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Organic and Reduced Pesticide Input Turfgrass Management Courses for 2012

Rutgers University, NJAES Office of Continuing Professional Education

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By Brad Park, Rutgers University

In an effort to reduce human exposure to synthetic pesticides used on public sports fields and grounds, municipalities across New Jersey have developed either an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy intended to reduce synthetic pesticide inputs or an organic turf care policy intended to eliminate synthetic pesticide use entirely.

According to the New Jersey Environmental Federation, 40 New Jersey towns have banned synthetic pesticides from their municipally-managed parks and grounds and subsequently labeled these properties as ‘pesticide free zones.’

Moreover, a bill was introduced by the New Jersey State Legislature in December 2010 called the Safe Playing Fields Act, which will, upon passage, ban synthetic pesticide use on grounds at day care centers, schools, and athletic playing fields within municipal, county, and state parks.

Photo of Jim Murphy talking to Organic Turf class students during a break.

Jim Murphy speaks to students in the Organic Turf class.
(Photo by Rebecca Rathmill

Rutgers University’s New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) Office of Continuing Professional Education (OCPE) is holding courses in 2012 to help municipalities and boards of education better understand their needs and goals related to organic and reduced pesticide inputs in turf management.

Organic Turfgrass Management is a ½-day course scheduled for Tuesday, January 31, 2012, on Rutgers University’s Cook Campus that will introduce and explain organic turf management theories and methods to students.

Differences in organic, organic-synthetic hybrid, and IPM methods of maintaining lawns and grounds can be confusing. Poorly-defined words and poorly-written statements in municipal resolutions mandating turf care policies can often lead to problems regarding the appropriateness products used by turf care contractors/managers. For example, certain 'low-risk' herbicides are being characterized by some as ‘organic’ but these are not approved as such in the USDA National Organic Program Standards or by the Organic Materials Review Institute. There is also disagreement over whether turfgrass fertilizers derived from sewage sludge should be allowed in organic turf care. Organic programs need to be clearly defined so that there is little question as to what can and cannot be applied; this course will clarify these issues.

Photo Rutgers instructor and researcher Brad Park

Rutgers instructor and researcher, Brad Park
(Photo by Dave Breeding

Turfgrass selection and establishment of well-adapted varieties are critical components of an organic program. Improved disease and insect-resistance is essential to any policy that eliminates synthetic pesticide use. These recommendations will be covered in the course.

Sound soil management, mowing, irrigation, and fertilization practices are the foundation of an organic turf management program. Unfortunately, institutions often implement ‘organic turf management’ as nothing more than once-per-week mowing. These turfgrass stands typically have limited grass cover and are riddled with weeds. A goal of this course is to emphasize that ‘organic management’ does not mean ‘no management.’ Soil management, mowing, fertilization, irrigation, and overseeding will be discussed.

The Organic Turfgrass Management course will also examine organic and ‘low-impact’ pesticides. Materials described as ‘organic’ and ‘low-impact’ often differ greatly in cost, efficacy, and product handling and application methods compared to their synthetic counterparts. The advantages and disadvantages of these products need to be fully understood before an organic turf care program can be properly implemented.

Organic Turf instructor Jim Murphy

Rutgers Extension Specialist, Jim Murphy
(Photo by Bruce Clarke

Rutgers University will also be offering its popular ½-day course on Reduced Pesticide Inputs and Organic Options for Sports Turf. The class will be held on Tuesday, February 21, 2012, on Rutgers’ Cook Campus. Increasingly, organic fertilizers and pest control options suitable for small-area home lawns are being recommended by consultants and marketed by organic turf care companies for sports fields and large-acreage general grounds. Sports fields present unique challenges unlike home lawns for turf managers implementing organic or reduced pesticide input management. Many municipalities and Boards of Education have many acres of sports field surfaces that are subject to intense traffic. Budgets for these grounds are frequently inadequate (regardless of whether organic or synthetic) to avoid loss of turf cover, which subsequently provides the opportunity for weeds like crabgrass, goosegrass, and prostrate knotweed to overtake fields.

Weed encroachment and turf damage caused by insects (e.g., the white grub complex of Japanese beetle, Oriental beetle, etc.) may be acceptable in some home lawns; however, sports fields are playing surfaces and the tolerance for turf damage, particularly at higher levels of play, is much lower than the tolerance considered acceptable in general lawn care.

The Reduced Pesticide Inputs and Organic Options for Sports Turf course will discuss these challenges and emphasize strategies such as overseeding and soil management that must be priorities in any budget for sports turf management, particularly those that are adopting organic methods or significant reductions in synthetic pesticides use.

James A. Murphy, PhD., Extension Specialist in Turfgrass Management, Rutgers University Center for Turfgrass Science and Bradley S. Park, Sports Turf Research & Education Coordinator, Rutgers University Center for Turfgrass Science, are Course Coordinators and Instructors. Other sports turf programs offered by Rutgers NJAES-OCPE include the Henry Indyk Two-Day Athletic Field Maintenance Course (February 14-15, 2012) and the Baseball and Softball Skin Surface Selection and Management course (February 23, 2012). 

For more information about these programs, please contact:

Joe Canzano
NJAES Office of Continuing Professional Education