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  • Writer's pictureDavid Goodjohn

AGRONOMY & AGRICULTURE – Never the Twain or a Meeting of Minds?

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Some of the finest innovations in turfgrass Agronomy have their origins in Agricultural practises.

Ever since mankind devised methods of planting and propagating seeds for food with machines, sport has been close behind borrowing or refining many of the techniques used in order to cultivate what has become fine turf for horse racing, bowls, tennis, golf, cricket, winter sports and all forms of turf based sporting events.

So why does each sector continue to frown upon the other and feel as if they alone occupy the moral high ground of how best to move from seed to plant?

I have been fortunate enough to work with very highly trained and educated Agronomists from both disciplines who are able to advise and assist top professionals in both industries because they fully understand the principles of both specialities and can adapt their thinking to the requirements of wither Farmer or Field Manager as required.

It was with this in mind that I recently attended an Open Day where farm machinery was to be demonstrated and principles of soil and water management and seed installation and propagation was to be witnessed. Little did I realise how much of an eye opener that was to become.

Now I fully appreciate that we all are aware of the stereotypes that exist within the sectors – the grumpy groundsman or greenkeeper intent on keeping those persistent sports players off their hallowed turf, the ‘poor’ farmer down to his last Mercedes on the driveway, both mystical figures rarely to be actually seen in real life!

What I witnessed at this Open Day was indeed an eye opener:

The Agricultural Surveyor who was able to remotely produce a nutrient survey of an entire farm.

The Optimistic Farmer who had his next 30 years planned out in some detail, with the aim of working with biology and improving his soil;

The vast agricultural machines that could drill seed, cut slots into which the seeds could be enclosed, and the clever wheels that could follow up to smooth over the seedlings tiny bed for the season and keep them safe from slugs and pests.

The Agronomist that could keep 50+ farmers engaged during his presentation with tales of improving soil through the inclusion of biology and how poor soil structure could indeed be redressed if the correct practises were maintained over a prolonged period, with results projected in a matter of years not seasons.

The only inefficient thing about the day seemed to be the lunchtime queue for the burger tent which seemed like an interminable snake with delegates that had hungered for knowledge all morning were now rejoining the line for just one more sample of the local beef produce in a giant bun.

So my thoughts at the end of this day of learning came back to the original thread – agriculture v amenity or one working with the principles of the other?

As many a Greenkeeper will tell you the secret is Aeration, aeration and aeration – this was also a major tenet in the preparation of soil in an agricultural seedbed. Biology Is always a major consideration in great amenity turf – improving the biology was the principle concern of the host farmer who referred to the soil on his property as ‘his bank’. There was talk all day of how the seed drills (vast gargantuan creatures to us Amenity bods used to much smaller attachments to our compact tractors) would cut the groove for a seed, lift the soil with a second coulter, slot the seed inside the groove at the correct depth for the cultivar and then smooth over the opening with a following wheel set at just the right angle to keep out pests and insects – pretty much perfect for the Amenity crowd I’d suggest, although the 6 metre wide drills might be a little intrusive.

Then came the discussions and demos about usage of flotation tyres to avoid compaction of the soil and actual soil pits to show the seeding rows, the compaction relief evident in these and the use of spacings in order to achieve cash crop being sown in areas between cover crops, all in the name of protecting the main profit source from damage, poor rooting through consolidated soils or other careless act of man. The source of fertilisation was even specifically directed within and immediately around the seeding lines in order that the uptake of feed is as efficient and targeted as possible.

So I hold my hands up. For one previously dazzled by the expertise of Grounds staff at all levels of Football, Rugby, Cricket, Tennis, Equestrian Sports and Greenkeepers for Golf and Bowls who invariable produce excellent surfaces in trying circumstances sometimes on very limited budgets, here was I being impressed by the Farming Fraternity.

Food for thought indeed, but yes we can certainly still learn from each other!

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