Show me the data: The importance of turfgrass research 

Data (1)

It’s February, and the Turfgrass Conference season is winding down, these conferences play a significant role in the professional development and networking opportunities for turfgrass and sportsturf managers, equipment and product suppliers, agronomists, academics, and professional organizations.

They are held at national, regional, and local levels, and provide a platform for industry professionals to connect with peers, explore new equipment and products, and attend educational seminars and classes. They also serve as a venue for professionals to network and build relationships within the industry. This networking aspect allows for the exchange of ideas, collaboration on research projects, and potential business opportunities. 

Trade shows and exhibitions held during the conferences provide a platform for equipment and product suppliers to showcase their latest innovations and for attendees to explore new tools and technologies. 

One important component of the conference season, which typically runs from September to March, are educational seminars and classes which cover a wide range of topics, including turfgrass nutrition, disease and pest management, irrigation techniques, and sustainable turf management practices. 

These days there is huge amount of information available in the turfgrass industry, not only from conferences but also year-round, from online sources, trade magazines and journals and from suppliers promoting their products. The sheer amount of data can be overwhelming, and it is therefore vital to ensure that the information you access comes from reliable sources and has undergone rigorous scientific research and statistical analysis. Bear in mind the following when sourcing information regarding products or maintenance procedures:

Prioritise Peer-Reviewed Research: peer-reviewed articles and research are the gold standard in scientific information, it involves subjecting research papers to evaluation by experts in the field, who assess the quality of the research methodology, data analysis, and conclusions. This process helps to ensure the accuracy and credibility of the information presented. These can be accessed through databases such as JSTOR, Web of Science, or directly from scientific journals related to turfgrass science and management. 

University Resources: Many universities with turfgrass management programs publish their findings and often provide extension services with invaluable resources for professionals. University websites usually also provide a wealth of reliable, up-to-date information.

Professional Organisations: Groups such as the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) will resources, including educational materials, forums, and webinars, where current and scientifically vetted information is shared.

Network with Experts: Use the networking opportunities at conferences to establish contacts with experts whose insights you value. They can help vet information and may be willing to share their experiences with certain products or techniques.

Continuing Education: Many conferences offer continuing education units (CEUs). Prioritize sessions that provide CEUs, as these are typically well-vetted and provide relevant, applicable knowledge.

Equipment and Product Demonstrations: When attending trade shows, take the opportunity to ask detailed questions about new products and equipment. This direct information from suppliers, combined with your own due diligence, can inform your purchasing decisions.

Subscribe to Trade Magazines and Journals: Reputable industry magazines and journals are a good source of information. They often summarize research studies and provide discussions on the impact and application of new findings.

It can also be helpful to seek guidance from industry professionals, such as agronomists or other turfgrass managers, who have experience in the field. They can provide valuable insights and assist in interpreting and applying the information obtained from conferences and online sources.

I recently presented at the BIGGA Continue to Learn Conference in the UK and posed the question, ‘Is Turfgrass Research Worth the Effort?’ and to this a gave a resounding Yes!

Why? Because research plays a vital role in ensuring the safety and effectiveness of various products and procedures utilized in the turfgrass industry. 

Firstly, research helps to validate the claims made by nutritional inputs, pesticides, surfactants, and maintenance procedures. By conducting studies and experiments, scientists can evaluate the performance and efficacy of these products and methods. This information is crucial for turfgrass professionals and groundskeepers as it allows them to make informed decisions regarding their turf management practices. 

Secondly, research ensures the safety of these products and procedures for both the end-user and the general public. Through rigorous testing and analysis, potential risks and harmful effects can be identified and mitigated. This is particularly important in an industry where people may come into direct contact with treated turf areas, such as recreational parks or sports fields. By ensuring the safety of these products, research helps protect the health and well-being of individuals using these spaces.

Thirdly, environmental impact is a significant consideration in turfgrass management. Research allows us to understand the potential environmental effects of various inputs and practices. By evaluating the ecological consequences, such as pollution or habitat disruption, researchers can develop sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions. This is crucial for preserving our ecosystems and maintaining a balance between human activities and nature.

What’s involved in conducting reliable turfgrass research? Well, research is much more than applying something to a test plot and checking it out after a couple of days! Field trials, greenhouse studies, laboratory work, and statistical analyses, are crucial for obtaining reliable and accurate data. 

Field trials allow researchers to assess the performance and effects of treatments in real-world conditions. By implementing randomization and replication, the variability within the trials can be accounted for, ensuring that the results are not biased by external factors. 

Greenhouse studies offer more controlled conditions and enable researchers to investigate specific aspects of turfgrass management in a more controlled and repeatable setting. This controlled environment allows for a better understanding of the underlying processes and mechanisms involved.

Laboratory work provides valuable insights at a molecular level, helping researchers explore the physiological and biochemical responses of turfgrass to various treatments. These studies may involve analysing soil samples, examining plant tissue, or assessing the impacts of treatments on microbial communities.

Accurate and consistent data gathering is essential throughout the research process. Researchers collect data on various parameters such as growth rates, disease susceptibility, nutrient content, or environmental factors. This ensures that the findings are based on comprehensive and relevant information.

All these procedures can produce a large amount of raw data which are useless unless correctly analysed.

Statistical analyses are essential for interpreting the data and drawing meaningful conclusions. These analyses help determine the significance of the observed differences between treatments, ensuring that the results are not due to random chance but are indeed a response to the applied treatments. Statistical techniques provide a quantitative framework for making informed decisions based on the data collected. And of course all this work then has to be presented in a clear precise manner which can be easily interpreted by the target audience.

As a former superintendent, involved in the business since the 1980’s I have seen numerous marketing handouts, articles, labels etc. which have made all sorts of claims, some accurate, some not so. It’s important to be aware of the possible marketing techniques employed to promote them. Manipulation of research results can be easily done; presentations can be skewed to mis-interpret the data and mislead consumers. Presentation techniques such as altering the vertical axis or omitting statistical results can lead to a distorted understanding of the actual findings.  This reinforces the need for transparency and adherence to scientific principles when presenting research results. Here’s an example, two charts showing the exact same data:

In conclusion, conferences and trade shows are vital for industry professionals, suppliers, and attendees alike. They provide a platform for professionals to connect with peers, explore new equipment and products, attend educational seminars and classes, and network to build valuable relationships. These events also allow suppliers to showcase their latest innovations while giving attendees the opportunity to explore new tools and technologies.

Turfgrass research is worth the effort because it ensures that products and procedures are effective, safe, and environmentally responsible. Through scientific investigation, we can enhance the quality of turfgrass management while minimising potential harm to individuals and the environment. Emphasizing research in this field is key to advancing turfgrass practices and ensuring their long-term sustainability.

Ultimately, the mantra of “Show me the data!” emphasises the need for evidence-based decision-making and encourages individuals to critically evaluate claims and seek out reliable scientific information. By doing so, we can make informed decisions that promote effective and safe turfgrass management practices.

As consumers, it is important to critically evaluate the data presented and consider multiple sources of information. Seeking out trusted resources, consulting with experts, and carefully analysing the methodology, results, and statistical analyses can help ensure that decisions are based on sound scientific evidence.

And don’t forget the ‘old guys!’ By consulting with long time, experienced industry professionals, you’ll gain access to real-life experiences and practical strategies that complement the scientific knowledge you acquire from conferences and online sources. This collaborative approach can enhance your decision-making and improve your turfgrass management practices.

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