve Datwyler, superintendent at The Club at Ravenna, in Littleton, Colo., agrees. “Our liquid program has yielded great results,” he says. “I like the flexibility of adding different products throughout the year.

2 Areas on the course that can benefit from a liquid program

Consider your fertility program as a whole, taking into account all areas you currently apply fertility to, be it granular or liquid. Then consider if some or all of the areas currently receiving granular apps – or perhaps receiving nothing at all – could benefit from a liquid program.

Greens are the obvious choice here, but all other areas can and should be examined at as well. Fairways, tees, approaches, rough, surrounds. Nothing is off limits.

At Ravenna, Datwyler has made a huge switch in the way fertility is applied to the private club south of Denver. “At Ravenna, we have implemented a liquid fertilizer program on greens and fairways,” he says. “Additionally, we fertigate 40 percent of our nitrogen requirements course wide.”

Ravenna made a big conversion to liquid when Datwyler took over as superintendent in 2012.

“Prior to 2012, we applied three bulk fertilizer applications per season,” he says. “Following these apps, we had a flush of growth for a two- to three-week period that resulted to increase mowing frequency and often resulted in having to blow clippings from fairways and rough. In 2012, I started adding liquid nutrients to our plant growth regulator/wetting agent applications to fulfill the monthly nitrogen requirements. We experienced more even growth and color with the spoon-feeding, our roughs no longer needed additional mowings, and clippings were no longer a problem.”

Datwyler was able to clearly identify the areas on the course that would benefit from a liquid program.

The Club at Ravenna’s Steve Datwyler made a conversion to liquid fertility after becoming superintendent in 2012.
© the club at Ravenna

3 GPS spraying technology takes liquid apps to another level

Although there is certainly a cost upfront in purchasing a GPS sprayer, they can offer a huge advantage for today’s superintendent with the revolutionizing technology that they can add to applying liquid nutrients.

I chatted with Michael McNeil, a sales account manager for John Deere distributor Pacific Golf & Turf in Seattle, about GPS sprayer technology. “You can simply manage your fertility program better with GPS sprayer technology,” McNeil says. “They are more accurate, which, of course, can produce big savings over time.”

Many of today’s sprayers that are equipped with GPS technology offer shareable coverage maps and individual nozzle control. Also, the ability to capture all spray data and analyze the results is a huge positive.

“The automated documentation is a great feature,” says McNeil, referring to the GPS PrecisionSprayer technology available from John Deere. “It eliminates the need for manual record keeping and, of course, increases accuracy of exact recording. No more guessing how much product went down and exactly where it went.”

Larry Gilhuly, a longtime USGA Green Section agronomist, agrees that GPS technology is changing the way superintendents apply.

“With the introduction of GPS technology, it has taken fluid applications of all products to another level,” Gilhuly says. “Something as simple as being able to make applications without player interruption makes GPS sprayer use a highly recommended addition to any golf course maintenance operation.”

Spoon-feeding has promoted even growth and color on The Club at Ravenna’s playing surfaces.
© the club at Ravenna

4 Maximizing labor with liquid applications

Although it shouldn’t be the deciding factor, often it comes back to the money. Cutting down on labor costs is one big way liquid applications can benefit golf course operations.

A good example here comes from Datwyler, who told me the difference between the old way of putting down bulk granular fairway applications compared to applying the fertility in liquid form is simply night-and-day as far as labor.

“We utilize a 1,000-gallon mix tank,” he says. “All of the products for all fairways go into one tank. This allows us to spray all fairways with our two sprayers in just a few hours.”

Speaking of savings, let’s go back to those GPS sprayers for a moment. Just consider what GPS sprayers bring to the table in the form of savings. Not just the labor hours spent on the sprayer, as Datwyler mentions, but other factors as well. McNeil adds savings can come from several areas.

“When you’re dialing in your spraying to the detail that GPS technology allows, there are going to be savings on fuel and product,” McNeil says. “But also, time spent on record-keeping. These sprayers can do the record-keeping for you. This all adds up.”

Gilhuly agrees. “With GPS technology, cost savings on materials as well as labor make it invaluable,” he says.

Ron Furlong is the superintendent at Avalon Golf Club in Burlington, Wash., and frequent GCI contributor.